Do We Really Need More Philosophy Majors?
Posted November 13, 2018

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Liberal Arts DegreesI had the opportunity to travel to both Italy and Ireland in the past year: great food, people, and scenery were everywhere.

Two of the most lasting memories remain a Middle Eastern tour guide and an Irish bartender.

It was in the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican that I thought, “thank goodness there are art history majors.” Our tour guide was a young art history graduate student who slowed our group down to make sure we were able to appreciate what we were seeing fully.

Forty 15 x 16-foot maps – works of art in themselves – line the walls of the architecturally-stunning gallery. They capture Italy as a whole, as well as close-ups of all the regions of the country. Our learned tour guide – with a diverse academic background – made sure we could appreciate the maps through multiple lenses:

  • Art – painting techniques that show remarkable topographical relief as well as stunning colors;
  • History – 40 distinct political regions of that time with historical events depicted;
  • Geography – without sophisticated surveying or satellite techniques, they are 80% accurate;
  • Religion – God’s involvement in the world is depicted by miracles that occurred in specific locations, and St. Paul’s missionary activity;
  • Politics – They were used by the Popes to create the military strategy when at war.

And all of this was created in the years 1580-1583.

So much of the nuance and value of what was before us would be lost without our art historian tour guide and other research by people who study the liberal arts.

As a leadership coach, I work with people at different stages of their personal and professional careers. When it comes to academic background, there is often regret of decisions already made or fear of those yet to come. Is it silly to have degrees in English or Art History? Or should more practical paths be pursued such as Accounting or Engineering?

My answer: we want to appreciate both. We want to have both. Neither is right or wrong. Nor is it a binary choice.

In Ireland, my traveling companions and I spent a good amount of time at the Hole in the Wall pub in the small town of Kilkenny, about 90 minutes outside Dublin. (Ironically, the pub is nestled in a building that dates back to 1582, the exact year the Vatican maps were being created!)

Our highly educated bartender, Patrick, not only led us in old-school Karaoke – the words to songs were written out on large sheets of paper – he was also able to tell the stories behind the songs. Many relayed the sad and painful accounts of love and tragedy during the Irish Revolution of the early 1900’s. He integrated stories and musings of music, politics, culture, and history whilst pouring Irish whiskey and Irish coffees.

We learned a lot in the most casual of settings.

Patrick also shared how recently re-elected Irish President Michael D. Higgins had notably stated, “the teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children into acting as free and responsible subjects in an ever more complex, interconnected and uncertain world.”

He adds, “It is so important, then, that our children – all of our citizens – be encouraged to think critically rather than merely reproduce the information pushed towards them by proliferating media sources.”

Do you want your child to choose Philosophy as their college major?

We need STEM educational programming. We need to increase our appreciation of philosophy and other “softer” disciplines. One way is to follow the trend towards STEM education that adds Art to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Furthermore, we want to ensure that “Art” includes all of the liberal arts disciplines.

I’m currently coaching a senior executive in an analytics firm who years ago completed all the coursework for a Ph.D. in Philosophy. That along with his prowess in technology makes him a singularly valuable leader in the company. When hiring while in my past corporate roles I loved coming across candidates with varied academic backgrounds in addition to the more technical ones. They added an important skill set to the team.

Knowledge is always expanding. We can access so much information on the Internet, but someone has to create it. AI won’t do it. We need scholars who can always be contributing to this body of knowledge with their unique areas of passion, and a desire to educate all of us.

We need more engineers and accountants. We need more philosophers and artists. And we need more tour guides and bartenders with a passion for learning and sharing.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

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