The evidence indicates that a philosophy major is a sound financial investment. But don’t forget that the real value of an education in the humanities is not monetary.
In a recent post, Jefferey Dorfman of Forbes magazine provides clear evidence that, contrary to what your nervous parents and engineering major friends have told you, you are not doomed to a penurious future if you decide to become a philosophy major:
Just to provide some examples, I pulled out information on bachelor’s degrees in art, drama, English, French, history, philosophy, and political science. Overall, this is a group that many would predict is destined to produce underemployed graduates, struggling to pay off their student loans, and perhaps happy to work as Starbucks baristas. However, conventional wisdom is wrong. In reality these degrees all produce expected lifetime earning increments far in excess of the cost of college tuition, even at expensive private colleges.
While I am happy for this data to be promulgated, I maintain my position that the instrumental value of an education in the humanities takes a distant second place to the non-instrumental value of the same. The value of STEM majors is often touted, but rarely, if ever, do those boosters point out that the disciplines they are trumpeting are means to an end. And what is that end? Self-enrichment? An edge on the international scene? Technological breakthroughs meant to make us healthier, happier, better? If these things are of value, it isn’t because they are valuable in and of themselves. Money is worthless unless you can spend it on something of inherent worth.
So what is valuable in and of itself? A deeper understanding of the universe? Of ourselves? A richer, more meaningful life? While an education in the STEM fields can help you to acquire these things, an education in the humanities cuts out the middleman and pursues these goals directly.
I am, in no way, denigrating any field of study. The pursuit of knowledge in all its forms is a beautiful thing. But I wish that those who push for more and more funding for STEM majors, to the detriment of the humanities, would pause to ask what the ultimate point of all of this is.