How do I Become a Philosopher?

Mary McMahon

The path someone takes to become a philosopher can vary depending on the individual and how he or she intends to apply philosophy. Most philosophers work as professors or teachers, and so must have university training at the graduate level. Though finding well-paid positions is competitive, those who have degrees from outstanding universities or who branch into several areas may find more potential avenues of employment.

Cynicism, a school of philosophy and social criticism, was founded by Antisthenes.
Cynicism, a school of philosophy and social criticism, was founded by Antisthenes.

Going to School

One way to become a philosopher is to go to college to study this field. Those who want to enter this field should think about which type of philosophy they want to study, and take courses that will prepare them for this. For instance, if you want to study analytic philosophy, you should take math courses; if you are interested in the philosophy of mind, you may want to study neuroscience. Most people who pursue this career through schooling get at least a master's degree, though most get a doctoral degree. Along the way, you'll likely read large numbers of philosophical texts to get an understanding of the history of the field, different schools of philosophy, and current lines of thought. One advantage to going to school is that it allows students to work directly with notable academics.

With a graduate degree in philosophy, most people begin working as professors. People who work in this field sometimes consider themselves eternal students, and even in a tenured position, a philosopher is often constantly looking for new things to learn and experience. Someone who has chosen to become a philosopher in academia should also be prepared to publish regularly, as this is usually required to maintain an academic career. Philosophers typically also attend academic conferences to present their work and to review others' work.

Independent Study

Others choose to engage in philosophical thought without becoming working philosophers. They often do this by studying the topic independently. Some caution is advised here, as this field requires the development of critical thinking skills and the ability to engage with highly varied arguments. People who study on their own should make sure that they have opportunities to connect with other people for discussions and debates. One might join a debate club, a bulletin board dedicated to philosophy topics, or use other avenues to communicate with others.

Accidental Philosophers

Others who engage in philosophical thought simply start thinking and writing and develop into lay philosophers over time. These people often bring new insights to questions and ideas, and you do not necessarily need to have a formal or even self-guided education to do this. However, people who develop naturally without reading a great deal of theory often find that they are judged by other people in the field who believe that extensive study is required to be viewed as an authority.

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Discussion Comments


I think that anyone who can think and follow a thought through its many avenues and possibilities can be a philosopher.

To be a great philosopher, you must be wise enough to consider all sources of wisdom and information. Dr. Seuss is likely as well read as the Bible and contains much of the same wisdom in a different language. Experience is a great teacher. Some books and some people are great teachers but great teachers don't make great students.

I think the best philosophers live on the fence and possess the ability to see both sides of everything all the time. If you live on the fence, then the greenness of the grass is never your concern.


@strawCake - I took a few classes in college I thought would be easy A's that turned out not to be. Like your friend, I usually ended up learning a lot.

Anyway, from reading this article it seems like it's not very feasible to just be a philosopher. It seems like you would have to be a philosopher, and something else too. Like a writer or a professor.

I did a search on the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website, and they don't even have an entry for philosopher! They do have one for philosophy and religion professors though. Apparently they make an average of $69,000 per year. Not to bad. But they do have to do more than just sit around thinking deep thoughts!


Philosophy is a lot more difficult than most people think. When I was in college, I had a friend who voluntarily took a philosophy 101 course as a general education requirement.

She thought it would be an easy A. It was not. She worked her tail off in that class! The amount of reading was staggering. Not to mention all the critical thinking and the paper writing.

In the end my friend was happy she took the class. She learned a lot, but she definitely wasn't inspired to become a philosopher after that!


I think one skill that philosophers often don't try to cultivate is their writing skills. I have read quite a bit of philosophy in my time and let me tell you, a lot of it is unreadable. It doesn't matter how deep the ideas are or revolutionary the thinking, if it is written poorly it will not resonate with anyone.

Many philosophers forget that they have an audience for their work. What they do is important and it has something to offer to others. But they go and disguise or obscure their ideas in impossibly academic language that is confusing to even experts in the field. I wish that more philosophers tried to be accessible and relevant to readers instead of just trying to sound complicated and obscure.


There are many that will tell you that to become a philosopher you need training, education and a number of academic credentials. To a certain extent they are right, but I think that this attitude often overlooks the importance of experience in the philosophers mind.

Basically, no one can figure out the world if they don't go out and see what its made of. You can spend an entire career at the top of the ivory tower puzzling over minutiae and arcane debates. But what is this really contributing to the world? A philosopher needs to meet people, travel, embrace danger, get into messes, look at the highs and lows and everything in between.

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