Testimonials from an array of former University of Mississippi students who graduated with a B.A. in philosophy.
Jordan Lancaster Estes, 2005
J.D., Harvard Law School, 2008
formerly Litigation Associate, Hogan Lovells US LLP; currently Assistant United States Attorney (Criminal Division), Southern District of New York
“Studying philosophy was an excellent foundation for a career in the law. The philosophy courses at the University of Mississippi helped me hone my logical reasoning, learn how to develop and evaluate arguments, and improve by writing skills. As a federal prosecutor, I regularly draw on the skills I learned as a philosophy major when making arguments in court.”
Charles Griffin, 1984
J.D., the University of Mississippi, 1987
attorney at Butler Snow LLP
“I became interested in a degree in philosophy because I enjoyed playing logical games and reading the works of Plato, Socrates and other philosophers in college. Despite being viewed by some as boring, I found philosophical studies challenging and rewarding. I decided to attend law school after obtaining my degree and I learned that most law schools were teaching using a method called the Socratic method. My law school used the Socratic method of teaching and my degree in philosophy was very useful in helping me succeed in law school. I am a trial lawyer and I have used many of the skills that I obtained from my philosophy training to assist me in my successful handling of cases inside and outside of the courtroom. My philosophy degree made a real difference in my degree of success as a lawyer.”
John D. Woods III, 2011
currently pursuing a J.D. at the University of Memphis School of Law
2nd Lieutenant, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Tennessee Army National Guard
“Those in my generation who are surpassing their peers can think critically about a breadth of subjects, read with discernment, and speak fluently on the issues underpinning the world around them. These are skills I learned in part from the masterful and attentive philosophy program at the University of Mississippi. As a law student beginning my final year, I know that the analytical and logical skills taught to me in my philosophy courses have had a measurable and positive impact on my ability to read and comprehend the law (and consequently test well) relative to my peers. As an infantry officer, the practice of circumspection, as required in philosophy courses, gives me the foundation necessary to make quick, encompassing analyses of any situation. Finally, having spent two years at a high-priced private university before transferring, I can say without qualification that the quality of instruction and amount of attention given to students in the Philosophy program at Ole Miss is unparalleled.”
Ann Lowrey Eason Forster, 2006
Academic Dean, St. Augustine School
“The study of Philosophy has helped immensely in both of my primary vocations. The first of those vocations is as mother to our four children. From the time a then-three-year old asked, “I know that God made the trees and the animals and all of the things, but who made God?” to my now eleven-year-old’s interest in logical fallacies, especially those committed by her father and me, I have relied extensively on my ability to think clearly and quickly, a skill developed patiently by my University of Mississippi philosophy professors.
In the second of my two vocations, I am the Academic Dean at a classical school in Jackson, Mississippi. I am regularly called upon to interact with material across all spectra, interpret its value to our students, and implement its study. My background in philosophy assists daily, both implicitly and more explicitly, as my degree lends credibility as I advocate for the study of various lines of thought and interaction with significant thinkers.”
Brent Caldwell, 2010
B.A. in Public Policy Leadership, the University of Mississippi
MSc in Political Sociology, London School of Economics
formerly political consultant/staffer; currently pursuing J.D. at Duke University School of Law
“I sometimes half-jokingly tell people that my career in professional politics is in the field of “Applied Ethics”, and I truly feel that is not too far off. The political choices that are contested enough to get debated in the public sphere are almost always cases of equally significant rights or values clashing. My philosophy classes gave me the most experience in these kinds of debates, but really I am most grateful for how they made me a little bit more interesting. Since graduating in 2010 I have had the opportunity to work for Members of Congress in Washington, D.C., New Mexico, and Illinois, and have worked on other elections in Mississippi, Louisiana, and North Carolina. Like many professional jobs I spend a lot of time at receptions making small talk. Invariably when I tell people I studied philosophy they pull a little closer and want to discuss it some more. The perception that I have wrestled with “Big Ideas” leads people to want to discuss their own ideas or questions with me and helps me stand out in a room full of Political Science, Psychology, and other liberal arts degrees. If you want to learn a specific trade or skill, then by all means study that – engineering, chemistry, accounting, or whatever it may be – but if you want to go into business, become a writer, or anything else that requires you to learn how to think then by all means study philosophy. Your time in college and your conversations after college will be better for it.”
John Kimble, 2003
M.A. in Philosophy, the University of Mississippi, 2005; J.D., the University of Virginia
formerly Associate at Jorden Burt LLP; currently Regulatory Attorney at BuckleySandler LLP
“It’s almost impossible for me to overstate how much philosophy has helped and continues to help me in my career as an attorney. I could not have acquired the critical thinking and reasoning skills that I developed in my four years at the University of Mississippi from any other major, and those skills led directly to a 171 on the LSAT, a scholarship to the University of Virginia School of Law, and a high-paying job after graduation. I left that job after three years and spent the next two years traveling the world and writing my Great American Novel. When I returned to the ‘real world,’ I faced a significant amount of skepticism from the legal market in Washington, D.C., but, by working hard and using the same skills I developed in philosophy classes more than a decade ago, I quickly worked my way back up the ladder to a better position than the one I left. My wife and I have a 10-month-old daughter, and our son will be born any day now; I would be so thrilled if one of them decided to become a philosophy major. I learned so many lessons that I’ll never forget. Even now, as I wrap up this narrative and begin to think about how to structure the argument in a motion that I’m drafting, I can hear the voices of Drs. Lawhead, Westmoreland, Barnard, and Manson echoing from the dusty corners of my mind.”
Michael Patrick, 1976
J.D., Cumberland School of Law, Samford University
“I really enjoyed philosophy and feel that this course of studies opened my mind to the many and varied career choices you have with this degree. I encourage more undergraduates to pursue this course of studies.”
Joe Allen, 1977
full time private polygraph examiner since 1982 and owner of WJ Allen Polygraph
“For more than thirty years I have earned a living as a professional interrogator, questioning people on their stories, evaluating their veracity. In every investigation I ever conducted I relied on my education in philosophy to guide my search for the truth.”
(The) Rev. James R. Curtis, 1980
Master of Divinity, Emory University, 1983
United Methodist minister
“As a minister much of my time is spent attempting to interpret the world, and the events within it, to my congregants. I find that my philosophy background has given me a deep and rich perspective from which to draw as I do that. Many great thinkers have preceded us, and they have wrestled with the same ideas and issues that still confront humanity today. Utilizing their thought and wisdom has been indispensable to me.”
Doug Hollowell, III, 2010
J.D., University of Miami Law School, 2012
Formerly with the the District Attorney’s Office for the Third Circuit Court of Mississippi. Currently practicing law in Southaven, Mississippi.
“I chose Philosophy to become more efficient in my critical thinking and reasoning, and the experience was invaluable. My studies in Philosophy would do more than help with the LSAT, Law School, and the ordeal that is the Mississippi Bar Exam, as I found myself able to apply the tools learned to all areas of my undergraduate experience as well. Philosophy has helped me approach both school and work in a way that no other degree could have provided.”
Stewart Bryson, 1994
M.A. in Philosophy, the University of Mississippi, 1996
Owner and Co-founder of the business intelligence firm Red Pill Analytics
“As an owner of a company, I wear a lot of different hats… sales, marketing, leadership, product development. Having the perfect solution in any of those areas is meaningless without the ability to frame the conversation around it. More than anything… Philosophy sharpened my communication skills, not merely to clarify, but to convince.”
Hadley Jo Pearson, 2014 (with minors in biology and chemistry)
second-year medical student, University of Mississippi Medical Center student
“My philosophy degree helped me stand out from the sea of Biology and Biochemistry majors while I was applying to medical school. It showed that I had a different set of passions and wasn’t afraid to deviate from the default path. Admissions committees seem to love adding some variety to their incoming class.
Now that I’m actually going through medical school, philosophy helps me on several levels. First, it definitely made me a more organized thinker. When tackling monstrous amounts of information on a daily basis, it very much helps to have practice on methodically working through convoluted information (or arguments). Philosophy trains you to be both big-picture and detail oriented: you must be able to follow complex theories and piece them together to form the ultimate conclusion, while also ruthlessly looking out for that one error in the argument that makes it all come crashing down. In medical school classes, this combination of skills has allowed me to excel, since I am accustomed to paying attention to both the big picture and the finicky details.
It has also been essential for my personal growth. Spending so much time probing deep questions that have plagued mankind for centuries inevitably leads to a certain amount of self-discovery. Learning philosophy helped me order my thoughts and opinions in college, and feel more centered and confident in how I approach life. In the hectic world of medical school, having that access to inner peace was essential for me.”
Dr. Paul Gilmore, 1991 (philosophy, history, and English)
Ph.D. in English, the University of Chicago, 1997
formerly professor of English at California State University-Long Beach; currently administrative dean of the Honors College at Rutgers University.
author of The Genuine Article: Race, Mass Culture, and American Literary Manhood (Duke University Press, 2001) and Aesthetic Materialism: Electricity and American Romanticism (Stanford University Press, 2009)
“My studies in the Philosophy Department at Ole Miss, beginning with my Honors seminar with Professor Harrington, continuing with classes with Professor Pojman on ethics and on existentialism, and a particularly profound seminar with Professor Westmoreland on political philosophy, have contributed in innumerable ways to my life and career. While I ended up pursuing literature as my main academic and professional focus, the foundation supplied by my studies in philosophy has helped me throughout my life. I’m certain they played a key role in my earning a Truman Scholarship – in sharpening my intellect, my argumentative skills, and my breadth of knowledge – and in my gaining admission to the University of Chicago. I constantly return to the knowledge and skills I gained in my classes in the Philosophy Department, as a scholar, a teacher, a parent, and a human being. I only wish I had more time to return to some of things I read while at Ole Miss and to pursue the ideas I began to contemplate while in philosophy classes in more depth.”
Bob Norman, 1971
former infantry officer, USMC
J.D., University of Mississippi Law School
former Judge Advocate, USMC
Assistant U.S. Attorney
“I was, and am, fascinated with the question ‘why?’. I loved my philosophy classes, and to this day I am thankful for that background. Fifty years later, I remember concepts that I still find helpful, although I must confess that sometimes I can’t attribute those concepts to the right philosopher. I believe the study of philosophy opens the mind to the discipline of critical thinking, expands the imagination and provides coping tools that are invaluable for this journey through life. Although I don’t make my living in philosophy, I bring that background to the table in everything I do. I wouldn’t take anything for the foundation that provides.”
Jordan K. Sacks, 2012
Juris Doctorate, Georgetown University Law Center
Present Occupation: Assistant State Attorney, Miami-Dade County (Prosecutor for Greater Miami area)
“Philosophy helped me further my career goals by training me to be a better writer than most of my fellow law school students and by helping me understand how to both craft and pick apart arguments. The courses I took in Logic and Symbolic Logic assisted me greatly in taking the Law School Admissions Test, and I openly credit these courses with my high score. Philosophy taught me how to think, how to write, and how to analyze critically the information I was presented through my years of law school. I have no doubt I would not have achieved the success I have without it.”
Robert L. Barber, Sr., FAICP (Fellow, American Institute of Certified Planners), 1983
Master of Urban and Regional Planning, 1985, University of Mississippi
Founding Partner, Orion Planning Group, a national city planning consulting firm
“My philosophy education has provided an enduring foundation for my entire professional life, and in ways that I could have scarcely imagined when I started the course of study over 35 years ago. The study of the great philosophical works, systems of thought and philosophy’s various branches broadened my perspectives and thinking far beyond any narrow parochial field or interest, so as to allow me to approach both my work and life in ways that drive towards deeper meaning, understanding and awareness.
In my professional work of city planning and building human communities, philosophical discipline has served me very well in developing the skills of analyzing, understanding and diagnosing the fundamental dynamics and issues that communities universally face. How shall resources (land, investment, natural resources, etc.) best be allocated? Who shall participate in the decisions related thereto? For whose benefit shall the decisions be made? How shall suffering be mitigated by community effort? To what degree is it even possible? These are just of few questions that must be considered at an abstract level and answered with practical solutions applied in community.
Aristotle himself was keenly aware of the relationship of such questions of virtue and the physical community setting in which they are to be considered. “The City,” he said in Politics (and I paraphrase), “should be built with eye to four considerations: health, beauty, convenience, and defense. The most important of these is health”. He then went on to set forth his philosophy of the city. Countless other philosophers have developed their own conceptions of the ideal human community and its systems, both sociological and functional.
If I have been able to contribute anything to the betterment of human communities over the years as a professional city planner, I cannot imagine having been able to do so as effectively in the absence of the underpinnings of a philosophical education. The study of philosophy is of intrinsic worth. It should be pursued for its own sake. Yet as a framework for additional professional study and practice, it is exceptional preparation. I am thankful for it and indebted to the professors who have dedicated their lives to teaching its various expressions. Specifically, Dr. Shepard, Dr. Lawhead and Dr. Harrington from my years at Ole Miss come to mind.
I recall an assignment from Dr. Shepard long ago. It involved reading Religion in the Secular City by Harvey Cox. In this exceptional analysis of the nexus of philosophical and, particularly, theological thought and cities, I recall distinctly the following line. Cox stated “It is no longer a matter for question if planning will be done. The question is, by whom and to what ends.” This is an ongoing and enduring question. To answer effectively requires not just technical skill, but a philosophy of history, a philosophy of justice, of economics, political philosophy and more. I believe there is no better preparation for making a contribution to human thriving in the context of such questions than a philosophical education. I am certainly grateful for mine and indebted to its advocates.”
Ashlee Rogers, 2007
Senior Project Manager at Razor IT Solutions
“The decision to pursue a philosophy degree from the University of Mississippi was easy. Previously, I had completed my first undergraduate degree in psychology. The glass had not been filled. I took my first philosophy class and was immediately hooked. I began to realize that philosophy is not only incredibly interesting in all of its forms, it serves as a universal foundation for wading through life.
The skills I gained from all of the amazing professors in the Philosophy department have served me in both my everyday life and my career. They taught me to solve complex problems with efficiency and logic. As a project manager for a technology firm, I am responsible for organizing website, social media, digital advertising, and client relationship management (CRM) projects. Many of my CRM projects require intense sessions of data manipulation and breakdowns. The manipulation and breakdown of data often requires use of logic functions to complete – something I would not have expected to use in my career almost a decade later.
Lastly, my experience in the University of Mississippi’s Philosophy program and with its professors encouraged me to continue my education in philosophy. I find myself constantly discovering new philosophers and new ideals to evaluate and study.”
Janis Sanders Kent, 2007
Special Care Instructor, MustardSeed
“The Philosophy Department at the University of Mississippi was a very special part of my life during my college career. I graduated from Ole Miss with a major in Philosophy/Religion and a minor in History. I went on to teach high school for several years. However, my true calling has been working with adults with disabilities. I began working at the MustardSeed over two years ago. The MustardSeed is a nonprofit organization that was created to provide a home-like environment for adults with disabilities. My Philosophy classes equipped me with a broader view of life, a sharper sense of humor, and a ‘think outside of the box’ mentality. Every day on the job is different. We currently have 41 clients. The youngest adults we accept are 21 years old, and our oldest today is 73. Life is not as ‘by the book’ as you think it is; and when you work with adults, whose struggles differ from most, you have to be able to think differently. My professors at Ole Miss showed me ways of approaching a concept at several angles. I am very grateful for my Philosophy and Religion classes at Ole Miss. I can honestly say that I took most 8:00 a.m. classes and was present for all but a handful. The humor, incorporated into classes by the professors, is one of my favorite memories from college! I hope to bless our clients with the same tokens: a broader view of life, a sharper sense of humor, and a ‘think outside of the box’ mentality.”
Eleanor C. Anthony, 2016
First year law student; Stanford Law School
“Choosing to study philosophy was one of the most important decisions I ever made. After spending four years immersing myself in logic, metaphysics, and ethics and being guided by the dedicated and insightful UM faculty, I feel accomplished to say I scratched the surface of this discipline—a body of knowledge and inquiry that is as broad as it is deep. Reading the work of Plato, Kant, Dworkin, and Rawls, I found that studying philosophy is a great way to develop academic humility, but it is also a wonderful way to learn to think. My reasoning abilities and worldview have been dramatically altered by my studies, in ways that I think have made me a more discerning, inquisitive, and engaged human being. I am better able to question and evaluate the practices and principles I see at play around me, and I feel confident in embarking on a career in law knowing that I can utilize the practical reasoning skills that I learned in the philosophy classroom, while also placing my life and choices in a broader philosophical context.”
T. Peyton Smith, 2007
J.D., University of Virginia School of Law
Attorney, Forman Watkins & Krutz LLP
“Prior to joining Forman Watkins, I clerked for Judge Rhesa Barksdale on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In fact, my co-clerk (Aaron Graham) is now in the Master’s program in Philosophy at the University of Mississippi.
It is difficult to quantify how much studying philosophy has helped in my career. It didn’t so much teach me useful information or techniques as it gave me a framework of inquiry and investigation that has spilled over into all of my studies and my work. To this day, the projects in my work that bring me the most pleasure (or the most frustration) are those that turn on identifying hidden logical threads (or inconsistencies) in the larger purposes of the law. And I think that ability is a gift of my time in the Philosophy department.”
Eleanor Vernon Ruffner, 2001
J.D. (with Honors), University of Texas School of Law
founding partner at Ruffner Schoenbaum PLLC in Austin, Texas
“Studying philosophy made me a disciplined thinker. I think of my job as identifying legal solutions for my clients’ business problems. Breaking down a specific problem into its constituent parts, identifying where the thorns are likely to arise, and planning for them. Because of my background in philosophy, particularly with professors who required you to show your work at each step through the progression of developing an argument for a position, I’m good at this.
Additionally, I still – very uncynically – believe that the law strives to be fair. What’s fair is of course a complicated issue, but working to apply fairness in the law so very often gets you to the right place. Moreover, if it’s a close call, demonstrating what fairness requires can make the difference in persuading the judge or jury to adopt your position for your client.”
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