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I think a lot of the hesitation has to do with three cultural aspects of professional philosophy:

1. high school clique culture

2. immaturity

3. mindless competition

Let me say why I think the above can help explains the hesitation to take the alt-ac market seriously.

1.First, philosophy is one of the most "high school clique like" environments I know, other than high school itself (although academia in general trends this way too.) The profession has "stars," and each sub-discipline has a handful of authors whose work is the central topic of conversation (in literature reviews, in lectures, in apa conferences, etc.) There are select workshops and all sorts of invited publications that only (or mostly) the cool kids can attend and write. The reputation of advisers can have a big influence on career prospects etc. These are just a few examples, but the is this: I think that there is a social norm against advocating for, and caring about, alt-ac jobs because so caring is not what the cool kids do. After all, the cool kids will make it in philosophy, and the cooler you are, the more exclusively focused you are on philosophy. Even organizing an alt-ac workshop for grad students can be a sign that you aren't cool, as you are not only focusing on non-philosophy, but you are kind of giving up on your students before they 'failed." Sure (some might think) not everyone will make it in philosophy, but the best ones will make it. And we should put all our efforts into the best ones, because they are the ones who are worthy of being part of our philosophical community. Those who don't make it? Well, they weren't good enough to be part of the community, and we only have special obligations to community members, not to outsiders.

2. While Marcus makes a very good case for why, even if just out of self-interest, philosophers should care about placing students in alt-ac jobs, I think immaturity prevents many philosophers from taking this argument seriously. Here's why:
A.I'd argue that one feature of immature people is that they lack life
experience, and hence, they tend to see the world the way they want it to
be rather than the way it is. Some philosophers think getting money from
industry is impure, unethically capitalistic, etc. So they don't want to take
part in getting money in this impure type of way.
B. Immature people have problems with delayed gratification and risk.
Immature people want things immediately, and they want certainty that
they will get it. This is despite the fact that most great things in life do not
come immediately, and few results are certain (nor close to certain.)
Getting money from a cultivated relationship with an alum is a
long- term game. Professors have to start cultivating the relationship
long before donations are made, and without any type of assurance that
they will be made at all. Because of this, it is hard for many philosophers
to feel the pull that caring about alt-ac is in their own interest.
C. Philosophy is extremely competitive. It seems even those with "good"
jobs are constantly trying to add tally points to their professional
reputation: they are trying to get the grant, the publication, to place the
star grad student, etc. - after all, all of these things better their career.
Working with alt-ac former students is not something that is going to build
philosophical reputation. And because philosophy is so competitive, many
philosophers believe that all of their professional working hours must be
devoted to activities that will improve their reputations. Hence, spending
time building alt-ac networks isn't worth it to them. They'd rather spend
time with a grad that they think will get a tenure-track job, as then they
can brag about that student to others, and the student can work on
publications that will cite their adviser.

I know, all of that was very cynical. Yeah, I have always been a cynic - but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.


Although I do wish philosophy departments receive adequate funding to prevent them from being cut, I still have some worries. First, a lot of us don’t really know how much funding philosophy departments across the country need in order to sustain themselves.

Second, how many philosophers are there in high positions within certain industries that actually have enough power, money, or influence to help with adequate donations? I suspect that the survival of philosophy departments will most likely be on a case by case basis (compared to being spread out like funding for the sciences) and is highly dependent upon particular individuals within certain industries.

Obviously, any donation and funding are better than nothing, but I’m just not sure if it will help with *widespread* survival of philosophy departments across the country given the status (e.g. valuation, perception) of philosophy. Some philosophy departments or schools will inevitably fare well than others.

Amanda offers an illuminating perspective as to why many philosophers are hesitant about networking and helping their students look into non-academic jobs. My concerns just add to the already cynical outlook. It’s a tough position to be in. It’s even more cynical when we have popular scientists like Stephen Hawking who claimed that “philosophy is dead” and who constantly tried and still tries to persuade others into thinking that philosophy is not worth investing in compared to the sciences. Philosophy’s value and relevance are being questioned on many sides.

Convincing science and tech industries/contractors to fund philosophy is an uphill battle mostly because these industries don’t really see philosophy as beneficial or relevant to them. Military contractors for example are more interested in the sciences as they help create the products they want e.g. (advanced) weapons and military gears.

However, according to law.com, the law firm Kirkland & Ellis has a revenue of $4 billion dollars. And that’s just them by themself. I think philosophy departments would be better off making connections with law firms since philosophy can help future law students to think, argue, and write better, which in turn can help improve the quality and performance of these law firms or legal professionals.

Philosophy can equip them with tools necessary to help them reason better and offer broader ideas that can help them succeed in their legal jobs by way of offering critiques and counter examples when taking philosophy classes. For example, many lawyers write contracts. Many times, their contracts are either written too narrowly or broadly or too vague, which can be either harmful or unfair to the parties involved. This occurs because many lawyers or whoever is writing the contract fail to consider or include context.

Many lawyers aren’t used to having their (hypothetical) contracts criticized as much. My friend John (a philosopher) works with lawyers and legal professionals many times and he’s often frustrated that they have little critical thinking skills when writing contracts or laws. They often fail to consider the (negative unintended) consequences of their proposals. Even our judiciary branches can use some help or training from philosophy.

There are a lot of things within the legal realm that need improvement and philosophy can help. But just be careful about associating with certain law firms. Not all of them are as ethical as we expect them to be. Who we associate and receive funding from are also ethically important.


Hi Evan,

You might be right that donations from alum is not enough to save philosophy departments, i.e. if "save" means keeping them in the university system, i.e., maintaining at least their current presence in terms of phil departments and TT faculty. We (philosophers) probably need to work together for other solutions as well, if we are to have real hope. Connecting with law firms can be an important part of that solution (and many lawyers were once philosophy majors.) That said, I think alum contributions can be significant. Just having a single alum that can making donations can be huge. My former undergrad department had an alum who was a business owner and his donations really keep the philosophy department afloat in troubled times. And this was an undergrad only department! Actually, I think undergrad only departments probably have a much better record of keeping in contact with alums, because for them jobs outside of academia are the primary goal and selling point.

How many phil grads make enough money in their careers that would allow them to make major donations to phil departments? I don't know. But if we consider undergrad alums, and the number of persons who graduate each year, I don't think it's unrealistic to think 20% of phil departments could have a major donor. Granted, that was about as unprofessional/arm chair estimate as you could get, but, eh, sounds plausible to me.

Anyway, it just seems that the benefit of keeping in touch with alum outweigh any costs, as the cost are minimal. Given that there are hardly any costs, and that the possible benefits are significant, i.e., (1) helping out the department's philosophy students, and (2) potentially getting donations - I don't see what reasons support NOT doing this.

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