Philosophy begins in wonder. — Plato
For 19 years, you tried… you really tried… to be the model parent. You did it all: the diaper watch, the grueling PTA meetings, showing up at every last soccer game, supervising homework. And now, well into his or her second year of college, your son or daughter sits you down during mid-term break to deliver the news. He’s going to major in philosophy. Oh my God! Your heart drops. You can’t believe what you've just heard. What do you do?
Take the following pop quiz: a) You scream and shout — and remind this wayward sophomore of that pricey college tuition bill, and the much-discussed family plan for him or her to make money in a business career. b) You enlist the help of some thickly-built North Jersey contacts, to have a serious talk in the university parking lot after hours with the wacko professor who inspired (misled) your innocent kid. c) You suck it up, and when the folks at the country club and your extended family ask how your son or daughter is doing, you change the subject.
Here are the answers (in order) to a, b and c: no, no, and — you guessed it — no. What appears to you as a death sentence is anything but. In fact, if you treat the news properly and see things in perspective, it’s not even a setback.
Philosophy is a marvelous discipline for training students how to think, and how to determine true ethical values…
Students rarely pursue a career related to their major in college. Besides, your son may be experimenting — something which he or she has every right to do. Also, need we remind you now that they are an adult, and have every right to choose their own career. Sure, if Junior wants to stay with philosophy per se, he’ll pretty much be confined to a teaching career — but so what? You should treat his newly discovered independence of thinking as a compliment — or what’s a major in philosophy for?
Secondly, stop stressing out over all the Internet statistics you read about which majors in college wind up with the most or least rewarding jobs or income. Not only do those figures change from year to year; but consider this list of notable executives who can point to philosophy as their undergraduate major: Hedge Fund manager George Soros, former FDIC chairperson Sheila Bair, former Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, Overstock,com co-founder and CEO Patrick Byrne, Paypal co-founder and CEO Peter Thiel, and controversial activist investor Carl Icahn.
Not a bad list to cite to your country club cohorts, should you choose not to change the subject when they ask you how your son or daughter is faring in college. (By the way, is there some pressing reason that you care what they think?)
Finally, philosophy is a marvelous discipline for training students how to think, and how to determine true ethical values in a world full of cheaters and moral minefields. As David Schraeder of the American Philosophical Association has observed, “the skills that philosophy teaches you are wonderfully transferable."
And if you must play gotcha over a cocktail with your fair weather friends at the country club, you can always quote Peter Lynch, head of Fidelity Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990:
"As I look back on it now, it's obvious that studying history and philosophy was much better preparation for the stock market than, say, studying statistics. ... Logic is the subject that's helped me the most in picking stocks, if only because it taught me to identify the peculiar illogic of Wall Street."
Enough said? Now hug your young sophomore, and congratulate her. Then take her out for a drink at your country club. She earned it.