In “Would you hire Socrates?” Scott Samuelson argues that although studies show that philosophy majors (and students of the liberal arts more generally) do very well in terms of employment and long term earning prospects, the value of such education lies elsewhere. Here is an excerpt:
Thinking of the value of the humanities predominately in terms of earnings and employment is to miss the point. America should strive to be a society of free people deeply engaged in “the pursuit of happiness,” not simply one of decently compensated and well-behaved employees.
A true liberal-arts education furnishes the mind with great art and ideas, empowers us to think for ourselves and appreciate the world in all its complexity and grandeur. Is there anyone who doesn’t feel a pang of desire for a meaning that goes beyond work and politics, for a meaning that confronts the mysteries of life, love, suffering and death?
I once had a student, a factory worker, who read all of Schopenhauer just to find a few lines that I quoted in class. An ex-con wrote a searing essay for me about the injustice of mandatory minimum sentencing, arguing that it fails miserably to live up to either the retributive or utilitarian standards that he had studied in Introduction to Ethics. I watched a preschool music teacher light up at Plato’s “Republic,” a recovering alcoholic become obsessed by Stoicism, and a wayward vet fall in love with logic (he’s now finishing law school at Berkeley ). A Sudanese refugee asked me, trembling, if we could study arguments concerning religious freedom. Never more has John Locke —or, for that matter, the liberal arts—seemed so vital to me.
I’m glad that students who major in disciplines like philosophy may eventually make as much as or more than a business major. But that’s far from the main reason I think we should invest in the humanities.