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What Our Alumni Say

"Mitch [Clearfield] and Rebecca [Hanrahan] taught me how to analyze anything put before me. This gave me a critical lens through which I can attack problems and frame solutions. Because of them, I have learned to find and address the most challenging ethical problems facing our society. I was excellently prepared to take the LSAT and have gone on to study law at the University of Chicago because I studied philosophy.

Beth Daviess '13, student at the University of Chicago Law School

"Studying philosophy at Whitman was—to my surprise—the perfect preparation for my work in the United States House of Representatives. The philosophy major challenged me to read, analyze, and criticize complex texts, to express my thoughts clearly and concisely, and to connect particular situations to a larger worldview. Though my work in Congress doesn't usually give me a chance to talk about Kant's aesthetics of the sublime or the fundamental nature of being, I still get to do the basic work of a philosopher: to think about the world both as it is and as it ought to be."

Seth Dawson '12, legislative assistant, U.S. House of Representatives

"Studying philosophy at Whitman helped set the stage for my career as a social entrepreneur. Most of our biggest problems in the world don't come from not having the right technologies. Normally they come from barriers in how people think, they come from quirks in what people consider to be possible, desirable, right, or wrong. Much of our job as social entrepreneurs is finding a new way to make an existing technical approach work for people—and its there that having spent four years reflecting on desire and truth, on self-reflection and self-deception, can make a huge difference. Stubbornly pursuing insight, learning to be wrong in order to learn how to be right, these are some of the core abilities that it takes to then go figure out how to change the world in new ways—and I think no degree could prepare me for it like my B.A. in philosophy."

Curt Bowen '08, cofounder and executive director, Semilla Nueva

"As a philosophy major, I learned to organize my analysis in a logical manner and to examine each statement to ensure it is supported. My professors and peers in the philosophy department challenged me to identify and articulate hidden assumptions, to clarify vague terms and ideas, and to reconsider weak arguments. That training improved my writing and critical thinking, skills that are essential to my current profession."

Allison Boomer '06, tax magistrate, Oregon Tax Court

"Philosophy trained me to think in a way that few others do quite so automatically. Philosophy is, in essence, the study of problems and questions, and the further I've gotten into my career in tech, the more I realize the highest levels of business are around making tough decisions around questions—questions that you may not know how or have access to all the data at your fingertips to answer. My time learning to break these questions down into small manageable bits and assumptions and playing with how changing any of these will impact an outcome has become my most valuable tool that I bring to the strategic table. Alongside this reasoning, being comfortable with continuously addressing those changes through tests, failing fast (yay buzzwords), and careful attention to details has made me successful in the leadership role I currently sit in."

Eric Shaw '06, Director of Community Engagement, SwiftKey

"Philosophy courses at Whitman trained me in how to think. More than from any other courses, I learned how to do close readings of texts in the Philosophy Department. Years later, painfully picking my way through dense passages of Gramsci and Marx as a graduate student pursuing my PhD in Sociology at Berkeley, I remembered a technique that Patrick Frierson had taught us in a seminar in Kant and just started "translating" sentences from "theory English" into "accessible English" to slow myself down and really dig through what I was reading.

"Much of the professional writing that I do now, working as a staffer in the Senate, draws on the writing skills I learned in philosophy classes -- stern in its logic, but accessible and direct in its language. I also learned how to push myself beyond the text, to think more creatively about the interpretation of theories and to sort out my own take on the questions I was engaging. There's no way to get this perfect merely with practice or to come up with something brilliant on the first try. But anytime I sit down with my thoughts and a pile of source materials, I feel the way I did as an undergrad working on philosophy essays, trying to tack between ideas until something original starts to emerge."

Beth Pearson '05, Poverty and Economic Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Elizabeth Warren

"Philosophy lets you learn rigorous thinking and critical analysis by tackling the toughest questions out there and engaging with history's best thinkers. By comparing differing systems of thought, it helps us see new possibilities and understand what kind of people we want to become.

"More practically, many specialized skills eventually become obsolete. Critical thinking isn't one of them."

Jason Copeland '94, CEO and cofounder, Deep Vision

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