Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why Philosophy Students are Demonstrably Elite

In my student union building, a big green sign reads "Fact 6, 85% of the Fortune 500 were Greek--Go Greek!" This is evidence of the tremendous level of performativity, the criterion of success in our age, inherent in the structure of the business community and Greek Life community. I use the word "performance" in that special, discursive way, not in the commonsensical, evaluative way. But performativity has indeed become an evaluation unto itself.

I have found that unlike philosophy students business students in particular use their degrees instrumentally. They are interested in becoming successful businesspeople in the future, and thus they study business and join the Greek societies. Business students seek that elite status in society and use personal networks and Greek or business contacts to propel themselves into the business world.

Tonight I went to a bar with two of my philosophy professors and a group of other philosophy students to celebrate the end of the semester, (and hence the beginning of finals week.) We talked about a lot of things over some locally-brewed Tacoma beers.

We discussed the philosophy department itself, and the various quirks and fetishisms of our professors. We talked about philosophy students and what makes them different from other students at the university.

Many of us have varied backgrounds. Some major in philosophy and mathematics, some philosophy and theater, others combine English and philosophy, and as for myself: economics and philosophy. Some major in philosophy alone.

We are public speakers, we are mathematicians, we are charismatic and thought-provoking. But what attracted us all to philosophy? Intellectual curiosity is what brings most. And compared to those who major in business, for example, we are a very curious bunch -- or "cohen" (i.e. a group of philosophers.)

Generally, Business students are generally bereft of curiosity or intellectualism. The performative students like obnoxious parties and loud people and Greek activities which sustain all the dominant social decrepitudes in popular culture. I have attended some of the Business and Leadership functions at my school, in fact, and personally concluded that their activities are boring intellectual black holes. Boring, that is, unless one considers it as an anthropological experiment.

What is also elite about philosophy majors, however, is that we outperform all the other humanities majors even in their own areas of expertise. We received higher scores on the LSAT than students in all other humanities areas, higher scores than all social and natural science majors except economics and mathematics, and higher scores than all applied majors. And we scored 10% better than political science majors.

Philosophy majors outperform business majors by a margin of 15% on the GMAT--the admission test for many graduate business schools--and outperformed every other undergraduate major except mathematics.

Our scores on the verbal portion of the GRE are higher than in any other major, even English. We scored substantially higher on the GRE than all other humanities majors and were alone among humanities majors in scoring above the overall average.

Philosophy students have an inherently elite status, which is not based on the performativity of the business world, but on our intellectual character and our charming curiosity, not to mention the performances on admissions tests. If calculable, we might even demonstrably outperform business students at establishing contacts and impressing others with our charisma at cocktail parties, given the right circumstances.

What does this demonstrate about us? In a performative-based system, such as the very business world that Greek Life glorifies, the students least concerned with performativity outperform those that are most concerned with it. This demonstrates quite a bit.

We either learned these superior skills while studying philosophy itself, or we perfected these skills but our intelligence was based on our inherent interest in nearly all subjects. Either way, the philosophy majors have outperformed the other majors based on their own criterion, and thus we are in a demonstrably elitist position.

One of my philosophy professors remarked that philosophy students should be recognized as being the important members we are of a supposedly intellectual institution, the university, and not dismissed as puffed-up intellectual elitists, (as if that were a convincing way to dismiss any elitist). It is unfortunate that the business, politics, and government students capture the university's attention foremost, but since it is their explicit aim to do so we cannot blame them.

They propel themselves into student government chairs so they can use them as resume-builders later. They join Greek societies where they pay to have friends that they will compete with later. To them the university system is the ultimate investment, albeit, not for the same reasons the philosophy student has. Students who use the university system as a means to another end, i.e. elite status later, do not realize that they are being surpassed by those who fashion elite status now.

Perhaps it is the greatest academic slap in the face when someone whose practical interests are so explicitly aimed at performative achievement is outperformed by someone whose practical interests are aimed merely at personal or intellectual achievements. If only the sound of that elitist slap could be more audible.


Adfero Affero said...

Posted a comment on your post "Biting the bullet from physicalism.


I think it is probably total bollocks, but if it isn't please let me know and where you think it might be altered to make even more sense.

Happy to have this comment deleted afterwards...

Jeff said...

Philosophy really sharpens the mind. I am not suprised at how well its students performed at your University. Philosophy requires you to really think deeply, to think both horizontally and vertically. Yes, other subjects do, but their merely walking while Philosophical thinking is sprinting.

Anonymous said...

You should consider the old story about Thales, who, when criticized for his lacking success and inadequate performance in Ionian society spent about a year in the wine industry only to become one of the wealthiest men in all of Miletus.

Perhaps the first example of the 'puffed up intellectual elite' beating the performance focused types at their own game?

Acumensch said...

To anonymous,

I agree, that's a great example.