In an attempt to find answers for almost life-long critical questions specifically concerning epistemology and logic, I'm currently considering getting a degree in philosophy. For y'all who have already got a degree, do you think this would by any mean help me figuring my own answers? I have no ambitions for any sort of professional career that is directly related to philosophy.

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    I don't have a degree, but would guess it would rather give you more new questions than answers. It may also let you help appreciate those questions and the not-knowing however.
    – user2953
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 17:04
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    I can't answer as I don't have a degree, but could you provide more detail on the specific problems you face?
    – R. Barzell
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 19:04
  • An excellent BA at an excellent university would I think provide you the skills with which to go about answering questions; though you wouldn't cover anything in depth enough for anything but a superficial answer to what troubles you.
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 23:10

3 Answers 3


I'm assuming you mean a graduate degree. If you mean an undergraduate degree, you can disregard all subsequent paragraphs. But I will say it's highly unlikely that you'll be able to genuinely answer any deep and pressing philosophical questions for yourself solely from obtaining a BA in philosophy. You would need many more years than that, along with more in-depth research. Even a Master's degree would only allow you to dip your toes in the shallow end.

As far as PhD goes, I think it very well could help you answer your life-long questions, but it would also make them look more complicated to you. In fact, you should reflect on what kind of answer you are looking for. I know many very thoughtful people who ask genuine questions, but are quite satisfied by simple, unsystematic answers; their eyes will glaze over when confronted with the kinds of details a PhD in philosophy works with. This will give you a more precise understanding, but at the same time can be immensely tedious and disconnect you from the basic "folk" philosophical concerns of the layman. You have to decide what you are really after. Here are some other factors I would urge you to take into serious consideration.

First, you should understand that graduate programs in philosophy are geared toward training you to be a professional in the field, at least at schools in the top 50 or so of the Philosophical Gourmet, for example. That doesn't mean you can't go there and take some courses and write a good dissertation and learn a whole lot about philosophy. But a lot of the actions of your mentors might be geared toward getting you into a research field that is seen as viable for getting jobs, and in getting material to write you good recommendation letters. If you are up front with your advisors about your intent, it is possible that they will see you as being less worth their time, since they will gain nothing in professional terms for the time they put in with you. Make no mistake about it, many of the top professional "philosophers" are out there to build a career first and foremost; genuine philosophical concern is often secondary. So, if you do go, you may want to consider how straightforward you are with your advisors about what you are doing.

Second, graduate programs in philosophy are highly non-standardized. Different faculties will have different specializations, and different faculty members will have their own specializations. Even an epistemologist will usually have some specific subfield of epistemology, for example, that may be wildly orthogonal to your actual interests. Don't go accepting a position at a school just because you got in. Only go if there are at least two faculty members there that are quite in line with what you want to do, quite specifically. I say this because there is no substitute for actual face-to-face interaction with the top people in the field when you want to get to the cutting edge of a philosophical question. If you're at a graduate program where there aren't any top people with connections to other top people in the questions you are specifically interested in, you may well find that they can't really help you get to the bottom of your questions, not any better than you could have done on your own trawling through the literature.

Third, and maybe most obviously, do not accept a position that is not fully funded. This will usually include some kind of teaching duties, so keep that in mind. If you hate teaching or aren't willing to do it to fund your degree, you might have a hard time. Also, despite being fully-funded, your income will be very difficult to get by on. Depending on costs of living and your specific funding package, you may have to adjust your lifestyle in ways that are uncomfortable and undesirable. If you have a significant other, you can expect your bank account to be at 0 at the end of every month, and if you have a family to support then you'd better have some kind of independent means IMO.

Fourth, consider the amount of time of your life it will take, and how that time will be spent in a mundane sense. It is not uncommon to take 7 years to complete a PhD in philosophy. If investigating this question is how you want to spend the next 7 years, then by all means it may be completely worthwhile. But you should also consider what you'll do on the other side. In the midst of a PhD program it is very easy to forget about all other aspects of life. Have some back up plans and an exit route. You may find that 7 years of mostly solitary working in your room with books harmful to your psyche in certain ways, and you should expect quite frequently to lose sight of your original intentions. You will be around people who are desperate for professional opportunity, you will have to listen to them constantly talk about their anxieties about the job market, and you will have to deal with the politics that comes along with that sort of thing. It will take a strong sense of self and a strong support network to keep yourself reminded of your inmost intentions and get to the end of the program.


Aristotle warns against Philosophy in his Nichomacean Ethics:

But most people do not do these, taking refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way; behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentatively to their doctor, but do not do anything they are ordered to do. As the latter will not be made well in body by such a course in treatment, the former will not be made well in soul by such a course in philosophy.

He means by this it takes a certain amount of commitment ...

  • i like this answer for some reason :)
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 23:14

This is partly in reponse to @transitionsynthesis' answer but I wanted to give some perspective from the undergraduate position, and seeing as this is what most non-academic people think of when they say 'studying' I figured it might be helpful. A bit of background for what I'm about to write: I have a BA in philosophy, mostly focused on logic where I could, and am strongly considering doing further study after completing a second BA in CS next year.

Firstly, you seem to be asking slightly different questions in the title and your question body. To answer the title question - Any good philosophy degree will give you some skills that will help finding the answers to questions in life, at least to a level that is good enough to work with in your life. The question is more whether you can get these skills without doing Philosohy in an educational setting, and the only answer that can be given to that is yes, but you're far less likely to get the results you want. Many people 'read' philosophy in the same way the read a series of novels: They read through a selection of texts to a level where they understand the concepts presented, and then categorise the ideas into 'good' or 'bad', choose some prominent philosophers to 'adhere to' and move on to the next text by that person. The important missing link here is in challenging those those ideas in as many ways as possible, not out of arrogance of thinking you can do better but simply to be intellectually rigorous in what ideas you accept. This of course can be done outside of an educational institution but it is time consuming and mentally exhausting, so it is easy to avoid doing it and instead just look for talking points to make yourself look smart at the next party. On the other hand, a university degree (for example) will regularly force you to argue, analyse and rethink your positions in a more organized way.

As for your

almost life-long critical questions specifically concerning epistemology and logic

I would say that an undergraduate degree will not help you there. It will give you a broad overview of those areas (depending on your subject choice) and most importantly will put you in contact with people who know much more about these things than you do. But if your problems are serious enough that they cannot be resolved by simply being recommended a book by the venerable Author X, then you will likely not get those answers in an undergraduate degree. Investigating these sorts of questions is almost always done at a postgraduate level, while much (though certainly not all) undergraduate work is mostly showing that you understand and can explain concepts, can do basic research, etc. In this case, you would be hoping that the philosophy you are exposed to during your study would be enough to inspire you to want to take your studies further and try to resolve those questions (whether inside or outside of the university system).

One other option, if you are of 'university age' (a phrase I hate, but you get the point) is that you can always apply to another degree that you are interested in, and fill your electives up with philosophy units. Then, if you decide to pursue philosophy at a honours/postgraduate level you can do that with your degree, but if you decide that academic philosophy isn't giving you what you want then you've also got other experience in an area that is also interesting to you.

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