13 November 2009

Why Major in Philosophy

So, ever since I went to college, I had pondered about the choice of one's major and why people choose to major in a certain field. I always thought that there were two types of students: the student who studies a certain field because there is money behind it, regardless of what the student likes or not; and the student who studies a certain field because he really likes it, regardless of whether there is money behind it or not.

So, when I was a freshman in college and had to choose a major, I weighted all these things and thought about what I should major in. I had a set of constraints, and looking at the list of the possible majors in the university I was in, I did an elimination. I wanted to go to music, but I didn't pass the audition, so that was out. I didn't like doing math at that time, so I eliminated a huge swath of majors that needed higher-level math. I also was speaking three languages at that time, so I figured, I might as well study linguistics. It turned out that I liked what I was doing, and so I guess I became the second type of student. I never really thought about whether there is big money in linguistics or not. (Honestly, there isn't much: it's not like nursing or computer science)

Eventually, while in graduate school, I shifted my focus slowly from a pure theoretical linguistics background, to a more of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of language. I started dabbling in psychology, and so I learned how to devise experiments, and I learned how the brain works when it comes to processing language. Now, I guess, this broadens my opportunities. I could work on cognition labs now. I can say now that what I do have scientific and psychological reality. Unlike when I was in undergrad that I was working with language models that well, seemed like magic.

Anyway, so the other night, I was thinking about other fields of study, and what they are useful for. Like, what is the marketability of these majors? Say, Caribbean Studies, or Philosophy, or Women's Studies, or African Studies. Sometimes, it is hard to find what those majors are useful for, it is hard to see how they can be applied to things. It is hard to see how they can convince their dentist that their work is important.

Anyway, to conclude, I was walking the halls of the university one night, while posting fliers for my experiment, when I saw a flier posted on top of a water fountain next to the main office of the Philosophy Department. It read like this:

Premise 1: This is the best drinking fountain on campus.

Premise 2: Majoring in Philosophy is the best and easiest way for you to maximize your opportunities to drink out of this fountain.

Premise 3: Maximizing your opportunities to drink out of this fountain is sufficient reason for majoring in Philosophy.

Conclusion: You should major in Philosophy.

(Headless Robe, from my Sackler and Freer Collection Series)


  1. So did you end up majoring in philosophy, cause I can tell you seriously, if I saw a flyer like that, I would be very very tempted to find out more about the guys in there..

  2. Vaarun,

    Welcome to my blog. In answer to your question, no. I didn't end up majoring in philosophy, but in linguistics instead. But even if I saw this flier when I was an undergrad, I would not have majored in philosophy, since there's one premise that I do not believe in: and that is the premise that one should drink from the best drinking fountain on campus. :-)

  3. I studied Chinese language and history because I like it intellectually speaking. I didn't think of the careers I could have. I guess I should have: it would have made my life easier. On the other side, I truly enjoyed what I studied and I think it made me understand a lot of things in the world -- to bad I got some skills that are not easily marketable.

    Even now, I study in fields that I enjoy and don't always think of possible positions I could have.

    I guess it's one of my weakness. I just can't bring myself to study in a field because there is money to be made.

  4. Zhu,

    I wholoheartedly agree. I would rather study something that I really enjoy than studying something that I will just get sick and tired of later.

  5. Hahaha... I didn't know philosophers had a sense of humor. :)

    And yes... there's no money in music... unless you're Andrew Lloyd Weber or something.s

  6. Toe,

    Well, I have this idea that philosophy is one of those majors where it really is hard to sell. So I think having a sense of humor is indeed very advisable.

    And yes, I once wanted to be a soundtrack composer. But then I realized that I didn't have enough talent. Too bad.