When students arrive for their supervisions in philosophy, I can often tell that they feel a mix of excitement and nervousness. Excitement, because they will now have the chance to discuss in great detail their own ideas, arguments and positions with me and just one other fellow student. Nervousness, because they know that the undivided focus of this next hour will be placed firmly on the persuasiveness of their own work, anticipating possible challenges to their arguments and wondering how well they will be able to parry them.
Both features explain why I enjoy working with our students. Students of the Bachelor of Science in Management, Philosophy & Economics (MPE) generally love engaging in discussion and asking probing questions about what others may take for granted. But they usually do not do so just for discussion’s sake—although playing a bit of ‘philosophical ping-pong’ can certainly be fun, too. Rather, I can see how questions regarding truth and democracy, rational action, the distribution of resources or the moral duties of the privileged, say, ‘click’ with them: how they are captivated by the challenges these topics pose. Similarly, I can see how the elegance and resourcefulness of certain philosophical moves brings appreciative smiles to their faces and how having developed convincing arguments themselves adds a spring to their step. Intellectually curious, engaging, committed, politically interested, critical and open-minded are thus adjectives that easily come to mind when describing MPE students. This attitude not only shows in the seminar room; it is also vital for our campus life and students’ initiatives.
However, I also very much appreciate that students are a little nervous before the start of our discussions. Why? Because this conveys the important signal that students couple their intellectual confidence with a certain, very important kind of intellectual humility: they know about their strengths, but they also know there is still room for improvement. Just the other day, a student who has recently graduated from the MPE told me that she still remembers how in our very first philosophy session, an argument of hers was refuted in no more than a few sentences. Her reaction was not to be discouraged – instead, she was fascinated. That day, she decided that she, too, wanted to achieve the same level of analytical and critical sharpness in construing, assessing and dissecting arguments. Of course, reaching analytical acuity takes hard work: putting together convincing arguments is difficult and requires practice. Yet again, the result of seeing students taking feedback on board, improving steadily and growing in confidence, is very gratifying.
At the same time, MPE students have both feet firmly on the ground. Many of them know right from the start of their studies that they will pursue careers in business or economics. But that does not make them any less passionate about pressing moral, political and philosophical questions. Quite the opposite: combining different disciplines makes them understand and handle these challenges better. Hence, no matter whether they choose to go into management, finance, economics or politics-related fields, I really like the thought that our graduates, with their specific intellectual profile, confidence and humility, will assume key positions in business and society.