Can a Philosophy Degree Lead to a Career?

One of the most famous philosophy graduates of all time has a net worth of more than seventeen billion dollars as of this writing. He started his career on Wall Street with poker winnings totaling a little more than $8000. While most would likely agree his business acumen and sensibilities as one of the most colorful and combative executives in U.S. corporate history have little to do with the Princeton degree that hangs on his wall, the truth is the same qualities that make it possible for a man to conquer the subject of philosophy make it possible for a man to conquer capitalism.

Carl Icahn will go down in history as one of the most influential business minds in the last three centuries.

It goes without saying that studying philosophy doesn’t guarantee you’ll become a billionaire, but it also goes without saying there’s nothing about a philosophy degree that disqualifies you either.

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Understanding the Mind

A course of study in philosophy trains a student to think and to consider the process of thought very carefully. While this has no direct application in business, emphasizing the importance of disciplines like logic, reasoning, rhetoric, and debate equips one to see possibilities that might otherwise escape even the most observant businessman.

One of Icahn’s primary skills lays in his almost superhuman ability to recognize value, especially in distressed companies. This is a man who very nearly bought Marvel Entertainment for a tiny fraction of what it ended up being sold for. While he had no particular interest in comic books or the licensing business, he correctly guessed there was enormous hidden value available some fifteen years before it emerged.

The reason is that he saw how others behaved and connected the dots himself.

Understanding the Man

Philosophy is the grandfather of all academics. It is the discipline that encourages us to examine life with the exhortation that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” To study philosophy is to study knowledge itself, and to recognize the practical imperative locked away in that knowledge. The fully developed philosophy student generally becomes one of two things. They either teach at an appropriately advanced level or they become mental alchemists, turning knowledge into gold.

The thing that ties those two career types together is a complete understanding of the human condition. Putting that supreme knowledge into practice can take many forms, but ultimately it boils down to the business of human interaction.

A philosophy degree is a fine bridge to business or education, either of which can put one in a secure and rather well-compensated career. It also happens to be one of the few unique foundations for a study of law, which has its own long list of competitive income-producing advantages.

It should be obvious at this late date academics are changing and quite possibly for the better. The key benefit of the university education is no longer seen as the narrow application of a label affixed to a major course of study. It is rather being evaluated in terms of knowing why things work the way they do. Philosophy is unique in this regard, and it should not be overlooked.