Oct 252011
Authors: Colleen Canty

Here’s some food for thought: philosophy may be the solution to the current economic recession.

According to a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the number of four-year philosophy majors nationwide has increased by 46 percent in the past decade. This growth surpasses those of larger departments, such as history and psychology, and seems to be concurrent with the economic recession.

CSU’s own Philosophy Department saw a 17 percent spike in philosophy course enrollment in 2008, the same year the National Bureau of Economic Research officially declared the country’s economic recession. Although the department as a whole remains fairly small, comprised of only 80 majoring students, the number of declared majors is currently up 8 percent from 2009.

“I do think we get more majors during times when the larger historical and political scene is in flux,” said Jane Kneller, professor and chair of the university’s department of philosophy. “We had a significant rise in majors and course enrollments after 9/11, for instance.”

But why is a major stereotyped by some as a “useless waste of time” according to philosophy graduate Matt Slaughter, gaining so much momentum during a period of so much economic hardship?
“Being able to rationally and levelly assess such situations is one of the core abilities a philosopher acquires,” Slaughter said. “An unemployed engineer or businessman might not have the perspective to stay positive in such a time.”

According to Kneller, students are drawn to the area of study when they desire to “think about both root causes of problems as well as big-picture visions for the future.” Kneller encourages such students to pursue philosophy; however, she is aware of common hesitations.

Philosophy is defined as “a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs,” according to dictionary.com. This simplicity leads some to criticize the major’s relevance in academia.

“I don’t know what a student who studied philosophy would do career-wise,” said Natalie Boor, freshman natural resources major. “Besides become an author, what else could they do for an occupation?”

According to Slaughter and Kneller, to have dynamic thinking –– to be constantly analyzing and constructing reason –– is one way to elude the erosion of societal structure. In today’s economy, one can no longer simply follow the formula that a college diploma plus basic communication skills results in a dependable career.

“The world is changing more rapidly than it has ever changed before,” Slaughter said. “Clinging to ancient dogmas and contemporary prejudices is the best way to be irrelevant.”

Philosophy students score higher than all but four other fields of study on the Graduate Record Examination, according to the GRE Education Testing Service. Among popular pre-law majors such as political science, communications and public administration, philosophy students score the highest.

“Philosophy majors are forced to read, analyze and respond with their own criticisms to some of the most difficult texts in history,” Kneller said. “You can see why they are an asset to any job that requires critical thinking, reading and writing skills.”

For students with such universally demanded skills, money may be scarce, but hope still abounds. And the current negative outlook on the job market doesn’t phase Slaughter.

“There is immense value in philosophy to the down-trodden,” Slaughter said. “We are comforted by the fact that truth does not sway for the rich nor those who hold high office.”

Collegian reporter Colleen Canty can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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