(I am new to this section in stackexchange)

Is it because the subject is too vague to become a subject? Also, when I meet college students, I ask them what they study, I find them studying a wide rage of subjects like physiology, medicine, engineering, commerce etc etc. but I never found a student who said I am studying philosophy. Is it because there is no much monetary gain in studying it ? I wonder if a philosopher can make a living only by teaching philosophy to others and if only very few people are interested in studying philosophy there is no much scope in this also.

  • 6
    In some countries philosophy is taught in highschool. There are universities with philosophy teachers so probably they have philosophy students. Maybe you just never ran into one.
    – armand
    Commented Mar 26 at 3:55
  • 1
    Ive corrected some grammar than tightened up the title. Please feel free to make it as you like!
    – Rushi
    Commented Mar 26 at 5:24
  • 1
    Probably strangled by its own success: there's so much Philosophy out there now, where do you even start? People are more interested in things that have a path and definite results.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 26 at 10:39
  • @ScottRowe I would start here. Currently on my 2nd lap. Commented Mar 27 at 11:45
  • 1
    @ScottRowe Lol. It's got me curious about Rorty. Commented Mar 27 at 13:56

4 Answers 4


[Since you say you are from India...]

This is generally more true for poorer countries than for 1st world countries. The reason is obvious: people in these places typically called the East, or nowadays the Global South are generally closer to the poverty line and look to education to haul themselves up from dire straits. Philosophy OTOH archetypally belongs to what is called "Liberal Arts" ie. it assumes that someone is caring and providing for your basic needs and so you're free to pursue (higher) "liberation" of mind/understanding/spirit etc.

Your Specific Questioins

As to your specific questions it's generally a difficult yes and no!

Is Philosophy vague?

Yes in the sense that philosophy is not STEM. No in the sense that it has its own standards of rigour and quality

I never met a college student studying philosophy

You probably never went outside India/Global South?

Philosophers can can make a living only by teaching philosophy

Again yes and no! If you take classic philosophy sub-fields — metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, epistemology — then yes. But if you look at the cross-disciplinary angle there's an endless plethora: philosophy of science, philosophy of math, philosophy of language and so on where the situation is or can be different. eg. in the computer technology field "ethical hacking" is a big deal.

Parochialism and Canonicity

There is also a peculiar problem that is marginal in the west but becomes acute in the East/Global South:

We live in an internationalized age that is unprecedented in human history. So Wikipedia/Google will of course give information on all the great and not so eminent western philosophers from Socrates → Descartes → Hume → Kant → Schopenhauer → Nietzsche → Wittgenstein. And many many more. But also

  • Chinese Taoism, Confucianism
  • Japanese Zen
  • Indian Vedanta, Bhakti, Sankhya
  • Islamic/Sufism
  • And much much more

How much and to what depth should (all?) these be covered in a philosophy course?

This immediately produces a dilemma or rather trilemma. So eg. in India a philosophy school – –

  • that sticks to the western canon will be accused of colonial hangover also called brown saheb mentality
  • If it sticks to Hindu thought it will be called fundamentalist (Muslim will get even more censure!)
  • Trying to give a balanced account of all will either result in inordinate length or extreme shallowness or both.

The same would be true of China, Japan, Middle Eastern countries.

This was never a problem in the West where "philosophy" meant "Western philosophy" and no one thought more about it. Nowadays though, its a problem even there where suddenly Socrates is suspect because he's a "white" "straight" "dude".
[Here is this principle being applied to Beethoven]

So its a real tug-o-war between the Canonical and the Parochial

Personal Note

I personally believe that Socrates, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein are transnational, ie. Indians, Chinese, Arabs would all benefit from studying them. OTOH Hegel, Descartes, Aquinas could be fruitfully replaced by Buddha, Lao Tzu, Shankara.

But that is Just my opinion!!

There is no sense in which it is canonical.
One could argue its even parochial — You didn't mention al Ghazali?!

  • 1
    Got any evidence for your sweeping judgements about the study of philosophy in the Global South? It seems like you are talking about perception of the value of philosophy, & you clearly risk taking tjis 1 persons view & taking it as read that it's shared by a large fraction of the world. Is it? I don't think so. You can work out canon from what is expected from an educated person to have a good debate, ie what comes up a lot. To shift the needle on that, takes making a compelling case for the relevance of philosophical ideas to people outside the philosophy ghetto.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 26 at 7:02
  • 1
    I'm not sure what you're protesting @CriglCragl. The questioner (at the least) starts off (and so agrees) with the position that philosophy is not as much found in "schools" as physiology, medicine, engineering, commerce [His choice of juxtapositions]. Or is it my choice of canon? But I hardly indicated what that could be and said its my personal choices. As for shifting the needle it is happening willy-nilly — we are clearly living in time of great churn. When I was in school English meant Shakespeare. Today suddenly thats a political statement!! So who/what should take his place?
    – Rushi
    Commented Mar 26 at 8:04
  • 1
    @CriglCragl Or is it literally the authority you're asking about? I've spent two decades of my adult life teaching at the university. And thereafter teaching and mentoring students outside the Univ setup. Ive lost count but they probably number in the 2-3 thousands. I really cannot think of anyone in these thousands of students nor the hundreds of classmates Ive had who became an explicit professional philosopher. The closest (I know) is Yours Truly but I am not really a philosopher in any sense
    – Rushi
    Commented Mar 26 at 9:00
  • 3
    All this in an Asiatic country. "Which?" is not any secret — its just that countries change shape size and their very existence every hundred years. Whereas continents are stable for millions, maybe billions. Personally I much prefer the older term "Oriental" but for some reason that baffles me that seems to have become politically incorrect — which brings us back to my point 😁
    – Rushi
    Commented Mar 26 at 9:02
  • 3
    @Shafeek pay no attention to how the first thing that happens when one philosopher says something, another immediately jumps in and counters it left and right! Nothing unusual there :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 26 at 10:27

Philosophy Majors Make More Money Than Majors in any other Humanities Field (links to article in online philosophy magazine Daily Nous).

An interesting thing to note is the impact of being involved in formal public debates and debating societies, eg School Debate Clubs Linked To Boost In Thinking Skills, Study Finds (Forbes article). Success in debates is an especially strong predictor of success in the fields of law and politics, which should come as no surprise. But there is a clear class divide, with many more elite schools and universities putting more focus on debates.

Socrates, who I would argue is paradigmatic in distinguishing the role of philosopher from say sage or mystic, spent his life criticising the 'Sophists', those who taught rhetoric to aspiring lawyers and politicians among the children of the elite. Socrates' criticism of them was about their intent to pursuade an audience without regard to truth, and to do so for pay. In counterpoint he demonstrated Socratic Dialogue, the mutual enquiry into truth. That plus the math-mysticism led Plato to founding his Academy, and so academia, with Aristotle setting the aim of a universal education that becane universities, and his most famous student Alexander the Great supplying the wealth and power to secure their names and (most of) their texts in to history.

I got to study philosophy in school. Some do. But just like history can risk becoming lists of dates when each generation needs to learn their own lessons from the past, philosophy risks becoming lists of famous thinkers and their ideas when what we need is to be able to think through topics of disagreement together and pursuade others when we find good ways to approach or deal with them. I was lucky in my classes, we spent the whole time arguing, and the set reading between classes was there to get us up to speed for the next classes topic. Euthenasia, abortion, the death penalty, whether we have free will, the nature of consciousness, what cobstitutes knowledge, the nature of happiness, these are things every student, every citizen, should have an opinion on. So everyone should have an interest in philosophy. It teaches critical thinking skills, and those are more important than ever.

Why isn't it taught more? I think because it's usually taught badly. I like Vervaeke's lecture series Awakening From The Meaning Crisis as a short history of philosophy and introduction that would be suitable for every university student. Much better than dry book-keeping like Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy.

  • 1
    So, like many important things, everyone should be engaged with Philosophy, and it is really useful, yet few people are. I'm almost more concerned these days about how dependent people are on all kinds of technology and know basically zero about it. Tech collapse looks like the modern Pompeii, to me. "Cities In Dust" was my favorite song in college. It was around then that I realized that Philosophy wasn't giving any final answers.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 26 at 10:33
  • 1
    Comparing earnings with other liberal arts majors is unfair. STEM is where the real money is.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 26 at 15:43
  • @Barmar: Philosophy & anthropology are more likely to support success in public administration, & success there can go very high. I don't know if you paid attention to the graphic in the Daily Nous article, but philosophy graduates earn more than IT chemistry or biology grads dailynous.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/… You might also like to consider John Skentny's book 'Wasted Education: How We Fail Our Graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math' on how STEM graduate shortage is fueled by exploitation.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 26 at 17:36
  • 1
    @Barmar someone I know had a math degree and was hired to do programming (decades ago, but still). Computer skills are unreasonably effective. I enjoy programming, but I stay as far from math as I possibly can. Someone asked Willie Sutton, "Why do you rob banks?" He said, "Because that's where the money is." We should all take that to heart.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 26 at 23:56
  • 1
    @ScottRowe They weren't mathematicians who were hired to program. They were programmers who chose to major in math/physics. Probably because they were adequately self-taught in CS, but felt that they could learn something from our world-leading math and physics programs.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 27 at 15:09

In philosophy is taught (and compulsory) during the last year of high school. There is a compulsory national exam on philosophy in your last year of high school.

It is then wildly taught in unexpected post-high-school places (I am not using the word 'university' because the French schooling system is particularly complex). An example is preparatory schools for elite economics or engineering schools.

It is also one of the most hated subjects (if not the most) because it is one of the rare ones to be compulsory (even math is not!). Some teachers ask parents to not tell their children how badly they did in philosophy (which is a common trope).

The very sad part is that in France philosophy is extremely formal: you have to regurgitate what you learned without any space for your own thoughts. It is also the topic where depending on the person who will correct your text you may get a 4 or a 13 (/20) just because.

  • Sounds like how a compiler treats early computer programming efforts. Compulsory... What happened to the 'Liberte' thing?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 26 at 23:43
  • @ScottRowe: you are free to choose it as one of your specialty subjects :) (extra hours for each of the 3 compulsory subjects)
    – WoJ
    Commented Mar 27 at 7:47
  • Ok. In college I was minoring in psychology but looking in to philosophy. I was starved for the feeling that the world could ultimately make sense, but philosophy felt insubstantial, so I focused on programming and knowing how humans work. Younger people might not be terribly interested in what seems like a broad and inapplicable view of thinking?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 27 at 10:50

While not the case in the past, here in the United States philosophy is rarely (if ever) taught in public schools. The exceptions are philosophy of science (which often morphs into a peremptory teaching of naturalism or humanism due to an overzealous application of Separation of Church and State — but that's a rant for another day) and a smattering of political philosophy. Homeschooling and private schools are more varied; some follow the public schools' leads, others (such as the homeschool curriculum I used, which used philosophy as a way to link everything else together) delve into philosophy quite heavily.

As for why, there are several reasons:

  • Methodology. The public schools here focus primarily on rote memorization of highly-processed facts ("concrete knowledge"), with little emphasis on critical thinking. Philosophy does not fit very well into that model. For example, most public school treatments of political philosophy are limited to, "Here's what separation of powers is" (for example), "and it is supposed to prevent corruption."
  • Broadness. Like it or not, philosophy takes a lot of time to learn; it is a very broad field, with many schools of thought (often competing).
  • Political correctness. Many philosophers have had... out there ideas (such as Marx's antisemitism). Even worse, philosophy is linked closely to theology and religion; for example, Western Just War Theory arose out of Christian theology. Because of this, it's very difficult to teach philosophy properly without violating separation of Church and State (see my aborted rant earlier).
  • 1
    I was taught some critical thinking, or at least, that's what I extracted from what was put in front of me. Perhaps many people can't be bothered and we are just trying to get them some info so they can graduate. But the promise of better jobs with education appears to be evaporating, along with the jobs in general. So putting more effort into even less useful stuff would mostly appeal to contrarians like me. I did a lot of reading as a child and young adult. It really changes one's brain.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 26 at 23:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .