When someone decides to enroll in the faculty of Philosophy, especially in Italy, it is immediately inserted by friends and relatives in the category of those who probably will never find work. The same would hardly happen in the case of a future graduate in engineering or chemistry. In reality, the origin of these stereotypes is not linked to the complicated job opportunities in this area – which are not to be underestimated – but rather to the difficulty of understanding the usefulness and function of philosophy in modern society. Thought is reduced to the question: “But what is philosophy for?”
Aristotle, in Metaphysics, gave a clear answer: “Philosophy is useless, you will say; but precisely because it is devoid of bondage it is the noblest knowledge “. To fully understand the traits of this “nobility”, it is necessary to visualize the philosophy in history and the role it has had for humanity. In the great Western civilizations of the past, philosophy represented a primary science linked to the search for the principle of things. Aristotle himself has placed philosophy on a higher level than other theoretical sciences, those that study objects in their necessary traits – mathematics and physics – while philosophy does so in its most intimate depth. Going “beyond things” is his distinctive trait, just think of the Sophists and the nature of reversing an acquired thought, questioning it. Theirs was a criticism that touched religion, ethics, politics, and therefore did not slavishly observe the reality of every day, but scrutinized it through a different eye, one capable of disintegrating a certainty and restructuring it.
Over the centuries philosophy has not lost the sense of that investigation into life and its phenomena and, while branching out into currents of all kinds, has kept that eye open. Because a stoic differs from a Cyrenaic, the Baden School is not the same as that of Miletus, Hegel and Anaximander live on different planets, yet there is a constant that links the protagonists and the seasons of philosophy into a single substratum. Nietzsche tried to describe it by explaining that “The philosopher must be the bad conscience of his age”, but that adjective before “consciousness” identifies him already, in his turn, in a current. For De Montaigne, “Philosopher means learning to die”. But, although the two are closely connected and interchangeable, the primary question we are focusing on is “learning to live”.
Perhaps philosophy has the vice of invasion of the field, and therefore that substratum is part of a compendium where it is no longer primary science, but stepdaughter to denigrate. Bertrand Russell explains it well, when he says that “Philosophy is the no man’s land between science and theology, therefore exposed to attacks from both sides”. Schopenhauer comes out stating that philosophy is an art, not a science. One wonders how it is possible to find an answer to the question “What is philosophy for?”, If the philosophers themselves, over the centuries, have not found an agreement on an even simpler question: “What is philosophy? “. Because understanding its essence is necessary to discover its usefulness. Philosophy is the path we take to reach an answer, not the answer itself. And if on the other hand he must forcefully concern a question, and not an answer, Umberto Eco did well to affirm: “The fundamental question of philosophy is the same as that of a crime novel: who is the culprit?”.
Who wants to enroll in the faculty of Philosophy and is looking for confirmations, probably has not yet found them and has not dispelled his doubts. But be consoled: the philosophy itself is doubt. Kant used doubt to strike up a philosophical investigation, but one probably wonders how a seemingly abstract discipline can turn into a concrete scenario for its future. The data of Almalaurea speak for themselves: among the first-level graduates in Philosophy, only 30.7% declared to work, but among these employed 57.2% continue to carry out the work found before enrolling in university, while only 30.8% found employment after graduation. By reducing the field even more and focusing on those who found a job, 44.2% said that the degree was not required but was useful at work, while 43.4% was totally useless. The average pay for these graduates is around 770 euros a month. Actually 810 for men, 737 for women. For those who have instead obtained a master’s degree, the situation is slightly better: 43.2% said they work, but the average salary continues to be low (996 euros for men, 778 for women). In the United Kingdom, instead, the degree in Philosophy has more certain outlets: a research by Forbes has shown in fact that in that there graduates who come from this faculty find work immediately in 65.9% of cases.
Employment opportunities for philosophy graduates are not limited to a single field. This is a peculiarity of the humanities degrees: you can follow an academic career, teach in schools, try climbing in publishing or journalism, in creative marketing and, above all, in the field of human resources. Increasingly large companies rely on graduates in philosophy to manage “human capital”. An analysis by Manageritalia explains the reason for this growth in requests, combining the study of philosophy with skills that will be increasingly useful in the jobs of the future. Many works that we know today, in fact, will disappear because it will be a robot that will carry them out, thanks to new techniques related to artificial intelligence. What the robot cannot acquire, explains Enrico Pedretti of Manageritalia, is “the capacity for abstraction, as well as creativity, the aspiration towards beauty and the absolute, at the base of humanistic studies”. It is no coincidence that the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan has activated a Master’s degree in philosophical competences for economic decisions, where the managerial side is integrated by logical, ethical and flexible skills that are part of a degree in philosophy. The stereotype of the philosopher and his smoky figure, which lends little to corporate contexts, is then denied. It is just the opposite: considering the direction the world of work is taking, the reasoning capacity offered by philosophy will be the boundary between the robots and the ancien regime, between the programming of a computer and the vulnerability of being human.
If therefore the labor market needs graduates in philosophy – also because the cold numbers that dominate the world must also be analyzed and interpreted with a critical spirit – it means that the study of this discipline is not a personal quirk or a practical end to herself. There are even those who proposed – and experimented – the study of philosophy in elementary schools. It happened in 48 English schools, and the result of the report published by the Education Endowment Foundation speaks of a sensitive aid for children also in the learning of mathematics and in the ease of reading and writing, as well as in relationships and respecting the ideas of others. Michael Higgins, President of the Republic of Ireland, also followed this path and wanted to introduce philosophy in schools from the age of twelve, and the possibility of including it among primary school subjects is under discussion. This is because philosophy helps children develop the ability to ask questions and seek the most appropriate answers and solutions for each context, in addition to the continuous stimulus for imagination and creativity. Something is moving in Italy too, thanks to Filosofiacoibambini, an educational project born in 2008 to spread a method of philosophical approach to education, creating a widespread network even in the suburbs and at-risk neighborhoods. If it is important to think well, it is essential to start as a child.
So philosophy is linked to thinking. On the other hand, the word itself, from ancient Greek, brings us back to “love of wisdom”, which cannot be detached from thought. The study of philosophy, however, is not a springboard for a trade, if anything for a knowledge “devoid of bonds of slavery”, to put it as Aristotle. And therefore free. It is also free to do nothing, if for others it is so. In a few years, there will be robots at the fast-food counter, while the philosophy graduates will be managing the company upstairs.