[See update at the end.]
At a time in which many feminist philosopers are very worried that the percentage of women in philosophy is at best static, the New York Times tells us, “In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined.” And that means many more philosophy majors.
Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal. The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts.
The impact on the demographics of the profession appear potentially extremely important:
Nationwide, there are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago (817, up from 765), according to the College Board. Some schools with established programs like Texas A&M, Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, now have twice as many philosophy majors as they did in the 1990s.
“WHAT!?!” a philosophy professor might be tempted to ask. But as the first quote might indicate, what we may be seeing is at least as much a shift in philosophy as in the students:
Barry Loewer, the department chairman, said that Rutgers started building its philosophy program in the late 1980s, when the field was branching into new research areas like cognitive science and becoming more interdisciplinary. He said that many students have double-majored in philosophy and, say, psychology or economics, in recent years, and go on to become doctors, lawyers, writers, investment bankers and even commodities traders.
As the approach has changed, philosophy has attracted students with little interest in contemplating the classical texts, or what is known as armchair philosophy. … Other students said that studying philosophy, with its emphasis on the big questions and alternative points of view, provided good training for looking at larger societal questions, like globalization and technology.
“All of these things make the world a smaller place and force us to look beyond the bubble we grow up in,” said Christine Bullman, 20, a junior, who said art majors and others routinely took philosophy classes. “I think philosophy is a good base to look at a lot of issues.”
Do notice that what is going on here is not some simple matter of “If you give them applied, trendy philosophy, then they’ll take the courses.” Cognitive Science at Rutgers is hardly that.
And in yet another case, feminist philosophy has been an important and unacknowledge pioneer.
[Update: O, bother! Questions about reality intrude again. See the acute Noumena’s comments. Can you contribute to our understanding?]