The Value of a Philosophy Degree

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.

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