Majoring

Philosophy Senior SeminarHere you will find information on the requirements for majoring in philosophy, the procedure for declaring a major in philosophy, and the employment prospects of philosophy majors.

Majoring at MU

The Philosophy Department has about 60 majors, comprising men and women from many backgrounds, and representing a diversity of political and religious views.  Because the major is small, philosophy majors can expect personal attention from the 13 members of the Department’s faculty.

Each major is assigned a Faculty Mentor, a member of the Department’s faculty whose role is to be available to their mentees whenever they wish to discuss the overall shape of their education at MU, their plans post-graduation, and, of course, any problems they are experiencing.

Faculty members’ research interests include all the main areas of philosophy and much else.  Their distinction as researchers means that at MU you can take 4000-level courses in areas of philosophy with professors who are nationally and internationally renowned experts in those areas.  There are also opportunities for undergraduates to engage in philosophical research.

The Department is deeply committed to educational rigor.  For example, in every 3000- or 4000-level course (excluding courses in logic), the requirements must include a substantial writing assignment, typically in the form of one or more thesis-defense papers.

Requirements: BA in Philosophy

Majoring in philosophy for the BA degree requires 30 credits in philosophy distributed as follows:
 
Logic Requirement (= 3 credits)
One of the following three courses:
PHIL 1200 Logic and Reasoning
PHIL 1200H Logic and Reasoning (Honors)
PHIL 2700 Elementary Logic (recommended option)

Required Courses (= 9 credits)
All of the following three courses:
PHIL 3000 Ancient Western Philosophy
PHIL 3200 Modern Philosophy
PHIL 4950 Senior Seminar (Capstone Experience)

3000-Level/4000-Level Requirement (= 9 credits)
Any three semester-based courses at the 3000-level or 4000-level not already taken to meet other major requirements, except for 4998 and 4999.

Philosophy Electives (= 9 credits)
Nine philosophy credits in any classes (excluding 4998 and 4999) not taken to meet other major requirements; but no more than three 1000-level philosophy courses may be used as philosophy electives.

Notes and Restrictions:
• A minor in another field is recommended, but not required. 
• At least one course in philosophy must be Writing Intensive.
• You must earn a grade of C- or above in every philosophy course you take, and not just an average of C- or above in all your philosophy courses.

 

Requirements: BS in Philosophy

Majoring in philosophy for the BS degree requires 42 credits in philosophy distributed as follows:

Required Courses (= 12 credits)
All of the following four courses:
PHIL 2700 Elementary Logic
PHIL 3000 Ancient Western Philosophy
PHIL 3200 Modern Philosophy
PHIL 4950 Senior Seminar (Capstone Experience)

3000-Level/4000-Level Requirement (= 9 credits)
Any three semester-based courses at the 3000-level or 4000-level not already taken to meet other major requirements, except for 4998 and 4999.

Further BS Requirement (= 12 credits)
Any four semester-based courses from the following list:
PHIL 2600 Rational Decisions
PHIL 2820 Introduction to Cognitive Science
PHIL 4100 Philosophy of Language
PHIL 4110 Advanced Logic
PHIL 4120 Selected Topics in Logic
PHIL 4130 Probability and Induction
PHIL 4150 Formal Semantics
PHIL 4200 Metaphysics
PHIL 4210 Philosophy of Mind
PHIL 4400 Philosophy of Science
PHIL 4420 Philosophy of Biology
 
Philosophy Electives (= 9 credits)
Nine philosophy credits in any classes (excluding 4998 and 4999) not taken to meet other major requirements; but no more than three 1000-level philosophy courses may be used as philosophy electives.

Notes and Restrictions:
• A minor in another field is recommended, but not required. 
• At least one course in philosophy must be Writing Intensive.
• You must earn a grade of C- or above in every philosophy course you take, and not just an average of  C- or above in all your philosophy courses.
• In place of the foreign language requirement, students may take 12 hours of coursework at the 2000-level or higher in Mathematics, Statistics, Physical or Biological Sciences, Psychology, or Economics.

 

BA or BS?

Which degree is better for you?  Because the BA is easier to complete and has no special emphasis, it is the better choice for most students.  The BS was introduced to emphasize the use of formal methods in philosophy and the many connections between philosophy and the sciences; it may therefore be the better choice for those wishing to double major in philosophy and a science.  If in doubt, please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Procedures and Forms

To declare a philosophy major, you must first complete a form, called a Graduation Plan.  You should download either the Graduation Plan for the BA or the Graduation Plan for the BS, as appropriate.

Once you have completed the form to the best of your ability, you should arrange to meet with the Philosophy Department's Undergraduate Adviser, Ms Kibby Smith.  She will check that the form has been completed correctly and answer any questions about it that you might have.  Once she has indicated the Philosophy Department’s approval of the plan by signing it, you will need to take it to the College of Arts & Science Advising Office in 107 Lowry Hall.

The Philosophy Major and Employability

The first question on the mind of every prospective philosophy major—and of his or her parents—is, of course, “What can you do with a philosophy degree?”.  The surprising answer to this question turns out to be, “Plenty”.  According to the latest PayScale College Salary Report, the mid-career (10+ years of experience) median salary of employees whose only degree is a BA in philosophy is $85,100—which beats out BA’s in most other Humanities subjects as well as many vocational BA’s and BA’s in the sciences.

Employees whose only degree is a BA in philosophy are not hired because of their knowledge of philosophical debates (college and university teaching in philosophy requires a PhD) or because of any other vocation-specific information that their philosophical education has imparted to them.  They are hired because it has given them a rigorous intellectual training.  The successful study of philosophy helps students to develop the following intellectual abilities, among others:

· to grasp the big picture as well as fine details
· to think, speak, and write about highly abstract and conceptually demanding questions
· to identify key assumptions made in arguments
· to make relevant conceptual distinctions
· to assess the pros and cons of proposed solutions.

Because this intellectual training is applicable to a wide range of activities, philosophy majors can be found in an unusually wide range of careers.  To illustrate this range, here are the names of some prominent and successful people with philosophy degrees, together with their careers:

· Aung San Suu Kyi -- Nobel Peace Prize winner
· David Souter, Stephen Breyer -- U.S. Supreme Court Justices
· Beverly McLachlin -- Chief Justice of Canada
· Ricky Gervais, Steve Allen, Steve Martin -- comedians
· Stacy London -- host/producer of What Not To Wear
· Sheila Colleen Bair -- 19th Chairperson of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
· Herbert Simon, Maurice Allais, John Harsanyi, Amartya Sen -- Economics Nobel Prize winners
· Carly Fiorina, George Soros, Eva Chen, Peter Lynch -- business people
· Rebecca Goldstein -- novelist and philosopher
· Terrence Malik, Deepa Mehta, Ethan Coen, Wes Anderson -- filmmakers
· Susan Sarandon -- actor
· Steve Reich, Philip Glass -- composers
· Amy Ellis Nutt -- Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
· Tamara Keith -- NPR White House Correspondent

Many more examples can be found at the website of the American Philosophical Association.

A very small percentage (i.e., less than 2%) of philosophy majors at MU go on to earn PhD's and become philosophy professors.  Others go on to earn PhD’s in other disciplines such as psychology or economics or neuroscience.  Many philosophy majors, of course, go on to law school, for which a philosophical training is excellent preparation.  But some go on to medical school, business school, and other professional programs.  Others find jobs as, for example, web designers, technical writers, copyeditors, and programmers.

Philosophy majors, it turns out, do outstandingly well on the main standardized tests for admission to graduate and professional programs:

· on the GRE (for admission to graduate school), philosophy majors have, out of 50 majors, the highest verbal scores, the highest analytic writing scores, and the fifteenth highest quantitative scores—which is higher than all other humanities and all social sciences other than economics. For older data, see this chart provided by North Carolina State University; for 2013 data, see this comparison of GRE scores by major.
· on the LSAT (for admission to law school), philosophers do exceptionally well, as evidenced by this chart of LSAT scores by major.
· on the GMAT (for admission to business school), philosophy majors have the fourth highest scores (below mathematics, physics, and engineering).  For data, see this chart of GMAT scores by intended major.

Of course, the scores achieved by philosophy majors on these tests are probably high to some extent because students who choose to major in philosophy tend to start out more talented in the ways tested.  Still, philosophy courses place a heavy emphasis on analytical thinking and careful reading and writing.

More about the benefits of an undergraduate major in philosophy can be found in this useful guide on the website of the American Philosophical Association.

Here are links to various stories in the press about the surprising practicality of a philosophical education:

Nine famous execs who majored in philosophy (Business Insider)
To succeed in business, study philosophy! (The Atlantic, "The Management Myth")
Amazing but true! (Philly.com, "Study of Philosophy Makes Gains Despite Economy")
The Atlantic, "Is Philosophy the Practical Major?" 

Finally, Philosophy Department has written a helpful document giving practical advice on how to get hired as a philosophy major.