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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Uses Of Philosophy III

The Uses Of Philosophy In Non-Academic Careers

It should be stressed immediately that the non-academic value of a field of study must not be viewed mainly in terms of its contribution to obtaining one’s first job after graduation. Students are understandably preoccupied with getting their first job, but even from a narrow vocational point of view it would be short-sighted to concentrate on that at the expense of developing potential for success and advancement once hired.
What gets graduates initially hired may not yield promotions or carry them beyond their first position, particularly given how fast the needs of many employers alter with changes in social and economic patterns. It is therefore crucial to see beyond what a job description specifically calls for. Philosophy need not be mentioned among a job’s requirements in order for the benefits derivable from philosophical study to be appreciated by the employer, and those benefits need not even be explicitly appreciated in order to be effective in helping one advance.
It should also be emphasized here that – as recent studies show – employers want, and reward, many of the capacities which the study of philosophy develops: for instance, the ability to solve problems, to communicate, to organize ideas and issues, to assess pros and cons, and to boil down complex data. These capacities represent transferable skills. They are transferable not only from philosophy to non-philosophical areas, but from one non-philosophical field to another. For that reason, people trained in philosophy are not only prepared to do many kinds of tasks; they can also cope with change, or even move into new careers, more readily than many others.
Regarding current trends in business, a writer in the New York Times reported that “businessmen are coming to appreciate an education that at its best produces graduates who can write and think clearly and solve problems” (June 23, 1981). A recent long-term study by the Bell Telephone Company, moreover, determined that majors in liberal arts fields, in which philosophy is a central discipline, “continue to make a strong showing in managerial skills and have experienced considerable business success” (Career Patterns, by Robert E. Beck). The study concluded that “there is no need for liberal arts majors to lack confidence in approaching business careers.” A related point is made by a Senior Vice President of the American Can Company:
Students with any academic background are prepared for business when they can educate themselves and can continue to grow without their teachers, when they have mastered techniques of scholarship and discipline, and when they are challenged to be all they can be (Wall Street Journal, February 2, 1981).
As all this suggests, there are people trained in philosophy in just about every field. They have gone not only into such professions as teaching (at all levels), medicine, and law, but into computer science, management, publishing, sales, criminal justice, public relations, and other fields. Some professionally trained philosophers are also on legislative staffs, and the work of some of them, for a senior congressman, prompted him to say:
It seems to me that philosophers have acquired skills which are very valuable to a member of Congress. The ability to analyze a problem carefully and consider it from many points of view is one. Another is the ability to communicate ideas clearly in a logically compelling form. A third is the ability to handle the many different kinds of problems which occupy the congressional agenda at any time. (Lee H. Hamilton, 9th District, Indiana, March 25, 1982.)
In emphasizing the long-range benefits of training in philosophy, whether through a major or through only a sample of courses in the field, there are at least two further points to note. The first concerns the value of philosophy for vocational training. The second applies to the whole of life.
First, philosophy can yield immediate benefits for students planning post-graduate work. As law, medical, business, and other professional school faculty and admissions personnel have often said, philosophy is excellent preparation for the training and later careers of the professionals in question. In preparing to enter such fields as computer science, management, or public administration, which, like medicine, have special requirements for postgraduate study, a student may of course major (or minor) both in philosophy and some other field.
The second point here is that the long-range value of philosophical study goes far beyond its contribution to one’s livelihood. Philosophy broadens the range of things one can understand and enjoy. It can give one self-knowledge, foresight, and a sense of direction in life. It can provide, to one’s reading and conversation, special pleasures of insight. It can lead to self-discovery, expansion of consciousness, and self-renewal. Through all of this, and through its contribution to one’s expressive powers, it nurtures individuality and self-esteem. Its value for one’s private life can be incalculable; its benefits in one’s public life as a citizen can be immeasurable.

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