On the value of the philosophy major from the Wall Street Journal…

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.


Food Symposium and “Hunger Games,” a talk at PLU by philosopher Thomas Pogge

The 2014 Food Symposium will be taking place across town at PLU.  Among the events taking place April 2-5, there is a talk by Yale philosopher Thomas Pogge, entitled “Hunger Games.”  Here is a brief description of the talk:

Since the 1996 World Food Summit, the world has been committed to halving world hunger by 2015. But the specification of this promise has changed from the Summit version to the Millennium Declaration to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These revisions have dramatically diluted the promise, raising the number of hungry people deemed acceptable in 2015 by 55 percent. In a final push, in 2012 (year 22 of the 25-year MDG exercise) the FAO revised its methodology for counting the hungry with the effect of raising the 1990 number of hungry people by 157 million and lowering the 2010 number by 57 million. This switch harmonized the hunger numbers with the World Bank’s rosy poverty trend line and enabled the FAO to proclaim: “The Millennium Development Goal 1 hunger target, halving the proportion of hungry people in developing countries by 2015, is still within reach.” As new development goals are about to be formulated, we must urgently learn the lessons from the expiring ones which have brought mainly cosmetic efforts and cosmetic progress. The very least each of us owes to the world’s undernourished people is an honest recognition of what we are doing to them.



Talk on Monday 3/24 about democracy in the Middle East

“The Stumbling Democracy in the Middle East: Challenges and Prospects.”

A talk by Aseel Alawadhi

Monday, March 24th at 6pm in the Tahoma Room (Commencement Hall.)  

Aseel Alawadhi has a Ph.D. in philosophy from University of Texas at Austin. She became one of the first four women to be elected to the Kuwaiti Parliament in 2009. She is currently assistant professor of philosophy at Kuwait University and is a visiting researcher  at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She is working on a book on the Kuwaiti model of democracy.