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How do philosophers make a living in 2011?

Sean Hood voted up this answer.

I employ them as database designers.

My company specializes in “ontologies”.  (For those of you involved in that field, we predate the Semantic Web and mean something rather different from what they mean by “ontology”.  Our use of the term comes somewhat closer to the original sense Aristotle would recognize.)  Fundamentally, the goal of a database is to represent what you know, and the structure of that database is intended to parallel the state of the world.  A philosopher is trained both in how to draw abstractions of the world, and in how to express those in logic, the usual language of ontology.

By hiring a philosopher for the job (somebody who specializes in knowledge and the world) rather than a database designer (somebody who specializes in computers and systems), you can get a database which is more self-consistent, more maintainable, and more capable of giving you information in terms that the database’s users can understand rather than in computer formalisms.  It’s easier to integrate with other systems because you’ve specified rigorously what everything means and how it relates.  (It also requires a good deal more computing power, but computing power grows cheaper every single day.)

This notion of database design isn’t for every system, but it’s gradually getting a bit of traction.  And it helps keep a few philosophers off the streets.

We also happen to have a philosophy major running our servers.  There’s no particular application of philosophy there, although I suppose the critical thinking skills one gets as a philosopher are applicable to solving those problems.  The actual specifics of LDAP or the CRM are just trivia that can be learned.

That lesson applies to a lot of different fields: the details do take time to learn, but often not as much time as the specialists imagine.  Good critical thinking skills are the basis of solving any problem. Philosophers would make good managers and executives; executives themselves often bounce from industry to industry because their job is really to manage the people, not the products.

Philosophy is really an extremely broad field.  In fact, it’s the broadest field: it’s the “love of wisdom” in general, and dedicated “philosophy” is only where the field has not yet become specialized or commercial enough on its own to merit a separate department.  Anybody who loves wisdom and learns to think well would make a valuable employee. 

Not all philosophers seem to genuinely love wisdom or think well: the field is so all-encompassing that a depressing amount of plain BS manages to get passed of as philosophy, and even other philosophers are embarrassed by it.  That’s just Sturgeon’s Law in action: 90% of everything is crap.  You can find the remaining 10% anywhere, though, and you’ll often find it among the philosophers.

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