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The truth about Liberal Arts

By Ellen McCauley
On May 5, 2014


IOWA CITY-Recently students looking for an education in Liberal Arts have been under attack. Critics have said studying arts and humanities leads to a low income, which may push students away from certain studies. 

Philosophy instructor Scott Samuelson recently wrote an opinion article published in the Wall Street Journal on March 29 titled "Would You Hire Socrates?". 

The article spoke about his stance on the benefits of studying humanities courses. 

According to Samuelson, he had been thinking about the debate on Liberal Arts for some time before he wrote the article. 

He said he was pushed to write it after he saw a study which contradicted the attacks which he called a "myth." 

The study was conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. 

The study said, "At peak earnings ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2,000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields."  

Although Samuelson said he is glad the arts are being defended, in the article he wrote, "Thinking of the value of the humanities predominately in terms of earnings and employment is to miss the point." 

In "Would You Hire Socrates?", Samuelson said students should not get the idea that a degree in philosophy will guarantee a get-rich-quick lifestyle. 

He jokingly added he has "yet to have a student read Aristotle's 'Metaphysics' and exclaim, 'This is really going to pay dividends at IBM!'" 

The response to "Would You Hire Socrates?" has been great, Samuelson said, adding that he has received many emails from people across the globe. 

One of the emails he said he thinks of first is actually from someone who started working a low paying job at IBM and worked their way up the ranks to a higher position. In the email, the person said they studied Aristotle and it has really paid off in their work. 

"I do think the study of philosophy and Liberal Arts gives you [critical thinking] skills," Samuelson said. "But they have a value that goes beyond their economic value."

Samuelson said being published in the Wall Street Journal gave him the opportunity to talk about the benefits of philosophy to a broader audience than his students in Iowa City. 

The article was timed perfectly with the release of his book "The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone," which was released on April 1. 

Samuelson said he hopes his book is selling well after his article and added that his book was sold out on Amazon on the first day. 

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