Is getting a Philosophy Degree a Waste of Time – Yes

Getting a degree in philosophy is a waste of time. To understand this perspective, it is necessary to make several assumptions. First, a person capable of obtaining a degree in philosophy is capable of obtaining a degree in a different field. Second, the person in question is not independently wealthy.

Taking those two assumptions, we can analyze the following thought experiment:

Pretend you are a prospective philosophy major. Break down the requirements for a philosophy degree into its components parts. One part will be a general education requirement that is mandated for all university degrees. Another part will be the requirements specific to the philosophy degree. Since every degree candidate, regardless of major, would be required to take the general education component, we can ignore it for the sake of our analysis.

Examining the philosophy specific-requirements, we can presume that these consist of philosophy courses centered around themes like “Modern Interpretations of Kant”. A philosophy degree would be granted to a student who took the requisite number of philosophy courses. Getting a philosophy degree would require you to take classes like  “Modern Interpretations of Kant”. You would read books (presumably about Kant), attend classes, and discuss the material. A professor or graduate student would direct your thoughts and conversation and use exams or papers to ensure you were putting forth adequate effort, but you would learn primarily from your own time spent reading and pondering the material.

Now assume, in lieu of obtaining a degree in philosophy, you dedicate time to reading the modern interpretations of Kant and discussing them with fellow amateur-philosophers in a weekly discussion group. You read the same books and articles and same the same amount of time in discussion. You spend less time overall on philosophy due to the absence of mandated classes, exams, and papers.

Would you have gained more from the philosophy-degree path than you would have from your discussion group? If you believe you would have gained a marginal benefit from the degree-seeking path, estimate a value of benefit (call it “X”).

Next, compare the life outcome of a philosophy degree against, for example, an undergraduate degree in accounting. Count the number of jobs a philosophy major would be eligible to obtain upon graduation. Do the same for the accounting major. Which degree would provide a higher probability of employment?

As an aside, a comment argument raised by defenders of philosophy degrees is that such a degree makes you a competitive candidate for graduate schools. While this may be true, the test is whether a philosophy degree makes you more competitive than if you had majored in accounting. Given the same GPA, same test scores, and same background, what graduate programs would prefer the philosophy major to the accounting major? Beyond the handful of openings world-wide for doctoral candidates in philosophy, the answer is likely none.

Finally, compare the value of “X”, as calculated above, against the value of a job. A corporate auditor would be able to discuss Kant on weekends at the local coffee shop. A philosophy major would be serving her the coffee.

It is romantic to believe that a university should be a place of free intellectual expression devoid of any connection to the pitiful real world. In a competitive modern economy, that is an expensive and misguided view.