I have no knowledge of the status in academic faculties, but I have heard that in recent years the interest in philosophy had significantly declined, so I just wanted to ask the people here that are familiar (or better, are in-) academia, if that's really the case? And if so, what are the reasons, and is there something being done about it?

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    In my opinion, modern philosophy has dogmatically accepted so much falsehood (such as empiricism), that it has become irrelevant and will remain so until it can objectively reassess its foundations.
    – user3017
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 13:47
  • At least as far as the university goes, I think the subject of history is faring worse than philosophy. It is easy to draw the conclusion that we are in dark times, and we are. But as far as the young people, they are just trying to get "educated" and find a job.
    – Gordon
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 15:06
  • insidehighered.com/news/2016/09/06/… This decline in history enrollments is terrifying to me. On the other hand, both history and philosophy can be preserved outside the institution if necessary.
    – Gordon
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 15:17
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    Departments are closing as we speak. The reason is the utter uselessness of the philosophy that is being taught. If you check out the professional site 'dailynous' you'll find lots of discussion on this problem. The problem is how to convince anyone that this sort of philosophy is worth doing. There are many ideas put forward but they're usually just marketing ideas. None that I've seen suggest improving philosophy. It is an absurd state of affairs. . .
    – user20253
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 11:53

2 Answers 2


Eric Schwitzgebel, who works on philosophy of mind and other things at UC Riverside, has written several blog posts over the last few months on undergraduate majors in philosophy at US institutions.

Here's the major figure from that first post:
Percentage of US Bachelor's Degree Recipients Who Are Philosophy Majors

The figure shows the relative number of bachelor's degrees (as a percentage of all bachelor's degrees) that go to philosophy majors, each year from 1987-2016. The trend is basically flat through the 1990s. There's a substantial increase in 2000-2005; another flat period in 2005-2010; and a drop from 2010 to 2016. In 2016, the relative number of philosophy majors is about the same as where it was in the 1990s.

In the "Double Majors" post (the last in the list), Schwitzgebel looks into a hypothesis that trends against double majors are contributing to this decline. For example, many schools are putting more emphasis on completing a degree in 4 years, which makes it harder to major in both, say, biology and philosophy. Schwitzgebel does find that schools that encourage/enable double majors have more philosophy majors, and so double majors are very important for philosophy. But decreases in double majors don't seem to explain much of the decrease in philosophy majors.

When I was on the regular academic philosophy career track, I often suggested that philosophy programs should create second major programs, with specialized cross-disciplinary curricula in topics such as medical ethics or philosophy of science and technology. A lot of STEM majors want a humanities experience as well, but don't have time for a full second major. This approach probably wouldn't address the causes of the recent decline; but it might help mitigate them.

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    I think the question really is, is there a decline of interest in philosophy itself, because what you suggest is that people aren't first and foremost interest in philosophy, but rather in a specific topic in philosophy that's related to their preferred actual interest. Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 18:42
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    You'd have to pay me a lot of money to study philosophy in a university since I value my time and I struggle to see the point. It seems that this view is becoming common. The department has become lost up a creek without a paddle. Pardon my strong opinions. I think we are being robbed.
    – user20253
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 12:01
  • @YechiamWeiss, many philosophers of science started in a STEM field (mine was math), took a philosophy of science course to explore some questions we weren't discussing in our STEM courses, and got hooked on philosophy more broadly. The kinds of second major programs I have in mind would include, e.g., epistemology and philosophy of science within the medical ethics requirements. But they would be more integrated with students' coursework in other fields than the way philosophy is typically taught today.
    – Dan Hicks
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 17:16
  • @DanHicks you say there's a philosophy of science course in every STEM grad? That's interesting and very good to hear. Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 17:20
  • @YechiamWeiss, no; sorry for being unclear. I'm claiming (1) many STEM majors would be interested in a secondary major focusing on philosophy of science, and (2) taking a philosophy of science course often leads STEM majors to a broader interest in philosophy. It's NOT the case that (3) STEM majors are required to take a philosophy of science course, at least in Anglophone countries.
    – Dan Hicks
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 20:35

No - on four counts.


I should say that the study of philosophy as a sole course is losing its appeal and rightly so. Historically the best work in philosophy was done very often by thinkers who were involved in other matters and turned to philosophy in order to elucidate problems in independent fields - Descartes, Leibniz and Russell all turned to philosophy to aid or clarify their work in science or mathematics, for example. They did this not just for interest' sake but because their first-order inquiries raised problems that turned out to be philosophical. One can go back further, and further afield : Aquinas was a theologian who, within theology, hit rock bottom philosophical problems. Croce in the early 20th century turned to aesthetics and the philosophy of history because in his experience of art and his practice as a historian, he encountered problems that could not be solved or even addressed within art and history but only in the philosophy of these subjects.

It seems to me that mathematicians and scientists - Polkinghorne, Penrose, Raymond Tallis, three that come instantly to mind - have genuine and deep philosophical interests that have stemmed from their professional work. Their involvement in philosophy is a counter-argument to decline.

I can cite a personal example. One of my students, a choreographer, was drawn into philosophy because she wanted to know how far she could vary the performance of 'Swan Lake' and it still remain 'Swan Lake'. Whether she solved the problem, I don't know but she had run slam into a philosophical problem, that of identity.

I can't see this kind of process of being drawn into philosophy as a by-product of one's interest in something else ever stopping or much increasing or declining.


It is not possible to do the philosophy of mind any longer without a reasonable scientific knowledge of the brain and central nervous system. Philosophy detached from or empty of such knowledge is just mental chess. Equally political philosophy, a very different field, needs to be informed by theories of rational choice and the theory of games drawn from economics and strategic studies.

Philosophers can contribute some conceptual finesse and facility in argument to scientific teams working at the intersection of science and philosophy - in regard for instance to the status of 'folk psychology'.

It strikes me that much published work is intersectional. Is one reading a scientific (or scientifically inspired) text on the brain or a work in which scientific concerns and philosophical questions meld ? It's often hard to say and not worth asking.


There have always been scientists, from Newton to Brian Cox, who do not feel the need for any engagement with philosophy in their work. But consider the case of Einstein, mentioned here before. His work on space and time - or space/ time - was both physics and philosophy. Physics and philosophy were related as opposite sides of a curve as he not only did physics but in the process revolutionised the concepts of space and time. From this viewpoint it's otiose to ask whether he was a physicist or a philosopher. In his work this was a distinction without a difference.

I might add that this site is replete with philosophical questions relating to quantum mechanics. I see no decline in the number of such questions. Their overall quality is another matter.


Critical Thinking courses abound in schools. There are more than ever in the UK. I don't straightforwardly equate critical thinking and philosophy. Critical thinking involves problem-solving, making decisions, learning new concepts, spotting fallacies in arguments where the subject-matter may be of very little if any philosophical interest. Equally there are problems in philosophy such as the definition of truth, the validity of the concept of causation, the old question why there should be something rather than nothing, which require more than (just) critical thinking. None the less the boundary between critical thinking and philosophy is fuzzy. I've taught critical thinking and haven't been sure at times whether what we were doing was critical thinking or philosophy. At points the two activities commingle. In this regard, if critical thinking is flourishing then so is philosophy where the two intersect.

  • I'm happy to hear critical thinking is popular in UK schools; we don't have any of this sort in Israel, which is one of my main criticism of the education system here, though I thought it was a global phenomena - glad to see it isn't. Nonetheless, great answer, but I'm not sure it really explains whether or not (or why) there's lack of interest in philosophy lately. Are you saying it's because only 2nd major will be philosophy? If so, did it change overtime, as in, there used to be also 1st majors in philosophy and now there are only 2nds; or was it always that way and 2nd majors no. declined? Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 21:22
  • About critical thinking I was answering from a UK perspective. But I think my other points have more general application. But I can only answer questions - I can't assess the value of my answers. Didn't know you are in Israel, thanks for the personal information. It's always good to have a bit of background.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 21:54
  • oh yeah I understand your other points, that's why I didn't comment on them. I think it's a very nice representation of the issue with philosophy study. As I'm not sure though about the contents of the philosophy major, I would like to ask if there isn't anything worth studying on its own, rather than only as a well to solve specific issues that arose in the "first order subject"? Or are you saying philosophy should always be taken as a second major? Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 22:52
  • Well, I was only answering the question about the decline of interest in philosophy. But to widen out : I took philosophy as a second degree; I already had a degree in politics, history and economics. I would recommend taking philosophy after another degree or as a second major. There's nothing absolutely against taking philosophy on its own, however. I like to link philosophy to other subjects. That's a personal preference. Many students take philosophy on its own and do brilliantly. What's right for you, I naturally can't say. Kol Tuv.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 23:24
  • love the Hebrew at the end :) Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 23:25

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