Philosophy, Ethics, and Jobs

In a recent posting on Ph.D. Programs in business ethics, I noted that one of the main avenues (though certainly not the only one) to a career in business ethics is a Ph.D. in Philosophy. While it would be foolish to claim that Philosophy “owns” ethics, it’s worth noting that, as a topic of study (as opposed to, say, an area of regulatory law), ethics has been a branch of Philosophy for more than 2,000 years. And many (though certainly not all) of the founding mothers-and-fathers of the field of business ethics (most of whom are still alive) are Philosophers. Non-philosophers in the field (including legal scholars, management profs, etc.) typically have either studied some philosophy, draw upon philosophers, and/or work alongside philosophers. I’ll go out on a limb and say that you just can’t do respectable work in business ethics — certainly not respectable scholarly work — without a little bit of philosophy. (Of course I’m biased: my own Ph.D. is in Philosophy.)

On a related note: Philosophy’s makeover: Why job prospects for philosophy grads are brightening. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Thirty years ago, British Columbia native Jim Mitchell turned down two job offers to teach at university. Though he had spent years studying philosophy and eventually obtained a PhD from the University of Colorado, he decided he didn’t want to spend the next few decades in one spot. So he started a career in the Canadian federal public service, rising through the ranks to become assistant secretary to the cabinet, where he advised prime ministers on the organization of government.

To his surprise – and delight – he found his studies in epistemology and metaphysics prepared him well for dealing with the complex workings of the federal government. Dr. Mitchell, who eventually left government to become a founding partner of Sussex Circle, a consulting group in Ottawa, is not alone in finding that his degree in philosophy paid off.

This article makes small mention of ethics, which is a bit odd given that ethics is really philosophy’s growth field. Philosophers working in both business ethics and bioethics (and perhaps other areas of ethics, too) very likely have a better chance of finding employment, in universities and beyond, than their colleagues in logic, metaphysics, epistemology, etc.

So, as career advice goes, I could do worse than to suggest, to a young person interested in a job in business ethics, that they should study philosophy. At very least a degree (or two or 3) in philosophy will equip you with some critical thinking skills and a knowledge of the ethical theories that are the stock in trade of serious business ethics. But in all good conscience I should add that, in a world in which a lot of business ethics-related jobs actually have titles implying a connection with regulatory compliance, it’s also a pretty good idea to consider studying either law or accounting.

I don’t have any employment stats to back this up; I’m kind of shooting from the hip. Feel free to comment below if you can help in that regard.

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