What is a Philosophy Degree?

It has been said that a degree program in philosophy teaches students how to think, not what to think. And there is certainly truth to the statement, because philosophy doesn’t just encourage the asking of questions. It encourages the asking of big questions and the formulation of arguments to attempt to answer them. Who are we? Why are we here? What do we believe? Why do we believe it? What is right and wrong in life? What is true and false? What is real and unreal? Philosophy is concerned with the nature of existence and knowledge.

Here are some samples of the kinds of courses that make up a degree program in philosophy:

  • Epistemology (the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope; epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion)
  • Ethics
  • History of Philosophy
  • Logic
  • Metaphysics
  • Political Theory

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy, graduates may qualify for some roles as philosophy and religion teachers; social and community service workers and managers; cultural affairs officers; technical writers; and religion, crime, or politics reporters. At this level of education, some programs offer concentrations in applied ethics; healthcare ethics; environmental ethics; and public policy and public affairs.

Bachelor’s programs in philosophy explore morality, politics, scientific changes, medical advancements, and religious belief. Students take courses such as:

  • History of Ancient Philosophy – the study of questions posed by Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle
  • History of Modern Philosophy – the teachings of modern philosophers, such as Kant, Hume, and Descartes; how philosophy shapes social issues and politics
  • Theory of Knowledge (Epistemology) – the focus is on how to think critically and distinguish between belief, knowledge, and opinion
  • Environmental Ethics – examination of the impact of human actions and political policy on the environment
  • Introduction Logic – the principles of reasoning; how to deconstruct arguments and premises

Master’s Degree in Philosophy
At this level, philosophy students develop advanced abilities in communication, argumentation, critical thinking, and research. Some of the positions for which they generally qualify after graduation are public relations associate, editor, and grant writer. Two of the most common concentration options in a master’s program are philosophy of science, political and moral philosophy, philosophy and cultural theory, and environmental ethics. Some core master’s courses are:

  • Philosophy of Science
  • Medical Ethics
  • Contemporary Philosophy
  • Eastern philosophy
  • Modern Philosophy
  • Politics and Culture

Doctoral Degree in Philosophy
The focus of a Ph.D. program is a dissertation based on original research that advances academic knowledge in the field of philosophy. At this level, students must demonstrate foreign language knowledge, complete a logic exam, and defend their dissertation.

Doctoral programs often include advanced courses in:

  • Ancient Philosophy
  • Modern Philosophy
  • Philosophical Logic
  • Ethics
  • Metaphysics

Degrees Similar to Philosophy

Classical Studies
The study of the languages, literatures, philosophy, history, archaeology, and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome is the focus of a degree in the classics. Courses include ancient philosophy, classic art and archaeology, classical mythology, Greek and Roman civilization, tragedy and comedy, Greek language, and Latin language.

Mass Communication and Media Studies
This discipline looks at how people collect, share, and use information. It combines elements of the social sciences and the humanities to study how humans communicate. While the field explores traditional and new interactive media, it also examines language and how we use it. Sample courses are communication theory, debate, intercultural communication, mass communication, organizational communication, and psychology of communication.

Computer Science
Computer science programs teach computer systems and the way humans and computers interact. Coursework covers mathematics for computer science, artificial intelligence, data structures and algorithms, introduction to program design, and the theory of formal languages.

Criminal Justice
Criminal justice is concerned with society’s response to crime. It is an interdisciplinary major that explores every aspect of crime, the law, and the justice system.

History degree programs are about the study and interpretation of objects, documents, and events of the past. Classes may include U.S. constitutional history, U.S. economic history, social history of early modern Europe, Ancient Greece, Modern Latin America, Renaissance and Reformation, and East Asian civilization.

Students of psychobiology learn about the biological aspects of psychology. The curriculum addresses the role of biology in thinking and the effect of medications on mood and behavior. Courses may include abnormal psychology, biochemistry, drugs and behavior, issues of gender in biology, language development, principles of behavioral neuroscience, and sensation and perception.

Religious Studies
The focus of religious studies degree programs is the nature and origin of religious belief and traditions. Coursework includes the study of specific religions such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Catholicism, as well as religious history, politics, and anthropology.

Skills You’ll Learn

The subject matter of philosophy – the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence – is wide and open to reasoning and argumentation. Rather naturally, then, it leaves its students with a diverse skill set that can be applied in virtually any conversation, task, or occupation.

  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
  • Analysis and Research
  • Information Management
  • Problem-Solving
  • Oral and Written Communication
  • Capacity to Work Independently
  • Time Management
  • Adaptability / Ability to consider multiple viewpoints
  • Ethical Reasoning

What Can You Do with a Philosophy Degree?

Philosophy has been referred to as the ultimate transferable work skill. It follows, therefore, that graduates in the field work in a vast number of different jobs. These are just some samples of the occupational categories in which philosophy majors may find work:

Business and Finance
The writing and summarization skills that philosophy majors develop can be applied to several fields in the business world. Opportunities may exist in blogging, journalism, public relations, marketing, advertising, copy writing, technical writing, grant writing, curating, and archiving. In the financial sector, companies tend to value the deep analytical and reasoning skills of philosophy graduates.

Non-Profit Sector
Working for a non-profit means working for a cause, such as the environment, poverty, education, or the arts. A background in ethics and knowledge in philosophy and culture or philosophy and politics are naturally valued in this sector.

Public Policy, Politics, Labor Relations, and International Diplomacy
Each of these sectors can benefit from philosophy majors’ abilities to present and differentiate between arguments, to research issues and problem, and to write related documents and papers.

Science and Research
With the right scientific background to complement the investigative and analytical skills developed in their philosophy studies, philosophy majors may work as research scientists.

Higher Education
Holders of a Master’s and/or Doctorate in Philosophy may teach at the college or university level, publish scholarly articles and books, and conduct research in the field.

Although most people who work in psychology have a degree in psychology, philosophy graduates bring a unique perspective to the field, one which allows them to examine the human mind and human experience from different angles.

Case Study

To illustrate its versatility, consider that each of the following well-known people graduated with a degree in philosophy:

  • President of Morgan Stanley Robert Greenhill
  • Founder and Manager of a Hedge-fund Don Brownstein
  • Investor George Soros
  • CEO of Overstock.com Patrick Byrne
  • Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter
  • Mayor of Los Angeles Richard Riordan
  • S. Secretary of Education William Bennett
  • Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin, Jr.
  • Network Television Journalist Stone Phillips
  • Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author Studs Terkel
  • Game Show Host Alex Trebek
  • Co-founder of Wikipedia Larry Sanger
  • Comedian/Actor/Producer Ricky Gervais
  • Academy-Award Winning Filmmaker Ethan Coen
  • Four-star U.S. Army General Jack Keane
  • Fighter in the French Resistance in WWII Stephane Hessel
  • Co-authors of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights P.C. Chang and Charles Malik
  • Martyr to German Opposition to Nazism in WWII Sophie Scholl
  • Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI
  • Seminal Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss


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