"Study of philosophy makes gains despite economy"
October 15th, 2011
October 15th, 2011
Shannon Maloney had already earned a degree in mechanical engineering, but she returned to Lehigh University for a fifth year to complete a second major she knows will make her more employable:
Though philosophy is routinely dismissed and disparaged - as useless as English, as dead as Latin, as diminished as library science - more college students are getting degrees in that field than ever before.
Though the overall figures remain small, the number of four-year graduates has grown 46 percent in a decade, surpassing the growth rates of much bigger programs such as psychology and history.
In an era in which chronic unemployment seems to demand hard skills, some students are turning to an ancient study that they say prepares them not for a job, but for the multiple jobs they expect to hold during their lifetimes.
"It's teaching me to see the big picture and to think about things in a different way," said Maloney, 22, of West Chester. "Not only can I do the math and figure out how to design something and build something, but I can see it in the context of a business plan."
To be sure, the giant majors of business, education, and engineering attract exponentially more students than philosophy, whose graduates account for about 1 percent of all bachelor's degrees in the United States. But at a time when some majors have faded to near-extinction, philosophy is showing gains.
Nationally, 12,444 students received degrees in philosophy or religious studies in 2008-09, the latest year for which federal figures are available, up from 8,506 in 1998-99. That 46 percent increase occurred during a period when the total number of four-year college graduates grew at a slower 33 percent.
During that span, the number of students earning social-science and history degrees went up 35 percent, psychology was up 28 percent, and education actually went down, falling 5 percent.
"The demise of philosophy, and, more generally, of the liberal arts, is grossly exaggerated," said Jeff Robbins, a professor of religion and philosophy at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa.
The word philosophy comes from the Greek philosophia, meaning "love of wisdom," and its study is defined as, well, even philosophers can't agree on an exact interpretation. Plato described it as "the science of the idea."