Carnegie Mellon University

Undergraduate Studies

The teaching and research in our department spans many areas including philosophy, mathematics, computer science, biology, medicine, neuroscience, linguistics, and more.

Education in philosophy involves becoming aware of major figures and developments in the history of philosophy, learning up-to-date techniques and accepted answers to philosophical questions, and learning critical, interpretive, and evaluative skills that, in the overall scheme of things, may be considered to be of greatest value.

The Philosophy Department houses four distinct majors:

Philosophy

Logic & Computation

Linguistics

Ethics, History, & Public Policy

Why study philosophy?

Much of what is learned in philosophy can be applied in virtually any endeavor. This is both because philosophy touches so many subjects and, especially, because many of its methods can be used in any field.

The study of philosophy helps us to enhance our ability to solve problems, our communication skills, our persuasive powers, and our writing skills. Below is a description of how philosophy helps us develop these various important skills.

The study of philosophy enhances a person's problem-solving capacities. It helps us to analyze concepts, definitions, arguments, and problems. It contributes to our capacity to organize ideas and issues, to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential from large quantities of information. It helps us, on the one hand, to distinguish fine and subtle differences between views and, on the other hand, to discover common ground between opposing positions. It also helps us to synthesize a variety of views or perspectives into one unified whole.
Philosophy contributes uniquely to the development of expressive and communicative powers. It provides some of the basic tools of self-expression - for instance, skills in presenting ideas through well-constructed, systematic arguments - that other fields either do not use or use less extensively. Philosophy helps us express what is distinctive in our views, it enhances our ability to explain difficult material, and it helps us to eliminate ambiguities and vagueness from our writing and speech.
Philosophy provides training in the construction of clear formulations, good arguments, and appropriate examples. It, thereby, helps us to develop our ability to be convincing. We learn to build and defend our own views, to appreciate competing positions, and to indicate forcefully why we consider our own views preferable to alternatives. These capacities can be developed not only through reading and writing in philosophy, but also through the philosophical dialogue, both within and outside the classroom, that is so much a part of a thorough philosophical education.

Writing is taught intensively in many philosophy courses, and many regularly assigned philosophical texts are also excellent as literary essays. Philosophy teaches interpretive writing through its examination of challenging texts, comparative writing through emphasis on fairness to alternative positions, argumentative writing through developing students' ability to establish their own views, and descriptive writing through detailed portrayal of concrete examples. Concrete examples serve as the anchors to which generalizations must be tied. Structure and technique, then, are emphasized in philosophical writing. Originality is also encouraged, and students are generally urged to use their imagination to develop their own ideas.

The general uses of philosophy just described are obviously of great academic value. It should be clear that the study of philosophy has intrinsic rewards as an unlimited quest for understanding of important, challenging problems. But philosophy has further uses in deepening an education, both in college and in the many activities, professional and personal, that follow graduation. Two of these further uses are described below.

Philosophy is indispensable for our ability to understand other disciplines. Many important questions about a discipline, such as the nature of its concepts and its relation to other disciplines, are philosophical in nature. Philosophy of science, for example, is needed to supplement the understanding of the natural and social sciences that derives from scientific work itself. Philosophy of literature and philosophy of history are of similar value in understanding the humanities, and philosophy of art (aesthetics) is important in understanding both the visual and the performing arts. Philosophy is, moreover, essential in assessing the various standards of evidence used by other disciplines. Since all fields of knowledge employ reasoning and must set standards of evidence, logic and epistemology have a general bearing on all these fields.
Still another value of philosophy in education is its contribution to our capacity to frame hypotheses, to do research, and to put problems in manageable form. Philosophical thinking strongly emphasizes clear formulation of ideas and problems, selection of relevant data, and objective methods for assessing ideas and proposals. It also emphasizes development of a sense of the new directions suggested by new hypotheses and questions one encounters while doing research. Philosophers regularly build on both the successes and failures of their predecessors. A person with philosophical training can readily learn to do the same in any field.

Don’t just take our word for it, see why other experts agree that studying philosophy can give you an advantage in your career path.

Among the things that people educated in philosophy can do are the following: They can do research on a variety of subjects. They can get information and organize it. They can write clearly and effectively. They can communicate well, usually both orally and in writing. They can generate ideas on many different sorts of problems. They can formulate and solve problems. They can elicit hidden assumptions and articulate overlooked alternatives. They can persuade people to take unfamiliar views or novel options seriously. They can summarize complicated materials without undue simplification. They can integrate diverse data and construct useful analogies. They can distinguish subtle differences without overlooking similarities. They can also adapt to change, a capacity of growing importance in the light of rapid advances in so many fields. And well educated philosophers can usually teach what they know to others. This ability is especially valuable at a time when training and retraining are so often required by rapid technological changes.

These abilities are quite general, but they bear directly on the range of careers for which philosophers are prepared. Philosophers have the skills necessary for an enormous range of both academic and non-academic jobs. The kind of basic education which philosophical training provides is eminently useful in some major aspects of virtually any occupation.

Note: this text is adapted from three sources: (1) Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates (a publication of the American Philosophical Association), (2) Careers for Philosophers (prepared by the American Philosophical Association Committee on Career Opportunities, and (3) The Philosophy Major (a statement prepared under the auspices of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association).  These texts are available online at apaonline.org.