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No. 3096:
Philosophical Learning

by Andy Boyd

Today, getting ahead in the world. The University of Houston presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

The report caught me by surprise. I wasn't looking for it, but there in front of me were some startling statistics. Apparently, others agreed since the statistics had propagated to a host of other websites. Finding the original source, however, was another matter. Thankfully I was in luck, locating a report entitled "The Standardized Test Scores of College Graduates," published by the U.S. National Institute of Higher Education. The statistics themselves were for the 1982-83 academic year. But there they were, in all their respectable glory.

Students who've gone on to graduate school are familiar with the standardized tests required for admission: the GMATs for management, the LSATs for law school, and the GREs for most everything else. The report I'd located asked which undergraduate major best prepared students for taking these tests. And one clearly stood out. The major? Philosophy.

A marble bust of Socrates. Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Philosophy's often much misunderstood, conjuring images of thoughtful souls intent on answering life's deeper questions. There's a large kernel of truth to that. But attempting to answer such difficult questions requires an impressive skill set.

Philosophy majors read, and they must make sense of the arguments they encounter. To do so, they're required to study logic, the formal means by which to make valid arguments and to recognize those that aren't. Math is widely viewed as an outgrowth of formal deductive logic. But unlike mathematicians who limit themselves to strictly defined symbols, philosophers work with much, much messier words. This leads to disagreements among philosophers that mathematicians never have. But it also leaves philosophers ready to navigate the very real, very messy world around us.

The Logic of Relations. Photo Credit: Andy Boyd

Among the thirty undergraduate degrees evaluated, philosophy majors ranked second in management school entrance exams and third for law schools. Better still, philosophy majors ranked number one in their verbal comprehension scores, placing comfortably ahead of second place English majors. The final category, quantitative math skills, found philosophy majors in the top third ' behind math, science, and engineering majors, but still well ahead of average.

As our world grows ever more technologically complex, educators are placing emphasis on science, engineering, and math courses ' and rightly so. But there are many paths to a fulfilling and successful work life, not to mention a job that pays well. Philosophy majors may not make as much as engineers fresh out of school, but as they supplement their college education with hands-on skills they often fare quite well, as do many liberal arts majors. So if your child arrives home one day excited about declaring a major in philosophy, fear not. It could be the start of something big.

Philosophical thinking can start at a young age. Photo Credit: Flickr

I'm Andy Boyd at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)

The U.S. National Institute of Higher Education no longer exists, having been replaced by other government entities.

Adelman, Clifford. 'The Standardized Test Scores of College Graduates 1964-1982.' U.S. National Institute of Education, 1985. See the Hathi Trust website:;view=1up;seq=73. Accessed November 15, 2016.

This episode was first aired on November 17, 2016