To be employable, study philosophy

Would-be journalists (and others) who want to be employable should avoid journalism programs and study philosophy, advises Shannon Rupp, a Canadian journalist, in Salon. She majored in political science and English, but also took philosophy classes that taught “something applicable to any and every job: clarity of thought.”

While “vague, trendy subjects” go out of fashion, philosophy stays relevant, writes Rupp. The University of Windsor is closing its Centre for Studies in Social Justice, possibly because “no one can actually define ‘social justice’.”

. . .  the importance of defining terms to ensure we all mean the same thing when we’re talking is one of those skills I picked up in philosophy.

I spent a semester defining ordinary things. Hats. Chairs. It’s harder than it looks. And I remember a classmate’s resistance to it. He kept ranting that it was stupid — everyone knows what a chair is! — before dropping out.

Of course, everyone only thinks she knows what a chair is. Or social justice, for that matter. Politicians, CEOs of questionable ethics, and all PR people count on exactly that. They will say something vague — I find the buzzwords du jour all seem to have some reference to “social” in them — and leave us to fill in the blanks with whatever pleases us.

Voila: we hear whatever we want and they get away with whatever they want.

Epistemology — the study of what we can know — teaches how to distinguish beliefs from facts, Rupp writes. Many people confuse the two.

The philosophy of science teaches about objectivity, which journalists often confuse with “being fair or denying personal bias.”

As newspapers began introducing advertorial copy and advertiser-driven sections, they retrained their staff to talk about “balance” instead of objectivity. As if printing opposing opinions somehow makes up for running half-truths.

What objectivity really means is to test for accuracy — regardless of what you suspect (or hope) might be true. In science they test knowledge by trying to poke holes in each other’s research. News reporters were taught a variation summed up by the cliché, “If someone tells you it’s raining, look out the window.”

The version I’ve heard is: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Teaching “critical thinking” (as opposed to uncritical thinking?) is all the rage these days. Should K-12 teachers study philosophy?

About Joanne


  1. In many countries, philosophy is taught in high schools (especially in gymnasia); it is considered part of an academic and intellectual foundation.

    I teach it at the high school level and have seen students take strong interest in it and develop a keenness of thinking.

    It takes focus and patience, but one can be playful with it too. I favor a combination of concerted study and play–with more of the former, because it provides a basis for the latter. Most of the assignments I gave my students pertained to the texts we were reading, but I also gave them opportunities to take off with the ideas and explore questions that interested them.

    The benefits? Exposure to interesting, enduring questions and intriguing texts; perspective on current problems; material for years of thought and rumination; and much more. I don’t know whether the study of philosophy can improve one’s job prospects, but I imagine it would enhance many a job.

    I have written a number of pieces about teaching high school philosophy. The most recent one is here:

  2. Also at the 1-12 level, most kids would benefit from an understanding of logic, along with an understanding of statistics. The ability to understand the difference between “I feel” and “I think” is also helpful.

  3. Here’s my favorite quote from Rupp’s article:

    “I’ve long thought that the debate about whether universities should be offering trades training or educating citizens is something of a red herring — the discussion should be about whether to study knowledge or nonsense.”

    • Mark Roulo says:

      I am meaner than you are. The bit I liked best was this:


      “…in June the Chicago Sun-Times fired its entire photography staff, replacing it with iPhones for the remaining reporters. Since most reporters shoot about as well as most photogs spell, I’m breathlessly awaiting the next report of their declining circulation.

      But apparently those sorts of comments were ‘killing the dreams’ of future journalism students, so I’ve stopped saying things like that. I figure if they don’t read enough news to know that media outlets are dropping faster than Stephen Harper’s approval rating, who am I to point out that it’s unwise to go to trade school to learn a dead trade.”

  4. greeneyeshade says:

    On the other hand, considering the political opinions of Bertrand Russell (certainly in his later years), Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, as Joseph Epstein observed once, is enough to make you take up sociology.

  5. Another, perhaps simpler, way to learn to define your terms and speak with precision is to take debate in high school (assuming such a thing still exists in our modern world). Getting humiliated in a debate will do wonders for habits of speech.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      Debate at the high school & college level is sort of like Philosophy… but it has elements of sophistry and rhetoric to it as well — a premium is placed on presentation and cleverness.

      I once judged a debate tournament where the topic was whether or not Santa Claus should be brought up on charges for mistreatment of the elves and reindeer.

      But getting back to Joanne’s original question… should Philosophy be taught?

      Hell yes.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Once had a guy make me crazy, going in circles, making the case for the perpetual motion machine. Conservation of matter and energy was easily overthrown.
    When I was at the point of punching him, he allowed he’d been on a debate team with that as the subject.