What Do Philosophers Do?

An inside look into the life of the modern day philosopher.

The School of Athens, by Raphael, depicting the central figures of Plato and Aristotle, and other ancient philosophers exchanging knowledge.

The School of Athens, by Raphael, depicting the central figures of Plato and Aristotle, and other ancient philosophers exchanging knowledge.

via The Atlantic:

The romanticized version of what it’s like to be a philosopher must be one of the most appealing careers possible: read great thinkers, think deep thoughts, and while away the days in a beautiful office, surrounded by books, an Emeralite lamp, a hot mug of coffee, and perhaps a cat curled up by your feet. For the very few, your profound thoughts could revolutionize whole fields, herald new political ages, and inspire generations.

Of course, for many, academic philosophy proves a disappointment—an endless slog to publish, the tedium and heartache of departmental politics, and a dismal job market that tends to  people to far-flung college towns, far away from family and friends.

So what is a budding philosopher to do?

An informative series of posts by Helen De Cruz of New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science features interviews with seven philosophy Ph.D.s who have left academia for the private sector. There’s a software engineer, a television comedy writer, a statistical researcher, a consultant, a network-security engineer, and a search-engine developer. None of them are what would traditionally be thought of as a “philosopher.”

In a few cases, they’ve found that their new jobs provide surprising platforms for further philosophical examination, such as the television screenwriter Eric Kaplan, who said, “I’m very interested in [the] tension between life and theory and mind and emotions; I explore that both in philosophy writing and in script writing.” Similarly, Claartje van Sijl, who now runs her own consulting and training company, says that the philosophy she studied informs the advice she gives. Her philosophy training, she explains, “has familiarized me with the greatest philosophical thoughts of 2500 years of history that I can now use as a sounding board for my clients’ and my own reflections.”

But, for the most part, the philosophers aren’t deploying their firm grasp of Kierkegaard in their private-sector work. Rather, it’s the skills that philosophers are trained in—critical thinking, clear writing, quick learning—that translate well to life outside of academia. As Zachary Ernst, a software engineer at Narrative Science, puts it, “As a professional philosopher, if you haven’t gotten over-specialized and narrow, then you’ve got really good analytic and communication skills. So you’ve got the ability to learn quickly and efficiently. You’re also in the habit of being very critical of all sorts of ideas and approaches to a variety of problems. And if you’ve taught a lot, then you’re probably pretty comfortable with public speaking. Those skills are very rare in almost any workforce, and they’re extremely valuable.”

Read more here.

2 Comments on "What Do Philosophers Do?"

  1. Clearly these godless hippies finally got with the picture and got real jobs instead.

    Don’t Follow Your Dreams©, Kiddies, unless you know how to properly monetize afterwards.

  2. jimpliciter | Aug 3, 2014 at 3:01 am |

    Peter Unger would disagree…

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