Philosophy and Liberal Arts – Liberal Studies Programs with a Concentration in Philosophy

Philosophy student deep in thought

Don’t let anyone tell you that big picture thinking isn’t a big deal. Although it’s true that most employers aren’t spending a lot of time advertising for folks with a dedicated philosophy education, the fact is that liberal arts degree graduates who are well-versed in philosophy are likely to know a thing or two about very practical matters that might go right over the heads of most other people.

If you are a big picture thinker with big questions on your mind, picking a philosophy concentration in a liberal studies degree could be a natural fit.

In fact, the kind of ability to think clearly, apply the lessons of history to current situations, and to develop and articulate new thoughts to deal with new challenges isn’t just required of philosophers. It’s the same skillset that strategic planners and senior leaders in any company require.

A Liberal Studies Degree With a Concentration in Philosophy Brings Classical Thought to Modern Challenges

Marble statuePhilosophy is the seed out of which a liberal arts degree is grown. In some ways, it’s a double concentration. Your studies of the liberal arts are powered by the same philosophical innovations that launched the field in the first place, way back in ancient Greece.

A liberal arts-style education gives students the foundations to understand any concept and express themselves in any form. Then they give them the freedom to take those skills in any direction, guiding their own studies in ways not so different from how Pythagoras and his bros did it.

One of those bros was a young fellow named Socrates. Socrates had a curious way of getting his point across to the other philosophers, though. He just asked them a bunch of questions. Slowly, by getting them to clarify their own thoughts, he revealed his, and taught them why along the way.

Socrates’ discussion-based style of teaching helped clarify the thinking of his students and lead them to self-examination as well as building new knowledge. Socrates and his method of education became so noteworthy that it got named after him as the Socratic Method. That style of rhetoric and conversation, with a series of questions of students designed to provoke their own thoughts and realizations, remains an ideal in philosophical studies today.  Even online liberal arts programs with philosophy concentrations feed on this kind of interaction.

Don’t expect to succeed in liberal arts by repeating back what the professor says. If you’re not thinking for yourself, you’re not really engaged in liberal studies.

A liberal arts course doesn’t ram ideas down your throat, or require rote memorization. Instead, it leads you to the knowledge and logical rules to come to your own conclusions. And those conclusions are allowed, and even encouraged, to be original. That means new solutions to modern problems, using these ancient philosophical concepts.

Liberal Studies Philosophy Concentrations Explore Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Through the Lens of Philosophical Thought

young man reading libraryPhilosophy programs require a lot of reading. And re-reading. And reading again, so you can ask your professor questions about what you just read. If liberal studies programs are designed to teach critical thinking skills, it seems like a philosophy concentration drives those skills down into every single reading.

You’ll usually start off with the classics—the foundations of modern philosophical thought rest on the same pillars of Greek ideas as do the liberal arts themselves. You’ll see how those thoughts have been built on by other philosophers over the years, and how they remain relevant, and are still be engaged with and developed. You’ll even take the opportunity to extend them a bit yourself in upper-division courses.

You will also find courses that involve applications of philosophy in other areas. As the basis for ethics, there are entire well-developed branches of philosophy that extend into areas such as:

Philosophy Courses As Part of an Undergraduate or Master’s Curriculum In Liberal Arts

The field of philosophy is so large, however, that you could very well put together a pretty complete course of study diving into all kinds of exotic specialties, everything from Eastern philosophy to the ethics of war and peace.

Bachelor’s Programs in Liberal Studies with a Concentration in Philosophy Get The Mental Motor Running

A four-year degree in philosophy puts you solidly into the category of knowing just enough to be dangerous. Half or more of your time in these programs will be spent filling more general requirements, leaving a relatively shallow exposure to the vast library of historical foundations of modern philosophy. Although you’ll get a good taste of the history of the field, the deepest analysis and closest readings will be still to come.

A liberal studies focus on philosophy at the bachelor’s level is a great idea if you’re interested in continuing your education, even in other areas.

A study by the National Institute of Education in 2003 found that philosophy majors scored higher on the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), the standard entrance exams for law school and MBA programs, than any majors other than economics or mathematics. They also blew out all majors when it came to the English portion of the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), even putting English majors to shame.

Advanced Liberal Studies Degrees with a Concentration in Philosophy Are Where The Toughest Problems Get Cracked

Outside of academia, there really is no philosophy industry. There are no philosopher office towers, with casual Fridays for wearing togas. But there is real work happening in philosophy all the time, and where it happens is in master’s and doctoral-level philosophy studies.

So your time in a program at this level is going to be spent engaging with the leading philosophical problems of the day, and helping world-class thinkers pull them apart and find fresh and innovative solutions. You might look at an advanced degree in philosophy as being less a preparation for a new phase of your career than as the career itself. Your thesis or dissertation work will be helping to write the current state-of-the-art in major-league thinking.

Graduates, of course, can take their education and go on to success in all kinds of industries, but there are few things more exciting intellectually than the very act of going through a master’s or doctoral program in this concentration.

Of all the liberal arts degree concentrations that hard-nosed STEM majors like to take shots at, philosophy might get the most grief. You’ve probably already heard the joke:

Q: What question do philosophy majors ask at their first job?

A: Do you want fries with that?

Obviously, whoever came up with that one never met an actual liberal studies graduate with a philosophy focus. The real question is, why do you want fries with that?

The why is actually the most important part of any deep inquiry, though. In the liberal arts-philosophy context, that why could concern something a little more probing like the impact of fast food on American culture, or whether or not meatless burgers are a more ethical menu selection than steak. Society does a lot of thinking about how, but why is often the better question to ask first.

Liberal Studies Philosophy Majors Use Ancient Wisdom to Find Real-World Solutions

At least, that’s what you should tell your potential future employers.

Philosophy turns up in every corner of modern business and society, though, so with the right education behind you, you won’t have any trouble finding applications for your expertise in critical thinking and applying philosophical concepts to real-world problems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with degrees in philosophy or religion tend to end up working in certain professional fields. And some of those fields may surprise you. Almost 60 percent of graduates are employed in:

  • Educational instruction and library occupations
  • Management occupations
  • Community and social service occupations
  • Legal occupations
  • Business and financial operations occupations

Although you probably expected to see academic and social services jobs up there, how about those legal and management analyst positions?

And although it didn’t make the top five, medicine also puts in a pretty strong showing among philosophy graduate careers. So does the role of chief executive.

But if you’re surprised that philosophers also make excellent executives, just think about what makes a successful executive. Flexibility, adaptability, thoughtfulness, and key knowledge of individuals and organizations all feed into it. And they all come out of a philosophy concentration. Philosophy gives you an excellent preparation for learning how to learn. And learning is a key skill in any job at any point in your life.


2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Liberal arts and Philosophy and religion occupations reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed October 2021.