“Is the mind anything more than the brain?” “Are there moral rules that apply to everyone, everywhere?” “What is free will, and do we have it?” “Do non-human animals have rights?”
The Philosophy Department offers wide-ranging introductory courses at the 1000- and 2000-levels, 3000-level courses on the history of philosophy, and 4000-level courses on specialties such as ethical theory, the philosophy of science, and the philosophy of religion. Courses at the 4000-level are taught by faculty members with national or international reputations for expertise in the relevant areas of philosophy.
The Department has about 50 majors, who come from many different backgrounds and hold a wide variety of political and religious views. Philosophy majors can expect personal attention from the Department’s faculty, who are strongly committed to excellence in undergraduate teaching. Upper division courses are small (usually 15-25 students), which enables you to get to know your professors. And every major is assigned a faculty mentor, whose role is to be available to discuss such things as the overall shape of your education at MU and any problems you might be having.
The Department also offers a Departmental Honors program, a minor and, from Fall 2020, a Certificate in Ethical Theory and Practice.
Why major in Philosophy?
What skills will I acquire?
The practical value of studying philosophy lies not in any vocation-specific information that it imparts but rather in the intellectual training that it provides. Successful study of philosophy requires, and helps develop, several intellectual abilities:
• 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.
Philosophy majors do extremely well, on average, on the main standardized tests:
• on the GRE (for graduate school), students intending to study philosophy have (out of 51 majors) the highest verbal reasoning scores, the highest analytical writing scores, and the sixteenth highest quantitative scores (higher than all other humanities and all social sciences other than economics). For 2019-2022 data, see here.
• on both the LSAT (for law school) and the GMAT (for business school), philosophers do exceptionally well.
Of course, the test scores for philosophy majors may be high in large part because students who major in philosophy tend to be highly talented in the tested ways; see here. Still, philosophy courses place a heavy emphasis on critical thinking, reading, and writing. Moreover, one learns a lot from being in the same class as a group of highly talented people.
To find out more about the benefits of an undergraduate major in philosophy, check out the American Philosophical Association's Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates.
What kind of job can I get?
A very small percentage (e.g., less than 5%) of philosophy majors go on to earn a PhD in philosophy and become a philosophy professor. Some go on to earn PhD’s in other disciplines (such as psychology or economics). Many go on to law school, medical school, or other professional programs. On average, philosophy majors do extremely well in such programs. Others find jobs of various sorts (web design, technical writers, copyeditor, programmers, etc.).
The crucial point about the skills that philosophy develops is that they are general and transferable. Although a philosophy major does not prepare you for any particular job, it does prepare you well for a wide range of jobs that involve critical thinking. Moreover, although Philosophy majors without graduate degrees tend to have relatively low initial salaries, their salaries tend to increase faster than most other majors. According to the latest (updated for 2023) PayScale College Salary Report, the mid-career (10+ years of experience) median salary of employees whose only degree is a BA in Philosophy is $105,500—which beats out BA’s in most other Humanities subjects as well as many vocational BA’s and BA’s in the sciences. For information on the many careers pursued by humanities graduates in general, see here.
Some prominent people with philosophy degrees:
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
For many more examples, visit here.
Some amazing Mizzou Philosophy alumni share their success stories.
Photos from the 2019 Senior Seminar with Dr. Andrew Melnyk. Photos by Fernando Alvear.