Quotations from alumni
It would be impossible to overstate how valuable philosophy has been to my success. The study of philosophy gave me the ability to learn and to find joy in working hard. That may not sound like much when planning for your financial future, but neither does a shoelace until you need one. In fact, philosophy did not prepare me for any particular job and at the same time it prepared for every single job. In other words, the professors of philosophy at the University of Maine gave me an empty toolbelt and made me eager to fill it. They did not teach me how to wield a hammer or a drill, or how to do my taxes. Instead, they showed me how to ask about how to do all of those essential skills. Again, that may not sound like much of a gift. But think about it—the study of philosophy allows its students to approach every situation with an otherwise unteachable skill: philosophy majors are not intimidated by the unfamiliar. They thrive in the challenge of learning something new. The philosophy major is the ultimate twenty-first century citizen; they know what to ask and how to learn. It is no surprise, then, that according to figures from the Educational Testing Service, philosophy majors have some of the highest scores in the LSAT and GMAT—the required exams for entry to law and business school. And when it comes to median earnings for people with only an undergraduate degree, philosophy majors rank fourth highest at $81,200 as of 2015.
That alone is enough to get many students to major in philosophy. What makes philosophy so gratifying, however, is the act of studying the subject itself. Some things people try because they lead to success, and the trappings of success continue to compel them. In philosophy, on the other hand, students try philosophy because they hear that a philosophy degree leads to success, but along the way they become self-motivated and enjoy the journey for its own sake. In the same way that a literate person could not imagine trading away the ability to read for anything else, the philosophy major comes to appreciate their philosophical skills as an essential part of themselves. The financial benefits of studying philosophy become incidental to the awakening that comes from the practice of critical thinking. They say that no amount of money can buy happiness but studying philosophy can get you pretty close. And anyway, all that being said, $81,200 is still $81,200.
Cliff McCarthy, Esq.
Class of ‘13
“I was a double major in Philosophy and Mathematics. While it was mathematics that started my career, it was philosophy that made me successful. Whatever it is you want to do for a living, you’ll be doing it for someone else, and what they want you to do is solve a problem. Whatever your ‘other’ major is, it will give you the technical skills and knowledge required to solve that problem. But while skills and knowledge will enable you to solve problems, they will not empower you to know which problems need solving. There are only two ways to get that information: years of experience in the industry, and philosophy. Studying philosophy teaches us how to ask the right questions. So, while your peers are waiting for ‘the boss’ to give them another problem to solve, or arguing over the details of their latest solution, you will be able to cut through the chatter to the matter, to anticipate the needs of the team, and to stay one step ahead of everyone else, even the boss. And that will free up the boss’s time to solve more important problems, like how to give you another raise. Practical wisdom is very very practical.”
Teacher: “Obviously the systematic inquiry as well as divergent thinking acquired in philosophical training has assisted in my teaching….I learned and grew through the Maples and am proud to be a graduate of the program.”
Case Manager/Supervisor for mentally handicapped adults: “I am faced with many ethical decisions. The things I learned at the Maples helped me to make clearer, better decisions…I continue to read many of the great philosophers.”
Graduate student in public policy: “Philosophy has helped me immensely with my writing and analytical skills.”
Teacher: “My undergraduate teachers…taught me to read and study vigorously for the delight found in the exercise of the human mind and for the power found in human knowledge….The study of philosophy has been very helpful [in my commitment to my family] — allowing me to step back and look for the logic of the situations we encounter.”
“A BA in Philosophy has definitely been helpful. As an occupational therapist, I am constantly analyzing and interpreting data……I really feel that the background in Philosophy has helped me to do this – in general, this background helped me learn how to think, how to analyze information, how to form ideas, and how to put everything together in a way that is logical and makes sense. I am so grateful for that education and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
—Occupational Therapist working with children with disabilities
“Critical thinking, reasoning, problem solving and logic [were] basic essential skills for critical decision-making [in my job].”
—Vice President, Human Resources
“Probably the only useful aspect of philosophy in terms of my job are my writing and analytical skills….But it has been useful to my life. Of course, I don’t know how people can live without examining their lives.”
—Capacity Building Assistant, World Hunger Year
“Yes [a B.A. in Philosophy was a useful degree], but it took time to realize this. This degree helped me to understand how and why people think as they do – therefore, it helped me to relate and empathize with others, which enhanced my ability as a teacher of mathematics, and as an administrator.”
—Intermediate School Principal
“My undergraduate training provided me with skills in critical thinking and analytical writing abilities which have made further studies and application processes less daunting. I relied on these skills to construct my application to medical school and rely on them more than ever in my clinical work. I am planning on specializing in psychiatry and I find that my knowledge of philosophy is useful in this field. But I also find that many physicians in this field have undergraduate degrees in philosophy. Having that common experience with my mentors and colleagues also provides a certain advantage.”
“Yes, my BA in Philosophy was useful. It inspired my curiosity which inspired my subsequent intellectual development.”
—Assistant Professor of English
“A door opened for me when I first took philosophy courses at U of M….inchoate questions that I had struggled with as a youth were permitted to surface and become engaged under the kind and persistent mentoring of Professors Skorpen and Treadwell and others….My life’s work has centered on the creation and sustaining of meaning in individual lives and in the societies in which we live. It has been an arduous work through the various manifestations of my career: working with drug addicts, alcoholics, prisoners, as a psychology professor especially in the clinical and counseling areas, as a professor teaching graduate courses in philosophical psychology, and finally as a psychotherapist dealing with deeply troubled individuals and families….I find myself thankful for the manner in which the philosophical enterprise has helped me to encounter what is most difficult in life with a kind of ‘tragic-optimism.’ Philosophy has shown me that even the quiet life can be lived as a great adventure if one can cultivate solitude and attend to life itself – in its simplicity and directness. In a sense, the philosophical enterprise continues in my life as a way of being: questioning, encountering, giving thanks.”
“Personally, I learnt about many views on thinking and understanding the world and other people’s thought processes and different outlooks. Philosophy helps you recognize a ‘bad’ argument and hence you are not easily swayed by irrational attempts at persuasion. The ethical studies give you a peace of mind and the aesthetic, an appreciation for the good/beautiful in life.”
“Most of my undergraduate work was more closely related to religious studies. That said, the courses I took sharpened considerably my critical thinking skills and allow me the pathways for synthesizing wide-reaching and often disparate information. All of this is critical to my work as a musician; I’m an abstractionist, and I pull from very deep traditions in the hopes of contributing something of aesthetic value to a pan-cultural worldview….about six years ago I wrote a piece of music inspired by Professor Sarah Halford’s teachings on Julia Kristeva.”
“I received a B.A. in Philosophy and Political Science. These two degrees coupled together gave me a very grounded view of the Judicial System as a whole…I’ve always maintained that the philosophy courses were for my mental health while I was at the University. They gave me the thirst for knowledge that I still have today; and would explain why I continue to take courses as I get older.”
—Deputy Clerk/Training Co-ordinator, U.S. District Court
“I believe my philosophy background has improved my ability to make logical arguments and to understand others’ arguments. It has also made me realize weaknesses in arguments, which affects my understanding of news reports and various other media as well as my legal pursuits…My Philosophy degree and professors have helped shape my personal hobbies and interests. The books I choose to read and even the music I choose to listen to are different than they would have been had I studied, say, Economics. I continue to read essays, literature, and sometimes treatises from philosophers I read as an undergraduate.”
“Philosophy helps with critical thinking. In addition, Philosophy helps you to know when to question and when to follow the status quo.”
“My degree from UMaine has been very useful since I found that it prepared me for graduate school. I found that the courses and format of courses…in graduate school are very similar to those I took at UMaine in philosophy – which has I think put me at an advantage in my doctoral program.”
—PhD graduate student in Philosophy
“Even if I had not gone on to get an advanced degree in Philosophy, my undergraduate major in Philosophy would have been a significant event in my life. To paraphrase Graham Greene, it was an inoculation (against the unreflective life) that ‘took.'”
—Professor of Philosophy
“A BA in Philosophy has proven to be very useful in the workplace – especially in technology. Most technologically-educated people are trained to see specific problems and solve them separately. In other words, a tactical approach to problem-solving. Philosophy helped me to see problems from a strategic point-of-view. This latter approach allows one to develop solutions to business issues, instead of individual tactical tweaks. I believe this is an important aspect of leadership.
“Along with writing skills, Philosophy training is a good lesson in courage. Maybe the courage is latent but people that speak up about, against, etc something; people that are willing to try something new – are usually the people that make a difference and win….
“The biggest functional skill I received from Philosophy was my writing ability. To write clearly one needs to think clearly. Philosophy helps one think clearly.”
—V.P., Marketing, Tech start-up
“I use my Philosophy degree every day (or, rather, the training I received for that degree). Through the study of Philosophy I learned, firstly, the rudiments of logical thought and the skills necessary for the weighing of information and the formulation of cogent arguments. A grounding in the various philosophical systems of thought gave me a perspective on the long duree of history – an understanding of humanity’s attempts at wrestling with the weighty (and sometimes not-so-weighty) questions faced in the course of human development.
“I am an Archaeologist and find that my Philosophy degree helps me consider a wider range of behaviors than do many of my ‘hard science type’ colleagues. While quantification is certainly a part of what I do, a study of Philosophy has helped me to see human behavior as a nuanced data set – it has led me to believe that ‘why’ is every bit as important (if more ephemeral) as the ‘who, what, when, and where’ that are standard archaeological questions.”
—Associate Lecturer in Anthropology
“Being able to write well is, I think perhaps the most useful practical application of a liberal arts education. Close behind writing – actually, they are intertwined – is the ability to think critically. I have also found my Philosophy training to be helpful in other specific ways. One, it gives you the ability to look past the immediate to have a broader, slower perspective on contemporary life and the ‘popular view.’ Two, it has served as both a gateway to and a connective thread through my interests in history, literature, religion, and even – more recently – environmental issues. Three, it often enhances and informs my life as a Christian believer and gives me tools and perspective when conversing with both Christians and those of other faiths and beliefs….
“I also found my Philosophy degree very helpful in the (substantial) Masters-level literature component of my MFA…When I encountered and had to work with literary theory (esp. deconstruction) and other manifestations of postmodernism, I wasn’t completely thrown.”
—At-home Mom, former writer/editor/proofread, prospective freelance writer
“…my primary responsibilities include cognitive psychology and statistics. I have been interested in the philosophy of mind since my undergraduate days at Maine. I consider my philosophy degree to have been crucial in developing my career in cognitive psychology and judgment research. Like many in my field, my hero is William James. My specific interests in cognition led me to take a rather narrow range of courses involving epistemology, language, pragmatism, and ethics. As it turns out, these were essential to what I do.”
—Associate Professor in Psychology
“I remember taking Dr. Virtue’s freshman philosophy course that opened a world of mental exploration that I had never experienced. When I went to talk to him about majoring in philosophy, I asked him whether philosophy would help me find the answers to all my questions. He said, ‘No, it will help you find the doors, and you will have to learn how to open them yourself.’ It was advice that I have kept with me.
“I enjoyed logic at Maine, and used it throughout my career in casualty claims, because they involve understanding and constructing solid logical, legal arguments. I specialized in surety, environmental, product liability, and medical malpractice claims, and so legal analysis was always complex and interesting…..
“So, what is the importance of philosophy today at Maine and where should you take it? I would love to see it used as a lens through which to examine all the important issues of the 21st Century. Climate change, long term economics, endocrine disruption, the role of the US in the future of the globe are only a few of the areas that might be examined through and matured by philosophy.”
—Equity trader and PhD graduate student in Conservation Biology and Conservation Ethics
“I think that a Philosophy education especially combined with a 2nd major gives the student a great advantage in understanding the context of the many complicated issues we face in this ‘sound bite’ dominated society we live in.”
“Training in critical theory and the ability to write clearly have translated very well into my professional experiences….Philosophy is my intended career – either in academia or in industry. It has made significant contributions to my life and work, directing me to issues of environmentalism and technology.”
—PhD graduate student in Philosophy
“People have often asked how all of that work in philosophy had helped my career and the answer is quite simple: analysis. To know that there may not be easy right or wrong answers and that the process is what is crucial. You just have to examine the alternatives, figure out what the important issues are, and consider the consequences of the actions. The ability to sort through arguments has been the most important lesson that I learned. I later attended some MBA seminars here in Saint Louis and I was amazed how many of those students always thought there was a right answer to a marketing question. Not so.”
— University of Minnesota Ph.D.; retired vice-president, major department store chain
I had just told my aunt Marsha over pizza I was majoring in philosophy and had aspirations for law school. I could see it on her face. The question was coming. It had become so easy to tell. The way the pizza slice halted at her mouth, giving her time to formulate the question. For some reason, a philosophy major seems to perplex people. And what seems even more perplexing is the notion that a philosophy degree leads to a professional career path. And sure enough, out popped the inquisition: “Philosophy and law, eh? How is that going to work? Planning on becoming some sort of philosophical lawyer?” The sarcasm was palpable.
The question isn’t unreasonable. What are the practical implications of an education in philosophy? I’ve met several adults during my college career who truly pitied me. You’ve wasted four years of your life, they say, studying a subject that won’t be of any assistance in your future career path. They insist that if I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, I should have spent my time studying the law itself — not working through difficult philosophical issues stemming all the way back to Thales. I could not disagree more.
I consider myself truly lucky. Lucky that I found a major that will aid me not just in my future endeavors at law school, but in my future endeavors as a human being. I know I’ve come away with more than a degree and a body of knowledge. My study in philosophy at the University of Maine has had a profound effect on my worldview and the way I approach critical analysis.
Before studying philosophy, my notion of argumentation and theorizing was analogous to a sports game. I embraced the commonly accepted metaphors of debate: I attacked her premise, she defended her conclusion, her criticisms were right on target, she won her argument, etc. Confronting an opposing theory meant meeting my opponent on the playing field. Strong defense and a good offense were keys to victory. Critically analyzing my opponent meant studying my opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
Discarding this misguided paradigm was crucial to my success as a philosophy student, a pragmatic problem solver, and will be paramount in my work as a legal student.
A truly critical analysis doesn’t just involve understanding the opposing team; rather, it entails understanding the game itself. What are the rules? That is, what is the distinct terminology used to discuss the issue? Why do we play by these rules? As in, why do we historically use this set of terms? What stadium are we playing in? What is the context in which the issue is being raised? What is the history of the game itself? In other words, what are the core presuppositions and assumptions that exist within the discussion? These are all necessary questions in a true critical analysis of any philosophic work.
Critical thinking not only enables me to assess several different arguments for a particular issue, but also allows me to make several different cases for an issue starting with completely different presuppositions. Anyone can make several arguments for an issue given a particular vantage point. The real challenge is making different arguments for an issue from several vantage points.
Approaching philosophical writings in this way opened the door for my success as a critical reader and writer. For instance, no one can actually understand Leo Tolstoy without applying a true critical analysis: understanding the time in which Tolstoy was writing, his background in the military, the origin of his terminology and the inspiration for his basic assumptions. These deeper insights are all necessary in achieving a comprehensive grasp of Tolstoy’s writings. I’ve applied this commitment to all my work within philosophy and as a result have come away with a 4.0 GPA within the major.
Some might consider my distinction between argumentation and true critical analysis to be purely academic. But I know that the distinction can have serious practical implications beyond the classroom. By my second semester sophomore year at the University of Maine, I had waged a successful campus-wide campaign and been elected Vice President of the Student Body – a position almost exclusively held by juniors and seniors. One of the most challenging and rewarding job duties of the Vice President of the Student Body is to serve as the chair and President of the General Student Senate – a body comprised of thirty-five of the most hard-headed, great-minded individuals that the campus has to offer. Soon after my first term began there was an election for the President of the Intra-Fraternity Council, an elected group of students who represent all fraternities on campus at the Student Government level. The election did not go smoothly and the losing candidate contested the results.
As President of the Senate, I was responsible for chairing the senate hearing that would determine the fate of the election results – would they stand or would they be overturned? A few days before the hearing took place I realized that several senators were diametrically opposed on the issue. So much so that several senators had banded together and had plans to filibuster the proceedings. This I could not allow. As President of the Senate it was my duty to ensure a decision was made. Instead of meeting with all the senators at once to attack or defend their particular positions, I scheduled appointments to meet with them individually. I spoke with each senator personally so that I could critically analyze his or her position. When I met with each senator, I did not approach the discussion with the competitive game mentality. My goal was to gain a comprehensive appreciation for each senator’s position and emphasize shared assumptions, points of principle and language. I used critical analysis to unify the rhetoric.
When I called the subsequent hearing to order, what ensued was a concise, deliberate and uniform debate. Senators were talking with each other instead of at each other. No one filibustered. No one walked out. There was only focused, temperate dialogue and, ultimately, a decision was made. I consider it one of my proudest moments as the President of the Senate and I credit it to my commitment to critical analysis.
The following summer I found myself working at my cousin’s law firm in Miami, Florida. It was a fantastic opportunity. My cousin allowed me far more autonomy within my position than one might find in a corporate internship. I got to write letters, attend mediations and depositions, observe court sessions, study cases, and access an advanced online legal research database. It was during my time at my cousin’s law firm when I met my aunt at a small pizzeria for lunch. During our conversation she asked me what I was majoring in. Thus the inevitable inquiry: “Philosophy and law, eh? How is that going to work? Planning on becoming some sort of philosophical lawyer?”
I thought for a few moments about what my philosophy education meant to me. “Yes,” I replied. “With all my heart.”
—Georgetown University Law School student
I fell in love with philosophy at University of Maine. I started by taking one class, then minoring, then majoring in philosophy, and finally even developing my own master’s that was grounded in the Philosophy Department. As a philosopher and a philosophy professor I
have had the opportunity to interact with hundreds of other philosophers and observe many other philosophy departments, and what I
find to be the most unique thing about the Philosophy Department at University of Maine is the wealth of philosophers in that department
that do not see philosophy as an armchair endeavor, but as a way of
living; what’s special about this department are professors that either through social engagement or teaching embrace a central element
of philosophical thought and that is its ability to change the world we live in. It is, in fact, this approach to philosophy that gave me
the courage to pursue it as a profession, it was this approach to philosophy that reassured me that philosophical reflection need not be a selfish pursuit.
— Visiting Fellow, Australian National University
I graduated from the University of Maine in 1984 with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. Since then, I received a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Connecticut (1993), and now I’m a tenured Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bridgeport, where I specialize in animal rights issues. I owe the UM Philosophy Department a big THANK YOU for providing me with the foundation I needed to achieve success as a professional philosopher. Although the department was small, consisting of half a dozen full-time professors, the course offerings were diverse. I was able to take not only foundational courses in logic, ethics, and the history of philosophy – which were excellent preparation for graduate school – but also more specialized courses, including a course on Nietzsche and a course on the philosophy of love and friendship. It was during my years at the University of Maine that I developed a passion for ethical theory and applied ethics, which I retain to this day. I’ll always have fond memories of The Maples and the seminars I took there with some of the most caring professors I’ve ever met.
–Philosophy Professor, University of Bridgeport