Philosophy Education and Job Competencies
Assistant Professor, Joy University (Tirunelveli, India)
Nov 6, 2022
I recently switched to one private University in Tamil Nadu - Joy University. I had been assigned to frame the curriculum and course structure for BA Philosophy. While framing the curriculum, I stuck with a few questions that I thought to discuss with Indian Philosophy Network (IPN) members. Therefore in the IPN mailing, I raised a few questions in the hope to receive some responses. The questions were: what is the current trend in the job market, and how an undergraduate Philosophy student could easily get a job? Is there a job apart from academics and research for Philosophy UG students? If a Philosophy student has to go into journalism, law, HR, consultancy, etc., then why shouldn’t the student will study journalism, law, etc. respectively, and get a degree in that particular subject, instead of studying a few years of Philosophy? How Philosophy as a subject could generate jobs?
These questions strike some IPN members as important to be discussed. In this regard, I acknowledge here sincere thanks to Sudakhya, Jobin Mathew Kanjirakkat, Mohan K Pillai, Siddharth, and Varun for discussing with me and giving me insight on these questions.
While framing these questions, I thought that these questions would again land up to the fundamental question about philosophy - "what is philosophy?". Bertrand Russell has answered it as the love of wisdom whereby wisdom is having a comprehensive picture of reality. However, the sentence "comprehensive picture of reality" is contentious and raises further questions. How do we get a comprehensive picture without experiencing all the aspects of life? Suppose, I am a poor philosopher that earns so little that I can hardly sustain myself. However, I have been given a task to explain the life of a rich person. Can I be able to provide a comprehensive picture of a rich person without experiencing that life? Can I be able to know "what it is like to be a rich person"? Is it meant that we can never be able to provide a comprehensive picture because of our limitation to experience various aspects of life? If that would be the case, does philosophical knowledge get reduced to knowing some buzzwords, which upon hearing by common people would create an impression that philosophers are 'intellectual' persons? Is philosophy just about discussing random thoughts? Or does philosophy have some practical relevance in our day to day life?
For Jobin, who is an independent philosophy scholar, the aim of philosophy is to "clarify the ideas and develop a reasonable concern for our fellow human and non human beings. Business or job-providers, on the other hand, are interested in increasing production, consumption and profits." Jobin’s statement consists of two parts (a) aim of philosophy (b) aim of job providers. Jobin has nicely summed up the aim of philosophy that having philosophical skill helps to understand various ideas in a much better manner than not having that skill. Further, by studying philosophy we would get exposure to ethical theories and thereby would be concerned for sentient beings. However, I am unsure why Jobin wants to completely differentiate the aim of philosophy from the aim of job-providers. If we differentiate it completely without considering "what it is like to be a job-provider" we are certainly restricting ourselves to know one aspect of life, i.e. aspect of a job-provider. This is because, to know about what it is like to be a job-provider, entrepreneur, business person, etc. we have to experience that state. Then only we could explain what it is like to be that person.
Maybe Jobin’s view to differentiate the two aims is to point that the primary objective of philosophy is not to generate jobs and further there is less probable chance that an undergrad in philosophy could land up in high paying jobs. However, this does not seem implied from his other statement- "if an undergraduate [philosophy] program can include components of relevant aspects of business and environmental studies, it will be very helpful I think." This statement of Jobin conveys that if we will study philosophy through integrating other subjects then the importance of studying philosophy will increase among those students who want to get immediate jobs after their undergrad. The similar view is also maintained by Mohan, Sudakhya, and Siddharth.
Mohan, a Trainee Counselling Psychologist, believes that learning only philosophy without integrating with other subjects or skill does not help undergrad students. He said "I do not think majoring purely in philosophy is of merit to students." Majoring purely in philosophy "does not equip you with a marketable skill, it does not familiarize you with a domain of work, it does not even give you a generic skill like teaching." However, "philosophy is an invaluable companion to other subjects". It equips ones "with the basic tools and exposure to reason and deeply understands the foundations and processes of any subject." For him, by studying philosophy we would develop self-reflecting skills as he said "philosophy offers a powerful set of tools to navigate the confusion and trials of young adulthood — where one is at that crucial phase of questioning, figuring out, and reconciling existential questions." In terms of getting a high paying job, his opinion is to combine philosophy with other subjects/domains/disciplines. This will, as he argued, "really elevate a person’s job success, and more importantly, life satisfaction."
A similar opinion is also maintained by Sudakhya, a research scholar at University of Delhi. She suggests to include more subjects of applied philosophy in a curriculum of undergrad philosophy course. Her suggestion included "Philosophy of Technology, Ethical implications of IT, Business ethics/Corporate ethics, Philosophy of Law, Philosophical Counseling". According to her, these courses will help to "build practical skills" that are required in a job market.
Siddharth, a philosophy faculty at Sai University, thinks the nature of philosophy is "to look beyond the immediately useful". That is, the primary aim of Philosophy course is to transcend the practical living and hence not to get involved in jobs, as he said- "I do not mean that a UG in philosophy is not likely to help you find jobs, but that this is not the primary aim of the programme". One question can arise here; isn't any phenomenon would have more than one primary aim? If it is so, why not studying philosophy courses would have two primary aims - (a) to look beyond the immediately useful (b) get a job. Why should we simply reject the practical way of living as not one of philosophy’s primary aims? I requested Siddharth to reply on this question. He responded that his comment "philosophy often seeks to look beyond the immediately useful" should not mean that philosophy does not "helps us transcend practical living and hence not get involved in jobs". Instead, it should be implied that philosophy wants us "to look beyond the immediate, to reflect on the practical (including jobs)." This last statement does not contrast with my viewpoint that philosophy course would have two aims.
Furthermore, Siddharth thinks that philosophy is an important and crucial tool to help us in living in this world, and also as far as jobs and careers are concerned. This is because, philosophy can provide certain skills like "(a) reasoning in a systematic manner, (b) identifying concepts and assumptions the underlie issues, which trains them to be better at identifying problems and thinking about alternatives, and (c) an ability to organize their communication in a clear manner (especially written communication)." These skills "together be called critical thinking and communication skills." I agree with Siddharth that studying philosophy courses equips us with critical thinking and communication skills, which are essential skills for any student.
According to Varun, who is a philosophy faculty at IISERB, there are two ways of thinking about the relation between philosophy and the job opportunities: (1) jobs specifically/traditionally associated with the discipline of philosophy and (2) the role of philosophy for any kind of profession. The often mentioned criticism of the discipline entailing a few choices of professions arises when we focus on just (1). Indeed, at present, we have only a limited set of imaginations of being a professional philosopher. Now, is this a "problem" or a "feature" of the discipline? Also, other Humanities and Social Science disciplines -- like literature, history and anthropology -- share these narrow possibilities of professionalism when compared to sciences and engineering. (Here, Mohan points that other Humanities and Social Sciences degrees, unlike philosophy, do offer the job opportunities as school teachers and researchers at think-tanks and other NGOs. This is yet to happen for philosophy degree holders.)
Varun, thus, thinks that the job entailments should not be decided only based on (1). In contrast to this, when we consider point (2), we see that philosophy -- unlike any other discipline -- is in fact useful to a wide and diverse range of professions. Critical thinking and argumentative skills, exposure to ethics, and other philosophical perspectives are essential in every profession.
I agree with Varun and Siddharth that by studying philosophy courses, a student would be able to equip themselves with 'critical thinking and communication skills', or in short 'philosophical skills'. A philosophy student not only learns how to articulate a particular problem succinctly, but can also provide new arguments or can find the fallacies in existing arguments of any idea. However, I disagree with Siddharth that the primary aim of philosophy is not to get into a job. Instead, I strongly think that one of the primary aims of philosophy is to get into a job (a) to sustain itself (b) to get the experience of one aspect of reality, i.e. being into a job or to know ‘what it is like to be in that job’.
Now two questions arise that (a) how a philosophy student can compete with other discipline/branch students to get hired by a company (b) how a company will profit by hiring a philosophy student. My opinion is that a philosophy undergrad student must take any kind of basic technical skills of their choice after their undergrad or during their undergrad to become a first preference for any company. Philosophy undergrad students will definitely learn faster because of having thinking skills that they acquired during their undergraduate program. With that technical skill they can easily get hired by any company that works in that technical domain.
After getting hired, they must ensure that they will go through a training program of that job profile so that they will understand the job profile in a much better manner. With the experience of training program in company, having acquired technical skills, and having philosophical skills they can be a true asset for that company. This is because, a philosophy student with their knowledge of different cultures can understand the user demand of a product, and can explain succinctly to the team members for improvisation and innovation of any product, and can lead the team effectively. With their technical skills they can improvise a product and also can innovate new products as per the user demand.
Although a philosophy student will be an asset for a company, I am skeptical that a philosophy student will stay forever in one company for the job. As Siddharth has mentioned that one of the aim of philosophy is to transcend practical living, I think that a philosophy student will definitely continuously switch to other companies to know various aspect of practical living or will go into research to find the comprehensive picture of reality.