What Do a Software Engineer, Consultant, and Comedy Writer Have in Common?

Despite their vast differences, each of these professionals — among a disparate number of others — has a Ph.D. in philosophy, a field of study widely viewed as impractical and useless outside of academia (if even there). An article in The Atlantic touches on the insights of a three-part series by Helen De Cruz of New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science that interviews philosophers working in seven different private-sector careers.

Here’s a brief but interesting tidbit gleaned from the project, which help to undermine the idea that philosophy is irrelevant in the “real world”:

In a few cases, they’ve found that their new jobs provide surprising platforms for further philosophical examination, such as the television screenwriter Eric Kaplan, who said, “I’m very interested in [the] tension between life and theory and mind and emotions; I explore that both in philosophy writing and in script writing.” Similarly, Claartje van Sijl, who now runs her own consulting and training company, says that the philosophy she studied informs the advice she gives. Her philosophy training, she explains, “has familiarized me with the greatest philosophical thoughts of 2500 years of history that I can now use as a sounding board for my clients’ and my own reflections.”

But, for the most part, the philosophers aren’t deploying their firm grasp of Kierkegaard in their private-sector work. Rather, it’s the skills that philosophers are trained in—critical thinking, clear writing, quick learning—that translate well to life outside of academia. As Zachary Ernst, a software engineer at Narrative Science, puts it, “As a professional philosopher, if you haven’t gotten over-specialized and narrow, then you’ve got really good analytic and communication skills. So you’ve got the ability to learn quickly and efficiently. You’re also in the habit of being very critical of all sorts of ideas and approaches to a variety of problems. And if you’ve taught a lot, then you’re probably pretty comfortable with public speaking. Those skills are very rare in almost any workforce, and they’re extremely valuable.”

While I believe philosophy is a worthy pursuit in itself, it clearly has more practical and life-affirming benefits than most people realize. If you’re interested in learning more, here are parts one, two, and three hyperlinked.

What do you think?


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