Why Study Philosophy at University?

OK, bankers's endorsements aren't worth what they once were, but still, this article illustrates an important point... For more info on why study philosophy rather than e.g. business administration, go here. You might be amazed...

Why study philosophy?

A statement by Jordan Kotick, Vice-President J.P. Morgan, Wall Street

While considering what to study in my first year as an Undergraduate, I decided to take a few Philosophy courses. When informed of my decision, those I knew murmured, "Philosophy...what are you going to do with that?"

Soon after my first year was complete, realizing that I enjoyed these courses and my intellectual curiosity was peaked and challenged, I decided that one of my double majors as an undergraduate was going to be Philosophy. The echoes grew louder as those I knew grumbled "Philosophy? What are you going to do with that?"

After four years and a Bachelor of Arts Degree under my belt (with a major in Philosophy), I realized there was more Philosophical work to be done. I decided to go to Graduate School. You can only imagine the reaction I received when I announced that I was going to spend the next two years beginning and hopefully completing my Master of Arts Degree in Philosophy. They shouted "Philosophy? What are you going to do with that?" as the cries of derision grew exponentially.

It is interesting to note what has happened since completing my M.A.. To make a long story short, of late, I have been pursuing a top job at one of the leading investment banks in the world. This position was "short listed" to 150 people as interviews went on concurrently in various countries around the globe. At the end of the process, I received the offer and am now working in New York as a Senior Strategist at one of Wall Street's leading firms. After accepting the offer, I asked the Board, who ultimately made the final decision, why I was chosen above the others. Without blinking an eye, the Head of the Strategic Hiring Committee stated a list of reasons, the very first of which was "Out of all the people we considered, you were the only one who studied Philosophy, not to mention having a Masters Degree in it. That told us immediately that you can think outside the box."

I have come to realize the answer to the question perpetually posed, "Philosophy? What are you going to with that?" The correct response is "Absolutely anything you want." As Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference."

Source here.


xenides said…
peaked = piqued /whinge

A remarkable amount of vision of from the JP Morgan interviewers, though I suspect he may have had very good connections.
Anonymous said…
I've always found the best way to deal with someone who asks the 'Philosophy? What are you going to do with that?' question is to shout 'CRASS INSTRUMENTALIST' in their face and then run away to read some Wittgenstein under a tree.

Seriously though, why does anyone have to 'do' anything with the degree they're studying? Study philosophy because you love philosophy. Or don't study it because you don't love it - go and study something else. For God's sake don't study it because you want to be an investment banker.

I also dislike the 'think outside the box' tag. My philosophy degree didn't seem to be much 'thinking outside the box'. I thought about things that other students weren't thinking about (properties, conceptual schemes, the private language argument) but then other students were thinking about things I wasn't thinking about (the chemical bonding in benzene, the history of Prussia, the legal ramifications of R v Brown). At no point did I ever think 'well now I'm really thinking outside the box'. Any degree worth its salt should teach you the value of original and independent thinking (which is all the mileage I can get out of 'thinking outside the box'). Philosophy does do this but it's hardly alone.

Sketch Sepahi said…
In response to Anonymous:

Perhaps thinking outside the box simply means questioning the fundamental assumptions everyone else takes for granted? If that's what the banker meant, then I'd say he's right in his surmise that a philosophical degree leaves you well equipped. Otherwise I agree with you that there's not much mileage in the expression. Then again did you expect anything but buzzwords from a head of a bank's strategic hiring committee? They're known for their numeracy and economic ruthlessness; not their conceptual lucidity.
Anonymous said…
first link not working.
Anonymous said…
"A remarkable amount of vision of from the JP Morgan interviewers, though I suspect he may have had very good connections."

Actually, no connections. I was one of many, many being interviewed all those years ago. It worked out for me to be sure and clearly, Philosophy did not get me the job. But it certainly was distinctive and helped a great deal. Fro what it is worth, I still use Philosophy and the skills my studies taught me. It is remarkable how insightful some of the writings of David Hume for example, speak to, for example, current market conditions (recall Hume's comments on running too much debt and then think of the current situation in Europe...), Kant on the role of humans in history (and thus market history) etc etc.

Just something to consider.

J. Kotick.

Stephen Law said…
Thanks Jordan - much appreciated.
Philosophy...what are you going to do with that?"