What the public thinks about philosophy and other areas of the humanities


A new report from Humanities indicators (part of American Academy of Arts and Sciences), based on a survey of more than 5,000 American adults, reveals and discusses various beliefs and attitudes of the American public towards the humanities, and includes information specifically about public perception and commitment to philosophy.

The Humanities in American Life: A Survey of Attitudes and Public EngagementCovers how and how often audiences engage in the humanities, what they see as the different types of humanities benefits, their views on the humanities and childhood, and the role of the humanities in the workplace. Some results include:

  • There is a substantial engagement with the humanities in American life. However, very few people regularly engage in the full range of activities, or even all of the activities associated with a particular discipline (for example, someone who watches history shows is not very likely to also research online history topics).
  • Although Americans have a generally favorable view of the humanities, especially as a field of education, their enthusiasm is relatively muted compared to other intellectual fields and even to some of the disciplines that make up the humanities (especially the story).
  • Many Americans don’t remember being exposed to the humanities by their parents, and most adults wish they had taken more humanities classes in school.
  • And finally, a substantial portion of Americans have been hampered at work due to a deficiency in one or more humanities skills, although the survey also reveals that many Americans do not think they need any humanities skills on the job. work place.

You can get an idea of ​​what people consider to be the value (and devaluation) of studying the humanities from the following table:

How do things look specifically for philosophy?

Let’s start with the bad news. Philosophy is the least favorably / most unfavorably perceived discipline of the humanities:

It is true that it is not the most hated humanities, but that one can use “You Probably Hate French More” as the slogan of the discipline is not a great consolation.

The report offers no explanation for Philosophy’s comparatively poor performance, or how bad it is. After all, 77% of those polled have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable impression of philosophy, and that is only 12 points lower than the most favorable of the humanities, history. However, one wonders how the respondents interpret the “rather favorably”. If they interpret it to mean “at least a bit of positive sentiment,” then the “very favorable” category is probably the most informative indicator, and here philosophy is 19 points behind history.

Here are some more specific details about the public’s impression of Philosophy, courtesy of Robert Townsend, director of human sciences indicators:

  • 37% of black Americans have a very favorable impression of philosophy, compared to 24% of Asian Americans and 27% of white Americans
  • Americans in the lowest income quartile are somewhat more likely to have a very favorable opinion of philosophy than those in the highest quartile,
  • Self-identified political liberals are significantly more likely than conservatives to have a very favorable impression of philosophy. While 41% of Liberals have such a favorable impression of the term, only 17% of Conservatives are likewise.

Despite the relatively low favorability ratings of Philosophy

  • 25% of Americans said they wished they had taken more courses in this area, and
  • 87% of Americans believe it’s important to teach K-12 students both ethics and logic (although about a third think elementary school is too early for these topics). ).


  • Women are not more likely to wish they had studied philosophy more than men,
  • Black and Hispanic Americans are slightly more likely than White Americans to wish they had taken more education on the subject,
  • Americans who identify as politically liberal are twice as likely as conservatives to wish they had studied philosophy more,
  • 29% of Americans remember that their parents often discussed ethical issues, although this was less than the proportion who remembered that their parents rarely or never engaged in these conversations (36%),
  • Although a large majority of every age group considers ethics education important, older Americans are more likely than younger adults to see the value of teaching the subject to children,
  • About three-quarters of Americans think ethics should be taught both in school and outside (at home, in church, or in the community).

Regarding engagement with philosophy:

  • 23% of adults “often” think about or research the ethical aspects of a choice in their life (31% do so “sometimes”), and
  • Younger adults, aged 18 to 29, are slightly more likely to have ethical questions than older Americans,
  • Americans with a college degree are more likely to have ethical questions than those with a high school diploma or less.

There are more details in the full report, which you can check out. here, as well as information specific to the philosophy here. Many thanks to Robert Townsend for his work on this project and for sharing his findings.


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