CareerSteer – career test for career choice                                     

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The Ancient Philosophers


It is believed that Socrates lived in 5th century BC Athens. Peculiarly enough, given his apparent influence on Plato and thus on much of western thought, we don't know what he believed. We only know of him from fragments that have been written about him. It is believed that he practised a form of analysis based on questions. He would ask a question such as 'what is decency', let his interlocutor flounder around in contradictions, hopefully stimulating thought on the matter.

Socrates didn't actually settle definitions. The journey may have been the point. Having said that, the journey did not just result in the stimulation of those who learned with him. He may well have made the established figures of his society rather uneasy with his challenges to received wisdom. For it was Socrates who is believed to have said that "the unexamined life is not worth living". It could well be that the Athenian leading lights preferred living without having their lives examined overmuch.

Socrates challenges the unthinking acceptance of received truths. This is not to suggest that defiance of all is a desirable way to behave, but suggests that one should be guided by reason rather than by the popularity of an idea or the authority of its promulgator.

According to Plato, Socrates made little effort to defend himself against the accusations against him, of impiety and corrupting the youth of the city-state. He said that he was improving the moral welfare of Athens by his questions. Refusing the opportunity to escape, he drank the poison assigned to him as his death penalty.

What is the relevance of Socrates to career choice and to a career test?

Socratic questions suggest that active learning is necessary. That being the case, the interactivity of a career test such as CareerSteer is necessary to allow the user to find his or her own way. In more general terms, there is no set correct method for making a career choice; the questioning of assumptions is necessary. Hence one would visit a career test with an open mind about personality and other factors. One might also expect a careers adviser to question the person about their values and assumptions; indeed, this is part of the technique most often used when discussing career choice and other related matters.

In seeking out the most exhaustive research on the subject of career choice, CareerSteer attempts to found its approach on the most logical of foundations.


Plato lived in the 4th century BC in Athens. As well as being the person who tells us most about his predecessor, Socrates, Plato also wrote about politics in The Republic: it should be noted that Plato was profoundly anti-democratic. One of his preoccupations is, however, justice.

This leads him, as with Socrates, to question the nature of justice and many other things. Note, for example, his Allegory of the Cave, where prisoners' limited viewpoints lead to unexpected interpretations of reality. This leads to Plato's famous Theory of Forms.

If you have a table or chair, and remove a leg, how does a thing stay a table or chair in our perceptions? If a red hat loses its shape and colour over time, how does it preserve its status in our heads as both red and a hat? Plato's answer is that we have a generic 'form' (chair, hat, justice) in our heads. This may or may not be true, but it sets the scene for many later discussions about perception, mental processes and the nature of reality. Amongst other things, Plato can be said to be one of the early contributors to psychology as well as to politics.

What is the relevance of Plato to career choice?

I'm not sure that he helps us much, although his Theory of Forms suggests that we need to be wary of names when considering career choice. For example, many universities offer courses with beguiling titles (multimedia design, anybody) when their courses are not really different from others with more prosaic names (computer science, perhaps). More broadly, people fall in love with names of careers or particular perceptions of these careers, often derived from television. Being aware of the mental hold of such names and perceptions is important when considering career choice and is the point of taking a careers test such as CareerSteer. It ignores the titles and flummery and asks pertinent questions.


The tutor of Alexander the Great, Aristotle lived in the 4th century BC. Aristotle founded the Lyceum or peripatetic school. He wrote on, amongst other things, mathematics, biology, psychology, ethics, geology and politics. Unlike many thinkers before and since, he was particularly interested in weighing up the evidence, looking at the history of a topic; he invented the actual idea of a discipline. He formalised reasoning, the origins of deductive logic. He also recognised that morals are not a straightforward set of universal principles and suggests that being virtuous requires taking into account a range of circumstances, considering friendship and self-sacrifice.

What is the relevance of Aristotle to career direction?

In making a career choice, it is worth remembering that there are many different careers out there. CareerSteer and other career tests offer a sense of career direction, but it is worthwhile to look at a range of different disciplines and jobs related to those found via the careers test. A careers test should also assist in the logical search for career direction. One's own views of morality and how much you want to give of yourself are necessary in examining the type of role you want in society.


Living between the fourth and third centuries BC, Epicurus, contrary to popular opinion was not a consumer of the finest wines, the choicest meats and the spiciest of social activities. An egalitarian figure, who regularly sought invited slaves and women to study with him, Epicurus does have something to say about consumerism. Beyond the avoidance of severe discomfort, he sees the company of friends, freedom from oppression and the ability to think about life as being the necessary factors in leading a good life. Chasing after wealth and power may well be a source of misery, as it may well obscure a dearth of one of the necessities. Advertisers are adept at associating the wares on offer with the more meaningful objects in desire: buy the drink and you will be in good company, have the automobile and feel free.

What is the relevance of Epicurus to career direction?

The need to look at what is important to you is to the fore. Is it enough to say that you want to make a lot of money? What will you do with it when you have it? Look at other issues such as social factors and the conditions under which you work.


Pythagoras is one of the earliest important philosophers, living in Greece in perhaps the sixth century BC. Apart from being accredited with inventing the formula for working out the length of the hypotenuse on a right-angled triangle, Pythagoras is also thought to have fostered a way of life and also a general attitude towards quantification (the relationship between numbers and music was noticed by Pythagoras).

What is the relevance of Pythagoras to career choice and to a career test?

In examining career choice, individuals should not automatically rule out the role of numbers. Careers tests such as CareerSteer, however, will take into account people's attitudes and skill levels in such areas.


Necessarily a Stoic, Seneca was the tutor of the Roman emperor Nero (first century AD). Aware of disasters around him and the likelihood of paying for his position with his life - which duly occurred - Seneca concerns himself with how we face reality. While not suggesting that we should accept bad things without trying to change them, he counsels that we accept those things that we can do nothing about. Furthermore, it is far more of a protection against anxiety to look at the worst that can befall us, thus losing its sting, than to reassure ourselves and others that everything will be all right.

Seneca belittles anger - essentially the failure to reconcile our wishes with reality - and suggests that we try to view events proportionately. Similarly, he thinks that we can over-develop a sense of injustice: nature does not have rules of right or wrong with concomitant rewards and sanctions. Feeling outrage with the world for the deaths of our kindred and seeing poorly realised careers or personal destinies as some sort of retribution are irrational.

Some have referred to Seneca as hypocritical because of his living in luxury and for personal indiscretions, but Seneca does not see stoicism as necessarily entailing the wearing of hair shirts. To be aware of the possibility of going to prison or living in poverty, and indeed to live with such eventualities, does not mean embracing them as a matter of choice.

What is the relevance of Seneca to careers advice?

People should be aware that their economic misfortunes are not necessarily personal shortcomings. Similarly, unsatisfactory behaviour on the part of others does not necessarily mean that you have erred or are under attack. Also, circumstances may entail periods of impoverishment and self-abnegation. It is better to expect them than to be falsely optimistic.

Marcus Aurelius

A Stoic, this Roman Emperor (second century AD), is concerned with how we live. To be good is to accept whatever is thrown at us, good or bad. He believes that whatever happens is an act of providence; it is fate. While it has been argued that being king of most of the known world makes it somewhat easier to act well by his philosophy, Aurelius does make a useful point: there is a danger of confusing real harm with what we perceive as harm. In other words, we can make things worse by reacting negatively to events.

What is the relevance of Marcus Aurelius to career choice and to a careers test?

In considering career choice, it may be better not to dwell too much on the past and past hurts. Taking a career test as objective as CareerSteer is likely to help you take into account the inevitable - one's personality traits, as CareerSteer can be seen as a type of personality test - and what is available in the world of work.


St Augustine of Hippo, who lived in the early fifth century AD, could be considered the father of religious fundamentalism. Original sin means that while Adam had the right to choose, he rendered his descendants accursed; even a baby, if not baptised, would live in hell forever. Some chosen humans would be predestined for heaven. An early determinist, his more short-term achievements were probably, according to Russell, cruelty and superstition.

What is the relevance of Augustine to career choice and to a career test?

Some degree of inevitability can be perceived in career choice. Personality, an important factor in a career test, is largely seen as a pervasive and enduring part of human beings (although situationist such as Michel and Goffman would probably disagree to some extent). Similarly, the driving winds of economic forces are often influential (see also sociologist Ken Roberts, who sees careers guidance as more of a lubricant than anything else). A careers test such as CareerSteer takes into account personality, and is a form of personality test, but it allows the individual to look at such opportunities as are available to human beings in society.

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CareerSteer – career test for career choice