Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reasons to Study Philosophy: Be a Detective

The Times Higher Education supplement reports that "Being philosophical may be limited to the leisure classes."

I'm truly worried that there may be something to the connection between philosophy degree programs being closed down and university education becoming more vocationally directed. I don't think that there is any inevitability, though, for philosophy being at odds with economic usefulness.

The Times quotes Stephen Mumford as saying
"I have no doubt that if I were young now, from a working-class background, having to take a big student loan would prevent me from studying philosophy because of the sense that it's non-vocational."
In philosophical circles, too, there is a sense that the students who do well in their philosophy courses aren't really successes unless they complete graduate school in philosophy.

But of course philosophy is every bit as relevant as an English degree (still one of the most popular majors in the US). No, it's more relevant. In English courses, students read literature. In philosophy classes, they learn about public policy and logic and Western history and all sorts of complex argumentation. And they learn how to write.

When I was in college (early 1990's), there was a rumor going around (how did rumors spread then? We didn't have the internet!) that the largest employer of American students with bachelor's degrees in philosophy was the LAPD!

Surely that can't have been true? If philosophy students really do make great detectives, shouldn't the largest employer have been the FBI?

In a recent New Yorker article on Jules Kroll, founder of a corporate intelligence firm, William Finnegan writes
Detective firms, on the whole, hire mostly retired cops. In 1981, Kroll hired Tommy Helsby, a failed [???] philosopher--he had abandoned a dissertation at Cambridge University on "the metaphysical basis for formal logic."... He is still at Kroll, serving as regional chariman for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, out of the company's London office. I asked Helsby if his training in metaphysics had helped him as an investigator. He thought it had.

Eh? The metaphysics had helped with the detective work, not the logic?

1 comment:

Sharon Crasnow said...

Perhaps the source of the LAPD/philosophy rumor was that some sheriff's department in Colorado hired a philosopher in the late 1970s. He worked out so well that they decided that they wanted another one and advertised the position in what was then called Jobs in Philosophy. In fact, this ad may be one of the reasons that the name was changed to Jobs for Philosophy. I saw the ad myself while in graduate school. The explanation was offered by a fellow graduate student and may not be reliable.

As for the metaphysics rather than the logic helping with detective work, I can believe that. It is very hard to do metaphysics and I think that is partly because you have to think so much about things that you can't see. Though evidence presumably plays some role in detective work, there is a lot of hard thinking about things you aren't seeing as well. Maybe the metaphysics is good practice?