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The return of the philosophy major

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April 8, 2008

2:06 AM

Philosophy departments across the United States are seeing a large jump in the number of students pursuing degrees in the field. Students now see philosophy as a useful tool in understanding and dealing with the world, a skill they believe will eventually aid their careers.

According to an article in the April 6 edition of the New York Times, universities with well-established philosophy programs, such as Texas A&M University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Massachusetts, now have around twice the amount of students that they did in the 1990s.

The College Board reports that there are now 817 undergraduate philosophy programs across the nation, compared with the 765 established programs 10 years ago.

At Rutgers University, an institution renowned for its philosophy department, there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of graduating philosophy majors since 2002.

Part of this gain has come from the way in which philosophy is taught at Rutgers. Much emphasis has been placed on teaching philosophy as an interdisciplinary subject, and the department has encouraged students to double major with the subjects that are their primary interests. Philosophy is also encouraged as a prerequisite for aspiring law students because of its emphasis on logic and verbal skills.

There are many theories as to why this area of study has had such a revival in the past few years. Students today seem to choose philosophy as a universal field of study that enhances their skills in reasoning, logic and effective argumentation — traits that can improve any other area of work or study.

It has also been suggested that many students have turned to the study of philosophy in order to help answer the difficult moral and ethical problems that face the world today, such as the war in Iraq, globalization and technology. Recent economic troubles seem to have aided in the expansion of the nation’s philosophy programs even more.

“All of these things make the world a smaller place and force us to look beyond the bubble we grow up in. I think philosophy is a good base to look at a lot of issues,” said Christine Bullman, a junior at Rutgers, to the New York Times.

The City University of New York now has 322 undergraduate philosophy majors, a 51 percent increase from the number of majors in 2002.

“If I were to start again as an undergraduate, I would major in philosophy,” Matthew Goldstein, the CUNY chancellor, said. “I think that subject is really at the core of just about everything we do. If you study humanities or political systems or sciences in general, philosophy is really the mother ship from which all of these disciplines grow.”

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