Below are brief testimonials from a couple of the many Department of Philosophy alums who have gone on to careers in law and medicine, describing in their own words how studying philosophy at the University of Chicago has shaped their careers and day-to-day work. (To reiterate: 15%-20% of our undergraduate majors eventually end up applying to law school, and we have a strong record placing them at prestigious law schools.)
Kathryn Peters, JD Student, University of Virginia School of Law (BA 2021)
I didn’t plan on majoring in philosophy—in fact, I started out as a physics major. Even so, I quickly fell in love with the intellectual project of building a coherent and internally consistent framework for understanding the world and how to live well in it. I was introduced to philosophy through my core humanities sequence, Philosophical Perspectives, and discovered that building logical arguments is how I want to contribute to society as a future lawyer. Philosophy taught me how to see all sides of an issue and to engage with arguments in good faith and respect for others. Philosophy is more than the study of certain texts. It teaches a mode of critical thinking that offers cross-disciplinary insight, enriching all areas of my education.
In my philosophy professors, I found mentors who took my ideas and concerns seriously and encouraged me to ask difficult and uncomfortable questions. I am especially grateful to Prof. Malte Willer (for challenging me in the classroom and supporting me in my law school application) and Prof. Matthias Haase (for introducing me to philosophy). With my UChicago philosophical training in hand, I am confident and well prepared to earn my J.D. at the University of Virginia School of Law.
Robert Icsezen, Attorney, Icsezen PLLC (BA 1999)
I graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1999 and I've been a corporate/business attorney in private practice since graduating from law school (also at the U. of C.) in 2002. While I certainly don't think about Plato or Kant on a daily basis, I very much do exercise on a daily basis the intense analytical skills that I developed through philosophical training at Chicago. Indeed, the best lawyers and business professionals that I've encountered throughout my career often first studied philosophy before endeavoring on their respective professional tracks. As it turns out, this is not surprising. Quite simply, my experience has shown that if a person can understand, for example, the Cogito--not just the "cocktail party" version, but the intricacies of Descartes's argumentation--then that person can pretty much understand, analyze, and debate any argument or problem she might encounter in law or business, whether an employment discrimination matter, an acquisition of a business, a complex transfer pricing tax structuring, or otherwise. Further, many in the professional business world suffer from a sort of "tragedy of the automaton"--they become excellent technicians of their trade, mastering the "what" and the "how," but struggle greatly with the "why." Over time, this can become extremely deleterious to one's mental health. A strong background in philosophy may address this and help any professional maintain a healthier mental balance, in all aspects of her life. In these senses, I believe that a degree in philosophy is not just not impractical, but perhaps the most practical degree one might seek, as the analytical rigors one must undergo in philosophy prepare the student for not just her slice of modern society, whatever that slice may turn out to be, but pretty much any problem she might encounter.
Michael Wilson, Assistant Professor, Neurology, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine (BA 1998)
Like many philosophy undergrads at the University of Chicago, I went “all in” on the major and was convinced I would go to grad school. However, I worked in New York City after college and rediscovered an earlier passion for medicine and science. When I went back to school for pre-med and then medicine, the critical thinking and writing skills from undergrad paid huge dividends thinking through complex scientific problems, logically approaching diagnostic dilemmas, and debating the ethical quandaries that frequently arise in medicine. I ultimately became an academic neurologist who specializes in autoimmune and infectious diseases. These conditions threaten and alter fundamental aspects of what makes us human. Indeed, I often care for the people Wittgenstein imagines as “a different kind of man.” These diseases are also very hard to diagnose, and my research lab develops unbiased genomics and proteomics tests to help. “Hypothesis-free” testing lays bare cognitive biases that delay diagnosis by more traditional means, highlighting the cognitive flaws and biases that are mercilessly dissected in the Department of Philosophy at UChicago. So although I ended up far from a career in philosophy, the skills I learned in undergrad were key to my medical studies. I also have the pleasure and privilege of seeing the content of my courses in ethics, philosophy of mind, and science play out in front of me every day.