By Carolyn Gregoire
Dr. Damon Horowitz quit his technology job and got a Ph.D. in philosophy — and he thinks you should too.
“If you are at all disposed to question what’s around you, you’ll start to see that there appear to be cracks in the bubble,” Horowitz said in a 2011 talk at Stanford. “So about a decade ago, I quit my technology job to get a philosophy PhD. That was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.”
As Horowitz demonstrates, a degree in philosophy can be useful for professions beyond a career in academia. Degrees like his can help in the business world, where a philosophy background can pave the way for real change. After earning his PhD in philosophy from Stanford, where he studied computer science as an undergraduate, Horowitz went on to become a successful tech entrepreneur and Google’s in-house philosopher/director of engineering. His own career makes a pretty good case for the value of a philosophy education.
Despite a growing media interest in the study of philosophy and dramatically increasing enrollment in philosophy programs at some universities, the subject is still frequently dismissed as outmoded and impractical, removed from the everyday world and relegated to the loftiest of ivory towers.
That doesn’t fit with the realities of both the business and tech worlds, where philosophy has proved itself to be not only relevant but often the cornerstone of great innovation. Philosophy and entrepreneurship are a surprisingly good fit. Some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs and innovators come from a philosophy background and put the critical thinking skills they developed to good use launching new digital services to fill needs in various domains of society. Atlantic contributor Edward Tenner even went so far as to call philosophy the “most practical major.”