The Philosophy Major: Daring to Ask "The Right Questions"
Choosing philosophy as her major made perfect sense to Yineth Sanchez (class of 2013), who plans to pursue a law career as a prosecutor and possibly a judge. Beyond the professional applications of studying philosophy, Sanchez was intrigued by the potential for personal discovery through the discipline’s emphasis on inquiry.
“I chose the philosophy major because it is a discipline that dares to ask the right questions,” said Sanchez, an Honors Program student at NSU who is also majoring in legal studies and a member of the Dual Admission Program in law.
“After taking an Honors seminar on philosophy and Western film, I realized that I wanted to learn more about the ‘why’ of things rather than the ‘how.’ This led me to see how different philosophy is from other disciplines. It does not simply present me with a generally accepted principle, formula, or process to follow. Instead, it constantly invites me to analyze and critique those commonly accepted methods of thinking.”
“Philosophy students learn how to identify and question key assumptions, determine which claims require support, recognize logical fallacies, evaluate arguments for their logical strength, and argue cogently for their own conclusions,” said David McNaron, Ph.D., professor at NSU, who serves as chair of the philosophy major.
According to McNaron, philosophy majors score among the highest of all the most popular majors on standardized tests, such as the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and they are near the top on the GRE General Test, outscored only by physics and math majors.
“The strong performance of philosophy majors is probably due to philosophy’s emphasis on language and logic,” he said. “One of the hallmarks of a philosophical education is the development of an individual’s capacity for sustained critical reflection.”
Students hone critical-thinking skills by learning what constitutes an argument, how to distinguish the premises of an argument from its conclusion, and how to identify missing or unstated premises. They also learn how to distinguish between truth and validity, deduction from induction, and between various kinds of statements, such as empirical, moral, and conceptual.
“Philosophy is very practical because it teaches us how to think. Logic, after all, is a branch of philosophy. The ability to critically evaluate arguments is one of the most widely applicable skills.”
With a philosophy degree, graduates of the program may select from a variety of careers.
“Aristotle’s student, Alexander the Great, conquered the world,” said McNaron, who also points to Larry Sanger, an American philosopher who is the co-founder of Wikipedia and founder of Citizendium. “I know of very successful lawyers, business people, scientists, computer engineers, physicians, and career professionals in government and law enforcement who have backgrounds in philosophy. It increases one’s opportunities rather than restricting them.”
Last summer, Sanchez was awarded a 10-week internship through The Washington Center at the office of U.S. Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart. “Being a philosophy major gave me a competitive edge when applying to be a Capitol Hill intern,” she said. “It showed that I was a critical thinker.”
Sanchez has found other “internal and external benefits” to studying philosophy.
“At one end, it might serve as a personal quest to a distinctive outlook in life and to personal inquiry about the world. It might also make a student a more balanced candidate for graduate school programs or jobs,” said Sanchez, who is working with McNaron to submit a paper for review by the Florida Philosophical Association. If selected, her paper will be published in the Florida Philosophical Review.
“Research opportunities such as this have enhanced my abilities to produce work that I feel passionate about. They also have given me a genuine opportunity to search for answers to personal philosophical inquiries. In addition, being a philosophy major has tremendously improved my writing, critical thinking, reading comprehension, and my public speaking skills. In short, it has made me a more skilled college student.”