April 6, 2008

Come on, everybody! Let's study philosophy!

It's the big thing on campus these days. Supposedly.
... Ms. Onejeme, now a senior applying to law school, ended up changing her major to philosophy, which she thinks has armed her with the skills to be successful. “My mother was like, what are you going to do with that?” said Ms. Onejeme, 22. “She wanted me to be a pharmacy major, but I persuaded her with my argumentative skills.”
Key words: "law school."
Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal.
And applying to law school.
The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers.
... Barry Loewer, the department chairman, said that Rutgers started building its philosophy program in the late 1980s, when the field was branching into new research areas like cognitive science and becoming more interdisciplinary. He said that many students have double-majored in philosophy and, say, psychology or economics, in recent years, and go on to become doctors, lawyers, writers, investment bankers and even commodities traders.

As the approach has changed, philosophy has attracted students with little interest in contemplating the classical texts, or what is known as armchair philosophy. Some, like Ms. Onejeme, the pre-med-student-turned-philosopher, who is double majoring in political science, see it as a pre-law track because it emphasizes the verbal and logic skills prized by law schools — something the Rutgers department encourages by pointing out that their majors score high on the LSAT.
"Contemplating the classical texts... armchair philosophy"... Get away, you low-energy losers!

That is, I think that's what the philosophy professors have figured out it's in their interest to say. Rebranding philosophy as the antechamber to high-paying, prestigious careers is the way to create demand for the career the philosophy professors want for themselves — contemplating the classical texts, doing armchair philosophy.


AJ Lynch said...

Michelle Obama must be proud that these numb-nuts are leaving the corporate world even before they got there.

Let's hope they can each get a job at non-profit hospitals and be paid $300K per year. Like Mrs. Obama.

rhhardin said...

The academic mind :

Now in the case of my dog, can anything like a ranking of rational desires be achieved? ... When I put food before him, my dog eats it ; when I throw the stick, he fetches it. Both he does unfailingly, unless he is distracted by some stronger impulse, such as, on occasion, sex ; and in response to the question whether my dog desires or prefers eating to chasing sticks, I can only say he does both when the situations are to hand and no other impulse interferes. Several times, I have tried putting food before him and throwing a stick at the same time ; each time he has sought neither the food nor the stuck but stood looking at me.

R.G.Frey, _Interests and Rights : The Case Against Animals_, cited by Vicki Hearne.

Ron said...

My undergrad degree is in philosophy...fat good it's done me! It is nice to know that I am now a meme of one!

Ron said...

BTW, I like the post title -- it has a Mickey Rooney "hey kids let's put on a show in the barn!" feel. Which, given the topic, is quite fitting.

Very true, Socrates said.

lurker2209 said...

I suppose I'm part of this trend. My double major was philosophy/biochem. I had to take so many credits of humanities courses as part of the liberal arts degree anyways, so it wasn't really difficult. I took a lot of bioethics and philosophy of science.

I suppose in the end it gave me a broader perspective, but mostly it was just fun, a different way of thinking from my science classes.

I suppose that learning to 'contemplate the classics' is not unlike learning to examine a legal brief. It's not unreasonable to argue that if you can learn how to understand Derrida, you can learn how to understand almost any argument.

John K. said...

Oh how I wish I'd been more of a philosopher in my younger days. That truer love of wisdom might have dissuaded me from majoring in philosophy and from that equally superfluous endeavor, law school.

Ralph said...

In college, I took a phil/math course in Symbolic Logic, which the math majors took as a philosophy credit, and vice versa. We math majors got an easy A, the philosophers struggled. Perhaps it was the shock of one syllable words like "if" and "then".

Ralph said...

demand for the carewe
I was going to ask if you were channeling Baba Wawa, but thought I'd better check Wiki to be sure it was just a typo, and found this:
I Am the Law (film) | director = [[Edwin Carewe]]

J said...

"what they learn in class can translate into practical skills"

Like, if a customer says, "I don't want mayo on my burger", that doesn't mean they want a gallon of ketchup instead. And that they're not supposed to be charged extra for subbing onion rings for fries.

ricpic said...

I would think that love of truth, were it genuine, would be a hindrance not a help to a pragmatist.

Pastafarian said...

I'm a little confused -- perhaps Professor Althouse could explain something to me: If a BA in philosophy, only loosely related in any way to law, is adequate preparation to go to law school, then why require any sort of 4-year degree before beginning law school? Why is law even considered an advanced degree?

This reinforces my already low opinion of lawyers. I think I could probably train my dog to pass the bar, given enough time and liver snaps. This has to be the most overpaid profession in existence.

Skyler said...

Philosophy is a supremely important field of study.

Sadly, philosophers don't really know philosophy, especially those in academia. This is not a new trend, it's a result of 19th century (mostly) German philosophers who were generally very, very bad.

I would suggest people should avoid studying philosophy in an academic institution if they want to have any understanding of the topic.

In my career if someone came to me with a philosophy or psychology degree, it would be a very hard sell to get a job from me. They would have to have an especially sparkling personality to overcome that handicap.

Ann Althouse said...

I think philosophy is the best undergraduate major for law school. And no, a JD (which used to be called an LLB) is not an "advanced degree" in the sense of building on top of a previous law degree. We like having a mix of backgrounds in the class. My undergraduate degree is in art, which really proves you can do anything undergrad.

Chaos Tamer said...

"...and go on to become doctors, lawyers, writers, investment bankers and even commodities traders." -- Explaining why those professions have so greatly damaged our society??

KLDAVIS said...

Received my BA in Philosophy from Chicago in '03...thought about Law School, but decided I liked logic more than rhetoric (and a 1/8 million in student loan debt more than 1/4). Certain undergrad courses translated nicely into my current career: head of litigation technology for a large IP firm. Complex database queries are just flash backs to Logic.

There is a lot of fluff in the Phil course catalog, which can be said of any of the Humanities. But, there are symbolic logic courses that are certainly more scientific than many listings in Math. That can't be said of English or East Asian Studies.

I didn't go into Philosophy expecting a high paying career (that it was a feeder for Law School only became clear after I made the decision, and anyway Chicago has a concentration called Law, Letters & Society for pre-Law types). I used to joke that my first job out of college would likely be holding a sign that said "Will Think for Food."


Zeb Quinn said...

Nothing else prepared me for law school any better than the numerous philosophy classes I took as an undergrad.

KLDAVIS said...

Oh, and last time I checked there are a few law schools out there that will let you enroll without an undergrad degree.

Here's one.

Bruce Hayden said...

Oh, for the day when a law degree was a bachelor level degree. My father managed to get a BS/BA and LLB in five years, and then had his LLB upgraded to a JD a decade or two later. He spent three years in the business school, then switched to the law school for his last two years. His law school classes counted for his business degree, and visa versa. By the time I managed to graduate with law and a business degrees, I had nine or ten years of college under my belt.

Middle Class Guy said...

One of my uncles was a physician. He majored in philosophy in college. He felt that it gave him a better perspective in his medical practice. He was a true intellectual and unlike other MDs in my family, he was a very well rounded individual.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Hayden said...

Why not philosophy? I can't think of any really good pre-law majors anyway. Used to be a lot of pre-laws did poly "sci" but that seems less useful than maybe an English major. At least with an English major, you presumably need critical reading skills.

My vote would probably be a rhetoric major. And, yes, they still exist, which surprised me. Supposedly a lost art, but there is a lot of money in law for those who can speak really persuasively.

Finally though, I lost interest in philosophy in college when I had a class on Plato, etc., and couldn't quite grasp why I did as poorly on my papers as I did. The prof explained that my interpretation was wrong because it wasn't the interpretation of him and his academic peers. Coming from math and the sciences, this was not a convincing argument. My view was that if he couldn't prove me wrong, other than by reference to other recent academics, then he was wrong to downgrade my interpretations. My conclusion here was bolstered by the fact that he was supposedly the best logician in the department. I figured, sorry, I will stick with the logicians in the math department who seemed much better able to defend their positions.

Skyler said...

Bruce, I had a similar experience. I went to Notre Dame and majored in mechanical engineering. But as a liberal arts school, even the engineers there are required to take more than their usual share of English, philosophy, theology, etc. It really should have been a five year degree.

My first philosophy class was taught by a sweet nun who was not very much older than her students. In my first paper I was asked to discuss Descartes' "Mediation on First Philosophy" which, if I have the correct title, contains several syllogisms purporting to "prove" the existence of god.

My paper centered on showing the logical fallacies in his syllogisms, and I concluded that for such a great mathematician to put forth such shoddy logic, we should be careful about all else he claims.

Whether my paper was well written or not I don't know, but she gave me a D and her only comment was "Who do you think you are to question Descartes."

That's when I first started to realize that academia is not the place to learn philosophy. The "great conversation" has been overtaken by boors who increasinly sound like sophomores arguing in a college dorm, with each trying to impress the other with more outlandish and nonsensical theories when the answers are comaratively simple. A is A.

Seven Machos said...

I majored in philosophy to raise my GPA. I kept making bad grades in econ classes and good grades in philosophy classes I took on the side. I took so many of them that it became a matter of taking a couple more and picking up the major.

It is fun.

Fen said...

"what they learn in class can translate into practical skills"

And can also lead you into a Black Hole. If you come out of it intact, you'll be okay, relatively speaking...

mtrobertsattorney said...

I agree with Ann that philosophy is the best preparation for law school.

I am a practicing lawyer but,from time to time,I teach philosophy as an adjunct at the local university.

The skills developed from reading and working hard at understanding complex arguments about complex matters are especially helpful in appellate litigation. There is a great difference between argumentation at the trial court level and argumentation before an appellate panel. The former most often consists of sophistry and appeals to emotion. But this does not work with appellate judges. This is why very good trial attorneys seldom make good appellate attorneys. With an appellate panel, it is the ability to construct logically sound arguments and indentify your opponent's unstated (and implausible) assumptions that count.

former law student said...

Learning logic is helpful for law, but I would say logic beyond Barbara Celarent is overkill. In my school, the best students had PhDs in the hard sciences. The worst students I knew had undergrad degrees in music and in political science.

In the rest of the world, law is studied at the bachelor's level but you may need a doctorate if you want to practice. The ABA used to require only two years of undergrad but boosted the requirement as a way of upgrading the profession.

California requires only two years for students at Calbar approved schools and unapproved schools, but you can obtain these credits via CLEP, so you need not enroll in college at all.

Undergraduate education is not essential for lawyers; Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner passed the California bar two years after graduating Palo Alto High, with less than a year of post-secondary education.

reader_iam said...

There's a reason--actually, more than one--why the core curriculum around which I'm developing the homeschool approach with which I will be teaching my son* starting at the end ** of this school year has philosophy as one (one) of the fundamental components, and as one (one of a number of organizing principles.

*now 7, going on 8

** OK, so I'm jumping the gun a bit, around the margins; well, it's not as if there's not a bit of a natural, if heretofore unplanned, precedent there

Prosecutorial Indiscretion said...

I majored in philosophy, then got a grad degree in it (focusing on philosophy of mind) and seriously contemplated pursuing a teaching career in philosophy before I ended up in law school. I was lucky enough study philosophy at places where students were encouraged to think and question rather than toe the line, and the methods of philosophy translated decently to law school and even better to my actual practice of law. Ultimately I chose law because I wanted to have a more tangible impact and deal with lots of different people in lots of different situations. I think, though, that philosophy programs will be poorly served in the long run by marketing themselves as a preprofessional track. Lots of the fun of the major was that the students were interested in the material for its own sake and enjoyed talking about it and kicking ideas around to see what shook out. Load those classes up with gunners-to-be and they'll be a hell of a lot less fun for students who are there to learn and not just to get into HLS.

Blair said...

While I can't say my BA in Philosophy has helped me much financially, I wouldn't trade it for any other degree. You don't do it for the money anyway. You do it because you love to think, and enquire and reason and grapple with this strange phenomenon called life.

What impressed me about philosophy as a discipline was the openness to any idea that could be backed up with rational argument. You didn't get that in sociology, for example, where you basically have to be a communist in order to get anywhere.

I pity Skyler for getting knocked back for criticising Descartes! I can't imagine that happening where I studied at the University of Auckland. I could say anything I liked about the "great philosophers" - if you weren't criticising them, you weren't learning anything! Perhaps I have been lucky to attend a good school...

Oh, and Skyler, don't be so down on 19th Century German philosophers! Nietzsche was pretty damned clever...

Rick Lee said...

Back in the 70s I had a friend who got his BA in Philosophy and I once teased him "what are you going to do with that? open a little philosophy shop?" He explained that getting the degree in philosophy was to teach him how to think and reason... then he could go on to get a practical degree such as an MBA or law degree. I couldn't argue with that.

Henry said...

This was the laugh-out-loud moment for me:

last week, 11 students debated the metaphysics behind the movie “The Matrix” for more than an hour

We be deep thinkers deeply thinking.