In my last piece, I talked about the influence philosophy has had on my life.  Having read the blog, some friends and colleagues complained that I talked about the positive influence only, failing to mention the drawback to an education in philosophy.  Conceding to the shortcoming in my blog, I decided to make the work complete by writing an entire blog about the negative influence of philosophy.

Education in philosophy may have a number of negative influences on the person’s life.

  1. The most obvious and often cited negative influence is its lack of practicality when it comes to finding a job.  The critics are absolutely right.  An education in philosophy does not provide a job on its own.  Unless a person manages to graduate with a PhD and gets lucky enough to find a teaching job in a post-secondary institute, philosophy is not an attractive education to put on a resume.  In part, the issue is that most employers are not familiar with philosophy.  Some do not even know the difference between philosophy and psychology.  Thus, employers do not know what a philosophy graduate is capable of.  Also, in part, the issue is that philosophy provides general knowledge; it is not industry specific where a graduate can easily step into a well-defined job.  A computer programmer, a nurse or a plumber can easily walk into a workplace, pick up the right tools and start working with very little training.  This is certainly not true in case of a philosophy graduate.  For this reason, general knowledge does not seem to be an attractive quality to have for job hunting purposes.  Overall, it is not easy to find a job for a person with an education in philosophy.
  2. Philosophy provides an in-depth analytical and critical thinking, others may not possess, which may lead to serious disagreements.  A hypothetical example can demonstrate it.  A contagious virus breaks out at a company.  Several people get sick.  The company officials forbid the lower management from discussing the matter with employees.  The upper management cite potential panic as a reason for not discussing the outbreak.  Does anybody have an issue with the decision?  A philosophy graduate is capable of advancing a number of moral, ethical, social and legal implications right away.  Despite the obvious presence of these implications, some people may think there is nothing questionable about the decision.  The point is that a person who is taught enough analytical and critical thinking is capable of identifying issues that others may easily overlook.  This may cause discord and friction between the philosophy graduate and others.  It is not suggested, here, that philosophy graduates are better than the rest of society.  In fact, some philosophers end up overanalyzing situations to the point of engaging in endless debates, unable to reach any decisions.  A philosophy graduate is not necessarily better than the rest, but she certainly thinks differently that may land her in hot water at times.
  3. It is difficult to communicate with those who are not skilled at argumentation because it can lead to a lot of frustrations.  For example, management just made a bad decision and the philosophy graduate is compelled to speak up.  The graduate knows how to identify the appropriate premises that will lead to proper conclusions.  She also knows how to identify fallacies others may mistakenly use, such as anecdotal evidence, appeal to probability, unwarranted assumptions, argument from ignorance, argument from silence etc…  The debate begins.  Several things can happen.  One thing that may easily happen is that they do not understand the graduate’s points or objections.  They may be completely lost.  Alternatively, if they understand it, they may not know how to counter argue them.  They may get frustrated and perceive the philosophy educated person either as naïve–it is so obvious, why can’t she get it?–or, as a “smarty-pants” know-it-all–she thinks she is better than everyone!  If the argument happens with a boss, the boss may lose her patience and simply state that the decision stands because she is the boss and she says so.  Eventually, the philosophy graduate is forced to retreat, not because her argument is a bad one, but because she cannot properly bring it to fruition through argumentation.  If this happens frequently with friends, family members and coworkers, the person may end up being very frustrated in this life.
  4. Philosophy can make one overly rational.  Philosophy worships reason.  Professors teach their students to become skillful at rational thinking and argumentation.  This attitude may move a person out of a natural balance.  Naturally, a human being is a complex mix of reasons, emotions and desires.  Decisions are reached based on this complex mix of elements.  A philosophy graduate may swing out of balance, becoming overly rational when approaching a debate and/or decision. This attitude develops an inability, not only to return to her natural balance, but also, to relate to people’s emotional reactions or emotional-based argumentations, as well.
  5. Philosophy causes too many of their graduates to practice armchair philosophy.  Armchair philosophy happens when a person is busy sitting in front of a computer considering hypothetical situations to formulate an argument or an opinion.  Basically, while a real life person is busy confronting real life situations, the philosopher gets to think about them in a comfortable armchair.  For example, while a police officer faces the dilemma whether to shoot a hostage-taker in a bank, the philosopher gets to visualize the dilemma in a comfortable chair to provide her expert opinion on its moral and ethical implications.  The point is that philosophy creates too many graduates who live in a hypothetical world rather than the real one.
  6. Philosophy can make a person become a misfit or an eccentric. An analytical and rational thinker who is armed with the tools of argumentation and spends her days writing essays with hypothetical scenarios entertained in them does seem a slightly bit odd.  Once leaving academia behind, the person may no longer fit in with the rest of the normal, average people around her.  If the person also develops an unusual belief system due to her studies and implements it into her life, she may even appear as an eccentric to others.

Despite the negative influences examined above, I am still satisfied that I made the right choice having pursued philosophy on a graduate level.  I believe that the positive influences far outweigh the negative ones.  However, I admit that many may have a very different opinion about the matter after learning about the negative influences.  I do not blame them.  Philosophy is not for everyone!

M. J. Mandoki