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The Case for Earning a Humanities Degree

Why on earth does Damon Horowitz, a former serial entrepreneur and current in-house philosopher at Google, think debating Plato beats building start-ups?
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The humanities have taken a beating lately and it's not hard to see why. With the cost of college surging ever higher and the job market continuing to be precarious, it makes sense that science and tech degrees that provide a clear path to work in hot sectors are looking attractive. (No wonder the Governor of Florida is so down on the likes of anthropology.)

And among the hottest of industries today is technology. The tech start-up scene seems to pump out most of the most high-profile economic success stories in America these days.

But that's not how Damon Horowitz sees things. A former serial entrepreneur who founded Aardvark and Perspecta among others, Horowitz gave up the Silicon Valley dream for a new life as a philosophy Ph.D., flipping the current wisdom on the relative value of technical and humanist knowledge on its head. These days he has the mind-bending job title of in-house philosopher at Google. And he thinks more folks should follow in his footsteps, trading in their start-up ambitions for a humanities education.

Why? Check out the 15-minute video below for the complete answer (or here's the text if you prefer to read rather than watch the talk). Basically, Horowitz unabashedly argues the hugely unfashionable opinion that a humanities degree is "nothing less than a rite of passage to intellectual adulthood. A way of evolving from a sophomoric wonderer and critic into a rounded, open, and engaged intellectual citizen."

He even asserts that, "getting a humanities Ph.D. is not only not a danger to your employability, it is quite the opposite."

Of course, not everyone agrees. The Wall Street Journal Ideas Market blog, which gets a hat tip for pointing the way to this video, is skeptical of this last claim. "If you want to maintain a position in the middle class, given the vagaries of the humanities job market… well, you may want to make sure you snare some lucrative stock options first," says the post.

Check out the video and decide for yourself who's right.

So who do you find more convincing, Ideas Market or Horowitz when it comes to the career prospects of the exceptional humanities graduate? 

 

Last updated: Aug 9, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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