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1.4: An Overview of Contemporary Philosophy

  • Page ID
    162129
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    Learning Objectives

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Identify the role of professional philosophers in academics and beyond.
    • Identify the structure, organization, and thematic goals of the textbook.

    Contemporary academic philosophy bears minimal resemblance to the classical traditions we have discussed in the previous sections. Philosophers today, like other academics, focus on specific areas of research expertise with the goal of producing new research that advances our philosophical understanding of specific problems or topic areas. That said, philosophical investigation is still motivated by the same desire to make sense of things in the most general way possible. In this section, we will introduce you to what philosophy majors do. Additionally, we will provide a brief summary of the themes and organization of the textbook.

    What Can You Do with a Philosophy Major?

    Majoring in philosophy is a great way to complete a liberal arts degree. Philosophy will introduce you to fascinating ideas and teach you to think analytically and creatively. If you enjoy the topics in this book, you should consider a philosophy major.

    Becoming a Philosophy Teacher

    To pursue a career in academic philosophy, you must major in philosophy as an undergraduate and continue your studies in the field by doing some graduate work. Community colleges and some four-year schools employ instructors with a master’s degree in philosophy. However, it is very common for these jobs to be occupied almost entirely by people with PhDs. Academic jobs, particularly in the humanities and liberal arts, are extremely competitive. Even with a PhD, it will be difficult to find a job in an academic department. That said, it is much more common to find jobs teaching than doing research, but many teaching jobs still require some research. A philosophy professor or instructor may be asked to teach on a wide variety of subjects, depending on the needs of the school. By contrast, when doing research, academic philosophers tend to focus on a very specific area with the goal of becoming an expert in that topic. Expertise is generally marked by the production of research work, such as a dissertation, book, or several research articles on the topic. Academic research jobs are typically secured with tenure, meaning that there are strong protections against unjustified firing. However, recent studies of federal data show that 73 percent of all academic jobs are not on the tenure track (meaning there is no chance to secure tenure). Additionally, 40 percent of all academic teaching positions are occupied by part-time faculty. The distribution of tenured, tenure-track, non-tenure track, and part-time employees varies greatly by institution type, with community colleges employing far more part-time instructors and far fewer tenured and tenure-track instructors. Meanwhile, research universities employ more tenured and tenure-track faculty and fewer part-time faculty (AAUP 2018).

    Alternatives to Academic Philosophy

    Philosophy undergraduate and graduate degree majors have many options outside of teaching and research in an academic environment. There is a widespread and somewhat mistaken belief that the purpose of selecting a college major is to prepare you for a specific career. While that may be true for some technical degrees, like engineering or nursing, it is generally not true for degrees in the liberal arts and sciences. Many students enter college with a desire to pursue a career in some area of business or commerce. Others plan to go on to a professional graduate school in medicine or law. While it may seem like the best career decision would be to major in business, premed, or prelaw, this notion is probably misguided.

    The original idea behind a liberal arts and sciences education was that high school graduates could study a broad range of fields in the core areas of knowledge that are foundational for our culture, society, and civilization—areas like the natural and social sciences, literature, history, religion, and philosophy. By studying these fields, students gain insights into the key ideas, methods of investigation, questions, and discoveries that underlie modern civilization. Those insights give you a perspective on the world today that is informed by the history and learning that make today’s world possible. And that perspective can have a transformative effect that goes far beyond job preparation.

    When philosophy majors are compared to other majors in terms of their long-term career earnings, it appears that philosophy majors do very well. While the starting salaries of philosophy majors are lower than some other majors, their mid-career salaries compare very favorably with majors in areas like finance, engineering, and math.

    A graph presents the median mid-career salaries (10 years after graduation) of a range of college majors. The graph shows that philosophy graduates fall in the middle of the salary range. The data is as follows: Information Technology graduates earned approximately $50,000 after 10 years; Accounting graduates, approximately $48,000; Geology, approximately $45,000; Chemistry, approximately $42,000; Political Science, approximately $42,000; Marketing, approximately $42,000; Philosophy, approximately $41,000; Nutrition, approximately $41,000; Healthcare Administration, approximately $40,000; Biology, approximately $40,000; English, approximately $39,000; Hospitality & Tourism, approximately $39,000; Psychology, approximately $38,000; Graphic Design, approximately $38,000; Education, approximately $37,000; and Spanish, approximately $35,000.
    Figure 1.10 Median mid-career salaries (10 years after graduation) by college major. Philosophy majors make more, on average, than those majoring in many other areas. (source: Wall Street Journal) (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax under CC BY 4.0 license)

    Additionally, philosophy majors have some of the highest LSAT and GMAT scores of any major (these are the tests generally required for admission to law school and business school, respectively). Quite a few former philosophy majors have gone on to become CEOs of large corporations, such as Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, and Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard (Chideya 2015).

    Many philosophers who have earned a graduate degree in philosophy and held positions as professors and instructors have made successful transitions to other careers, including start-ups, technology, business, ethics review boards, and public philosophy. Nigel Warburton, a former philosophy professor, started the philosophy podcast “Philosophy Bites” that is one of the most downloaded podcasts on academic topics. He also is an editor-in-chief of the online magazine Aeon. David Barnett, a former philosophy professor, founded the company PopSockets in 2012 after leaving academia. That company now employs over 200 people and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue. Additionally, there are a growing number of technology, neuroscience, and medical firms that are specifically looking to hire philosophers to help with research and ethics reviews. Marcus Arvan maintains a public directory of academic philosophers who have found work outside of academia at Philosophers in Industry. In short, philosophers can be found nearly everywhere doing useful work and making good money. You should not let concerns about career prospects drive you away from studying philosophy.

    An Overview of Your Philosophy Textbook

    This textbook is organized in a way that generally reflects the broad areas of specialization in contemporary academic philosophy. Areas of specialization can be grouped into the following fields: historical traditions; metaphysics and epistemology; science, logic, and mathematics; and value theory. The fields of science, logic, and mathematics include research into contemporary symbolic logic as well as interdisciplinary work in the philosophy of mathematics and the sciences; these areas are closely related to metaphysics and epistemology. Value theory includes metaethics and the meaning of value, aesthetics, normative moral theories (ethics), and political philosophy. This textbook aims to provide a general overview of each of these areas. We give students a theoretical survey of each field in philosophy and introduce applications of these areas of study to contemporary issues of interest. Additionally, we have an explicitly multicultural focus. We emphasize that philosophy has been studied and practiced throughout the world since the beginning of recorded history. In doing so, we are attempting to confront the Eurocentric bias that has been inherent to the study of philosophy in the West and create a more inclusive curriculum.

    Throughout this text, we introduce you to the stunning array of philosophers and ideas from ancient Greece, Rome, and China, the classical Islamic and the late medieval European worlds, Africa, India, Japan, and Latin America. We help situate you within the different regions and time periods using timelines and other tools.

    Whether you go on to study philosophy or this is the only philosophy course you take, the habits of mind and techniques of philosophical thought you will learn can have a transformative effect. When you allow yourself to reflect on how a certain situation connects to the whole, when you critically examine your own biases and beliefs, when you investigate the world with an open mind, informed by rational methods of investigation, you will arrive at a richer sense of who you are and what your place is in the world.


    This page titled 1.4: An Overview of Contemporary Philosophy is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Nathan Smith et al. (OpenStax) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.