CareerSteer – career test for career choice                                     

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The Nineteenth Century Philosophers

Arthur Schopenhauer

An extremely pessimistic thinker, Schopenhauer takes Kant's idea of distinguishing between the world we perceive and the actual objects in reality, but unlike Kant thinks that we can know the latter. Having said that, he extends this to suggesting that our will is paramount in how the world is made up; the world is a manifestation of will.

Our yearning for things, irrational and undirected, means the ennui after an end is achieved. This may include the pursuit of love, even with unsuitable people, because of reproductive impulses. Fresh striving continues, unsated until death. Schopenhauer feels that the will can be redirected into aesthetic contemplation, akin to Buddhist Nirvana. One should be careful about seeking the meaning of life, however, as this may in fact be a fruitless enterprise.

Cole Davis on Schopenhauer

Modern day thinkers, thinking it reasonable to borrow from Einsteinian physics, have been inclined to think that everything is relative and that as a corollary, there can be no absolute truth. I would argue that although the truth is not always self-evident, that is no reason for denying its existence. The move towards believing that our knowledge of reality means control over it does not appear justified to me.

The boredom of achievement would appear to manifest in the depression of some of those driven achievers, winners of the Wimbledon tennis championship. I'm not sure that there is something wrong with always striving to achieve; my concern is what it is we are trying to achieve. Should we continually be seeking power or possessions, beyond necessity and the common good? Although contemplation is one aim, another could be trying to educate others, create things or improve a neighbourhood, an outward-looking focus.

What is the relevance of Schopenhauer to career choice?

Some people making career choice can devote themselves to others, others seek money or power. One should be wary of attempting to analyse overmuch the reasons for this. The feeling may just be something inside ourselves. Its apparent irrationality does not make it any less real.

John Stuart Mill

Mill expands the views of Bentham in his book Utilarianism. He considers happiness to be the necessary end, making decisions good or otherwise. People should strive to create a situation where pleasure outweighs pain as much as possible. Mill distinguished between higher pleasures and more base ones. He assumes that all people seek pleasure.

His book On Liberty extrapolates on individuals' pursuance of happiness by suggesting that individual liberty is the most important feature in politics. The only governmental ability to restrain the individual is to stop harm being inflicted on others. Mill is therefore more libertarian than Bentham, who would countenance some infringement of individual liberties for the overall benefit of citizens in general.

What is the relevance of John Stuart Mill to career choice?

Clearly, the pursuit of happiness is likely when individual consider career choice. Careers tests must, however, consider that people enjoy different things and, in some cases, may see societal benefits as more important than individual appetite.

Soren Kierkegaard

A very religious and pessimistic Dane, Kierkegaard considers two ways of living in Either/Or, the aesthetic mode, which aims for immediate gratification and 'living for the moment', and the ethical mode, based on obligation. He decides that neither hedonism nor being dutiful serve people well; his view is that religiosity offers real freedom and fulfilment. The 'leap of faith' is considered in Fear and Trembling; suspension of ordinary morality is exemplified in the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham. Irrationality and subjectivity are important in this system of thought.

Kierkegaard is commonly considered to be the first existentialist. The likes of Heidegger and Sartre deal with similar themes.

Yes, I have heard the Monty Python sketch in which a character called Kierkegaard sits around biting the heads off whippets. While I am sure that Monty Python did refer to the philosopher - they also sang a whimsical song about the alcohol consumption of famous philosophers ("Rene Descartes was a drunken fart, I drink therefore I am") - I have no idea if Kierkegaard indulged in this particular habit.

What is the relevance of Kierkegaard to a careers test?

There are many dangers in making decisions on the basis of faith. Career tests such as CareerSteer recognise that some may choose the spiritual life. It also considers career choices based upon hedonism and aesthetics - for example, the arts - and ones which are more founded in wanting to influence or help others.

Karl Marx

His most famous works being Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, Marx studied capitalism and promoted class struggle. Influenced by the French Revolution, he was in turn extremely influential, inspiring the October Revolution in Russia and the Chinese Communist Party. He draws on Hegel's dialectic in his dialectic materialism, in which society develops.

Individuals are not fully realised unless they can freely chose their labour. Alienation under capitalism makes class conflict inevitable. This does not, however, mean that Marx despises capitalism; far from it, he sees it as a considerable progression from feudalism. Whether or not the socialism of the Bolsheviks, which dominated the communist world of the twentieth century, was the proletariat rule dreamed of by Marx is a moot point.

What is the relevance of Karl Marx to a careers test?

Some may view management as the antithesis of their being. Some degree of dialectical process may be seen during an interactive career test. People will consider one assumption against another, eventually emerging with a new synthesis of occupational identity.

Charles Sanders Peirce

Peirce founded pragmatism, seeking clarty about an idea, as exemplified in different forms in the real world. Concepts such as bounciness and inflexibility can only be understood by considering their instances. There is an objective reality and different investigators will reach the same conclusions. Hypotheses are created, to be tested out.

What is the relevance of Charles Sanders Pierce to a career test?

In seeking out principles, examples are used in the CareerSteer to substantiate them.

William James

Another pragmatist, William James is best known as an influential psychologist. The Principles of Psychology discusses the 'stream of consciousness' and the nature of identity, but from a fairly positivist outlook. He borrowed the term pragmatist from C S Peirce, a friend of his. James extended the concept, believing that philosophy should be concerned with the lives of ordinary people. Usefulness is very much the key to James' pragmatism. An idea is only of use if it corresponds with a tangible fact.

What is the relevance of William James to a careers test?

A worthy career test is one which grounds itself in reality and allows the user to meet this world when considering career choices.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Poor old Nietzsche is blamed for the Nazis with his concept of the Superman. His writings are both beautiful and mystifying. It is a mistake to believe, however, that he promotes nihilism. A vacuum of moral standards is only his starting point, where he believes society stands in the late nineteenth century. He sees the crisis, however, as something to consider joyfully: 'God is dead' is a new freedom. What he wishes to reject are the moral principles currently espoused in the West. People need to base their morality on their different natures, with different ideas of what is right and excellent.

What is good according to the rulers, concepts such as truth, power and self-esteem, may be different from the good of the weak, who may admire meekness, friendliness, humility, sympathy, suffering, dispossession and patience. Similarly, the strong may despise weakness, dishonesty, timidity and the ordinary; while the weak may view power as an evil.

In more everyday terms, we could say that our avoidance of suffering is missing the point if we wish to achieve something of lasting value. The creative person, for example, must work hard and be willing to overcome tribulations if the heights are to be achieved.

Nietzsche believes that the slave morality has taken root in society and a return to master morality is required, the rise of the Ubermensch, the Overman or Superman. It should be noted that he was not antisemitic, condemning it in his sister, who of course went to encourage Adolf Hitler long after the death of her brother. Religious rewards, predicated on an afterlife, must be banished, the world being created by the superman's will. Will, in particular the will to power, is clearly of importance. Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche's prophet (Zoroaster, of whom little is actually known), offers self-assertion as a necessary road to our self-actualisation. In our terms, this means thinking for ourselves and maintaining an independence from the thoughts of the herd.

What is the relevance of Nietzsche to career choice and career direction?

In seeking career choice, we must seek what is right for us as individuals, not what our parents want, or our religious teachers preach. We should be wary of fashionable thought and be prepared to work hard and overcome barriers to achieving our goals.

Edmund Husserl

The originator of phenomenology, the study of how consciousness is structured. People perceive an object but their perceptions are very important; the existence or otherwise of the object is a secondary matter.

The technique Husserl uses is phenomenological reduction. The trick is to treat objects as how they appear to us rather than as everyday objects. By viewing them in such a way, we can identify how we humans structure consciousness.

Cole Davis on phenomenology

George Kelly, the psychologist, has an interesting way of studying personality. He sees people as conceptualising in polarities, although each individual has a different set of 'personal constructs'. His Personal Construct Theory is described in The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Kelly sees humans as scientists, creating their own reality by examining the world and making their own conceptions of what it means. The psychologist, in a lengthy progress of interviewing, can use a repertory grid to ascertain an individual's view of the world. The success or otherwise of therapy can be tested by movements in perceptions as measured by the grid, into more or less useful ways of thinking.

A practical approach to therapy can be found in Carl Rogers' client-centred counselling, which embodies concepts such as unconditional self-regard, warmth and honesty. As Masson suggests in Against Therapy, these may not be reconcilable attitudes.

What is the relevance of Husserl to a careers test?

Practical instances are used in the CareerSteer careers test because it allows the user to perceive concepts through recognisable manifestations.

John Dewey

Humans are the product of how they interact with their environment, rather than having an essence of their own. What has succeeded in encounters with life dictates rules of conduct. Socialisation is a key part of learning. The breakdown of habits, however, leads to scepticism. To deal with problems, we form informal hypotheses in a creative process, incorporating new ideas. We start to form value judgements, which help us to function as we develop.

Dewey feels that the best way to create flexible thinkers are to educate them in a way which is not too didactic. Learners need to build skills and ways of learning. Dewey is another pragmatic philosopher.

What is the relevance of John Dewey to career choice?

Useful career choice questions are ones which ask about the environment, as the workplace is the thing that people are going to interact with extensively. Asking different questions, in a career test or a careers advice interview, is likely to develop the individuals' ability to consider their progress in life in more flexible ways.

Charles Darwin

The author of The Origin of Species sees a competitive world - one which he derived from Malthus' essay on population - where reproductive success determines whether or not a species will survive. Variations in animals' characteristics may be successfully adopted - or, I rather think, failure to have adaptive characteristics may lead to be animals being removed from the gene pool - leading to evolution of species. The environment provides the background for which characteristics are likely to be helpful (or otherwise), thus being the way the world shapes beings in incremental steps.

What is the relevance of Charles Darwin to a career test?

A good careers test allows for the considerable variation between individuals and pinpoints the interactions between individual characteristics and the environmental factors of the workplace.

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CareerSteer – career test for career choice