David Spiller C'00
Studying philosophy at Sewanee has had a huge impact on my life since graduation. First and foremost, having gone through the rigor of the philosophy major at Sewanee - with the difficulty of the materials and topics themselves, the writing-intensive nature of the classes, and the great labor of comprehensive exams and the senior thesis - I am happy to say that I can now read and write about anything. And I mean anything: philosophy, history, economics, literature, psychology, biology, even nanotechnology. It might take me a very long time to understand an article about nanotechnology in Discover magazine (and in fact it did the summer after I graduated from Sewanee), but understand it I will (and did). I feel that I can safely say most people rarely read anything more difficult than Aristotle's Metaphysics or Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy (unless, of course, one goes on to graduate school in philosophy, as I did for a period of time). Working through such difficult and rich material is a challenge and will leave one forever changed, I think for the better. And learning how to articulate one's thoughts verbally about such difficult material is even more challenging and more, for lack of a better word, "life-changing." In other words, I think the philosophy major at Sewanee is a great way to develop key skills of reading comprehension, analysis, and verbal communication. It's trial by fire, for sure. But it's a glorious fire in a lot of ways - after all, the historical sweep of the philosophy major at Sewanee takes one through centuries of intellectual history. Even if you don't directly study a particular "ism" you will know what it is when you ultimately see it.
My own post-graduate path has taken my through various jobs, a year in graduate school for philosophy, and now law school, where I have done well and am very happy. Law school constitutes the learning of a trade on one hand and the amalgamation of philosophy, economics, social science, history, public policy, and logic on the other. I am very glad to have the skills described above and a familiarity with the intellectual history of the West. The only major I think might prepare one as well for law school is economics, but that might be regret speaking: I never took an economics course at Sewanee and wish I had. Legal writing, like philosophical writing, was tricky at first: there are different purposes of each form of writing and different conventions. But after burning through papers upon papers as a philosophy major at Sewanee, cranking out a ten page legal memorandum in two days is doable (but still stressful, of course). And it was daunting asking questions in a Contracts class with 150 other students, but having had many back-and-forth question and answer rounds with the Sewanee philosophy professors over four years, I did fine. I don't think I would get as much intellectual stimulation out of law school if I hadn't studied philosophy and become so verse in our intellectual history. And I don't mean to imply that I am studying legal philosophy or any such thing; no, business associations law means a lot more to me, for its own sake as part of our history and our daily lives, than I think it would otherwise had I not majored in philosophy. And believe me, finding law school intellectually stimulating goes part and parcel with doing well as a law student and as a lawyer; indeed, the best lawyers are those who loved law school (even if they hated it at times).