Magazine On-line [summer 2012]
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Philosophy, politics, and economics is new interdisciplinary major

A new interdisciplinary major in philosophy, politics, and economics acknowledges the historical connections and overlapping concepts seen in these areas of study while offering Transylvania students excellent preparation for careers in public life.

Philosophy professor Peter Fosl, program director for the new major, pointed out the commonalities inherent in the topics and cited his undergraduate semester study abroad experience at the London School of Economics and Political Science as invaluable in exposing him to those shared issues. His bachelor’s degree includes a double major in economics and philosophy.

He made particular reference to Adam Smith (1723–90), the Scottish social philosopher widely acknowledged as the father of modern economics and capitalism because of his book The Wealth of Nations (1776).

“There is a very natural, historical, customary union of these topics,” Fosl said. “For example, if you go back to people like Adam Smith and ask, ‘Was he a philosopher or an economist or political theorist?’, the answer is ‘Yes.’ He thought of himself principally as a philosopher of moral theory. His work in economic and political theory was, in his mind, a natural extension of that. It was only in later years that we pulled those disciplines apart and came to think of them as different from each other.”

The course of study in philosophy, politics, and economics will draw from existing courses in those disciplines while adding at least three new major-specific courses: an introductory course, a senior seminar, and an advanced reading course. It will also include a required internship that could be fulfilled at such entities as law offices, government organizations, or non-government policy institutes.

“We’re hoping this new major will attract students interested in careers in public life,” Fosl said. The course application suggested that outcomes might include advanced graduate work and careers in law, social work, and community organizing.

Junior Bethany Davenport will become one of the first students to complete the philosophy, politics, and economics major. She plans to attend graduate school to study non-profit development and possibly have a career in higher education. She is completing her course internship this summer in the Transylvania alumni and development office.

“I feel the three topics really do intertwine with each other,” she said. “My mindset is very much non-profit philanthropy. You have the philosophy—‘Why do we want to help people?’ The politics involve how you go about it—what laws are in place, how does government affect your goals? And then there are the economics of how you help people monetarily.”

Fosl has high hopes for the future of the philosophy, politics, and economics major.

“It’s not very common among colleges and universities in the United States yet, so I believe this will give Transylvania an advantage,” he said. “We already have a strong background in law, and this should help us recruit young people interested in going on in law and public policy positions.  I’m really hoping it will become a flagship program for the university.”

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