What can you do with a philosophy degree?

January 30, 2023 · 7 min read · By ASU Online
Get the details on the different branches of philosophy and five careers you could pursue after graduating with an online bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

The five branches of philosophy

At first glance, philosophy may appear to be a single subject. But it can be better understood as a group of different branches and subfields. As a philosophy major, you’ll become familiar with these different branches of philosophy and learn how they can be applied in abstract, practical and real-life situations.

Philosophy can be divided into five major branches:

  • Aesthetics

Aesthetics is the study of art and beauty. If you've ever stood in an art museum trying to understand what makes one painting "better" or "worse" than another, you've thought about the same questions that philosophers of aesthetics consider every day.

Some say, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," but aesthetic philosophers might take that statement as a question. Aesthetic philosophers also study the implications of what can be considered art. Many people think of art as something that mainly exists in museums, but music, fashion, movies, theater and even food can be considered art, according to aesthetic philosophers.

  • Epistemology

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. If you've ever made a statement and been asked, "But how do you know?" you've been asked an epistemological question. Like metaphysics, epistemology can be a highly abstract branch of philosophy.

Epistemology has important implications for many fields, particularly those in the natural sciences. The scientific method is one means of answering epistemological questions about whether a scientific statement is true.

  • Ethics

Ethics is the study of morality and is a branch of philosophy with direct applications in our day-to-day lives. Ethics is what allows us to determine right and wrong in our own lives and in broader society.

Ethicists often apply overarching ethical philosophies to tense fictional scenarios — like the famous philosopher's dilemma known as the trolley problem — to "test" the moral worth of an ideology.

  • Metaphysics

Metaphysics means "beyond the physical" and is the study of reality. Metaphysical considerations might include what we mean when we say something is "real," what in our lives is "real" and what isn't and what lies beyond material reality.

Metaphysics is one of the most abstract branches of philosophy and is considered foundational to any higher-level study of philosophy. Metaphysics can also have a strong overlap with spirituality and theological lines of questioning.

  • Politics  

Politics is often associated with elections, campaigns and government, but it's also a branch of philosophy — political philosophy. Political philosophy can relate directly to forms of government, but it can also tackle more abstract questions, such as what rule of law means to people and rulers, or what it means to be a citizen.

Political philosophy has a strong overlap with other branches of philosophy. For example, questions such as, "What makes a citizen?" or, "What are the rights of a citizen in a given form of government?" often have answers that relate to ethics; deciding how a government should be run can have implications in epistemology.


What jobs can you get with a philosophy degree?

Once you've completed your philosophy degree, there are many different directions in which you can take your career. Some of these paths may involve further education in graduate school, while others can begin as soon as you've graduated.

Here are a few potential careers to consider after graduation.

  • Lawyer

Lawyers tackle questions of epistemology, political philosophy and ethics every day. One of the main tasks of a lawyer is to prove to a jury that they know something for certain — or, depending on their role in the case, that they can reasonably doubt their own knowledge. Lawyers must also reckon with ethical and political considerations about the rights of the accused, innocence until proof of guilt and the morality of criminal sentences such as capital punishment.

After you've earned a philosophy degree, you may consider taking the LSAT exam and applying to law school to pursue a career as a lawyer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earned a median salary of $127,990 in 2021 and the profession is expected to grow 10% from 2021-2031.

  • Teacher

Teaching is a career that has long been associated with philosophy. Some of the most notable ancient philosophers were also teachers — Socrates was Plato's teacher and Plato would go on to teach Aristotle. One of the most important roles of a teacher, regardless of subject, is to teach students how to use their minds — in short, how to think. A perfect task for a philosophy major.

With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, you may be qualified to apply for some teaching roles and teacher training programs. Depending on whether you want to teach in a public or private school and what subject and grade level you would like to teach, you may also consider pursuing a graduate degree in education or a related field to add to your teaching credentials.

According to the BLS, kindergarten and elementary school teachers earned a median salary of $61,350 in 2021 and the profession is expected to grow 4% from 2021-2031. High school teachers earned a median salary of $61,820 in 2021 and the profession is expected to grow 5% from 2021-2031.

  • Civil servant

Politicians and government officials, such as civil servants, need to have a philosophical understanding of both government and their ethical and moral duty to do the best job they can for citizens. Politics is a major branch of philosophy and to work in government you’ll need to know what makes a good leader, a good citizen and a legitimate government.

You might consider working for an elected official in your district, or as a government researcher in a department you're passionate about. You might even consider running for office yourself. While the range of civil servant careers is broad, the sector of social and community service managers earned a median salary of $74,000 in 2021 and the profession is expected to grow at a much-faster-than-average rate of 12% from 2021-2031, according to the BLS.

  • Business executive

Company directors and business executives are in roles where having a personal philosophy and an understanding of the abstract considerations of holding a powerful position can be valuable. Executives often need a firm understanding of epistemology to convince others of the value of their business and a strong sense of ethics to ensure their company is doing good in the world.

With a philosophy degree, you can apply for a wide variety of corporate jobs and apply the knowledge you gained as an undergraduate as you work your way up to a leadership position. Eventually, you may want to get an MBA or consider starting your own business.

While the range of business executive roles is broad, those who became top executives earned a median salary of $98,980 in 2021 and the role is expected to grow 6% from 2021-2031, according to the BLS.

  • Social worker

Social workers play important roles in the fields of health and law enforcement. Not only can social workers help steer people in difficult situations toward the help they need, but they're also taking on an increasingly important role in law enforcement situations, where the use of traditional police officers is not necessarily appropriate.

Social workers need to apply philosophical considerations in their day-to-day jobs. Social work requires a strong sense of ethics to make the best moral choice for the individuals in your care and it may also call for political considerations to ensure you and those in your charge are acting within the constraints of your government.

According to the BLS, social workers earned a median salary of $50,390 in 2021 and the profession is expected to grow 9% from 2021-2031.


Earn your online philosophy degree with Arizona State University

When studying philosophy, you will learn about forms of thought that can tackle some of society's biggest problems. You can go on to apply that knowledge in the real-world scenarios of your career.

ASU Online offers two undergraduate philosophy degrees:

  • The Bachelor of Arts in philosophy curriculum empowers critical thought and analysis. The program focuses on the major subfields of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology and ethics and electives that connect philosophy to other areas of inquiry, emphasizing the social relevance of philosophy.
  • The Bachelor of Arts in philosophy with a concentration in morality, politics and law combines the basic analytical approaches of philosophy with an emphasis on the moral questions that arise in political theory and law. This degree program appeals especially to students planning to pursue postgraduate work in law, policy or politics.

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