By Stacey Robertson
There are three primary reasons to major in philosophy or religious studies: Earn more, score higher, love what you do.
The CWU College of Arts and Humanities Philosophy and Religious Studies Department believes students who want to succeed should choose one of its majors. The contention may raise an eyebrow or two, particularly as politicians have used Philosophy as a preferred example of a “useless” degree
“We need more welders and less philosophers,” said Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
With all due respect to welders, the evidence of demand for philosophers runs directly counter to Senator Rubio’s contention.
According to the Payscale.com 2015-2016 College Salary Report, a biochemistry major earns an annual salary of $43,400 in early career and $84,500 in mid-career. In comparison, a philosophy major starts at an average of $42,200 and reaches $85,000 by mid-career.
Philosophy majors are paid well because employers want talented people who can think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems. Moreover, for students who want to pursue a postgraduate degree, these skills also lead to excellent scores on professional and graduate exams. Philosophy students score second highest among all majors on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), fourth highest on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), and top of the list among Humanities majors in the Graduate Record Examination test (GRE).
Part of the CWU Family for 13 Years …and Counting
Dr. Matthew Altman, who earned a Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 2001, has served as our department chair for three years. Asked why students may opt for philosophy, Altman quickly replies that students love all aspects of the major. They develop the courage to question their own closely held beliefs. They learn how to defend their assertions. They position themselves for success in life and career.
Before assuming his present position as department chair, Altman was the director of the William O. Douglas Honors College for six years. He now oversees the activities of 10 faculty members, who teach hundreds of students every quarter in both general education and advanced courses.
The department’s 130 majors and minors take courses in a wide variety of subjects including: Philosophy and Science Fiction; Philosophy of Law (e.g., same-sex marriage, juvenile executions, Nuremberg trials, Edward Snowden); Philosophy of Race (e.g., Black Lives Matter); Medical Ethics (physician-assisted suicide, health care, Terri Schiavo).
Similar to many of the disciplines offered by the CWU College of Arts and Humanities, philosophy is grounded in ancient history (e.g., Aristotle and Plato), advancing through hundreds of years (e.g., Descartes, Hegel, Kant), and arrives in the present day (e.g., Rawls, Nussbaum, Nagel). Courses cover many topics of modern relevance, including contemporary ethics, politics, and social theory.
According to Altman, great philosophers will always have important lessons for students. Aristotle taught us that philosophy begins in wonder. René Descartes said that in order to have well-founded beliefs, we need to build on a certain foundation: cogito, ergo sum, “I think therefore I am.” Immanuel Kant espoused that when it comes to ethics, we cannot make an exception of ourselves and that all people have inherent value.
Equally relevant to today’s complex world is the field of religious studies. Issues related to religious history, meaning, and culture appear in the headlines nearly every day. Altman made it clear that his department does not teach religious theology, but provides a broad background for students to understand the interplay and relationship among the world religions.
Dr. Altman embraces the philosophy of serving one’s community. He was a member of the Ethics Committee at a local hospital from 2008-2015, and in fall 2015 he was elected to the Board of Commissioners for Kittitas County Public Hospital District No. 1 for a six-year term.
Clearly, it is misguided to say that philosophy and religious studies are useless, or that professors live in an ivory tower. The fields are alive and well: philosophy and religious studies graduates are employable, and the field is crucial to understanding and engaging with our ever-changing world.