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Study philosophy as well as physics

  1. Dec 12, 2009 #1
    Hello all,

    I'm in a little bit of a personal dilemma. I'm going to be going into my second semester at a mid-size state university, and i'd really love to study philosophy as well as physics. My ultimate goal is to go to grad school after obtaining my undergrad. However, I feel that if i study philosophy i won't be able to focus on physics and mathematics as much as i'd like. I'm basically looking at 3 options:

    1) Get majors in both Physics and Philosophy, minor in mathematics: I'd love to do this, but it's an extra 40 credits i'd need to fit into an already packed 4 year schedule, and the outcome would most likely be staying at the university an extra semester or year to get everything completed. This would be nice, but i feel like I would be missing out on some physics/math classes that i'd want to take to get better preparation for grad school.

    2) Major in Physics, double minor in Philosophy and Mathematics: This wouldn't be bad, but I don't necessarily see the use in just getting a minor in Philosophy. Would getting the minor in Philosophy open any doors in the future like double majoring would?

    3) Major in Physics, Minor in Mathematics: This would basically just mean focusing on the physics and math, taking philosophy as electives when I can fit them into my schedule.

    All three options would pleased me, but i'm just wondering if anyone has experience or advice to lend as to which would be best for my future. Thanks in advance!

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 12, 2009 #2
    Re: Philosophy/Physics

    First of all I really think that your ultimate goal shouldn't be to go to grad school. Your ultimate goal should be (and probably is) to live a satisfying life, to learn about the universe, or to get money, power, fame, to make your parents happen, or to figure out what your ultimate goal is.

    Going to grad school is merely a means to some other end.

    This matters because, when I was an undergraduate, I made a lot of decisions that made it more difficult for me to get into physics grad school. They weren't fatal, but because I didn't do my undergraduate research in physics and because I spent a lot of time learning literature, I wasn't getting into the grad schools that my peer group was getting into, and that sort of was a bad thing.

    However, looking long term, it was probably a very good thing that I made the decisions that I did because I ended up in *MUCH* better shape than I would have been had I gone 100% into physics. So it may be that to get whatever you really want, it's better that you do something that makes it somewhat harder to get into grad school.

    The situation is that physics grad schools will not care that you have double majored in philosophy. It will not help you, and if it takes some time away from what grad schools look for, it will hurt you somewhat. On the other hand, I don't think your real ultimate goal is to get into grad school, so you have to do some balancing. One good thing about physics is that because graduate schools need lots of cheap labor, it's not particularly difficult to get in somewhere.

    One thing is that I can't think of a situation in which actually getting a philosophy major will be useful, so one thing that you could consider doing is to just take the classes, and don't worry too much about getting the piece of paper that says you took the classes.

    The other thing was is that things change, and you should delay the decision for as long as possible.
  4. Dec 12, 2009 #3
    Re: Philosophy/Physics

    Yes, you're correct. My ULTIMATE goal is not grad school, it is just a short term goal of which i'd really like to reach.
    I think that i'm going to just take classes when i have time. If i take the classes and realize that i'm a couple classes from getting a minor then so be it, but it's probably a better idea to leave a little extra room for other things i'd like to study, not being tied down to a narrow path of classes for the next 4ish years. Thank you very much for your advice!
  5. Dec 12, 2009 #4
    Re: Philosophy/Physics

    Like twofish-quant said, grad schools in physics won't give you any credit for studying philosophy. On the other hand, grad schools in philosophy look for people with physics backgrounds for certain programs. Quite a few philosophers actually started off in physics. I'm not recommending philosophy grad school necessarily since the job market is very rough, but I thought I'd mention that.

    For physics grad school, again, too many electives can detract from what programs will be looking for. At the same time there are philosophy courses that can give you a better understanding of math and physics. Logic and advanced logic are relevant to higher level math. Philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, and metaphysics are all focused on the rational basis of physics and science. 17th century philosophy courses are mostly focused on metaphysics too. I can't say whether or not any of that might help you be successful in grad school - you can probably find mind more relevant physics and math courses for that. They will give you a better understanding of the physics though. Physics and philosophy are not at all unrelated.

    Employers, at least those hiring undergraduates, love a philosophy double major as a supplement to a technical degree. If you weren't trying to go to grad school in physics I would definitely recommend a double major. I double majored in engineering and philosophy and can tell you that every employer I've talked to has commented very positively on that second piece of paper. For physics grad school though, it might be best to just take some courses as electives.

    Of course this all also ignores the intangibles twofish mentioned, which you should also consider.
  6. Dec 13, 2009 #5
    Re: Philosophy/Physics

    The right kind of philosophy might help you cope with life better when you eventually have to knuckle down and cope with whatever job in the military-industrial complex the powers that be assign to you. Why not do the double-major, it gives you one more year of relative freedom before you have to do grunge work...
  7. Dec 13, 2009 #6
    Re: Philosophy/Physics

    Just do number 3. You will get plenty of philosophy in the real world.
  8. Dec 13, 2009 #7
    Re: Philosophy/Physics

    If you think you're able to handle it, you can triple major in math, physics, and philosophy... that's what I'm doing, and (under my university's degree requirements) it requires only four and a half years to pull off.
  9. Dec 13, 2009 #8
    Re: Philosophy/Physics

    Unless your an old married fart like me (im 31) and wasted your younger, less responsible years (18-23) on B.S. and not education, then there really is no real big issue in taking your time getting your degree. If you really love all three subjects, then take your 4.5, 5 or even 6 years to get it done.

    Not sure what a major in phil would do for you, much less a minor...BUT...you might have to declare one or the other in order to be allowed to graduate with that many units. (I know the UC system, which is where Im at has a limit to how many units you can have for a B.S....which of course changes depending on the actual major, whether your doubling and/or minoring, etc).

    I do not think you should do a phil minor/major for the sake of preparing yourself for grad school or making yourself look better for grad school, but rather because you enjoy it and its interesting to you.

    Enjoying your life while in school is important as a previous poster stated. If you're young and dont have a family, you should take the time to experience all that college has to offer (both academically, socially and culturally). Take your time. Really, its no big deal to take an extra year or two finishing up.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2009
  10. Dec 13, 2009 #9
    Re: Philosophy/Physics

    Thanks everyone for the input! That was the main reason I was going to do it; I really love philosophy and think that it helps to understand more about science and the thought process behind it. Very deep, interesting stuff.
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