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Department: Philosophy

Goehring Philosophy

Amanda Buck Goehring ’97
Brian Goehring ’98

We met at Princeton in the mid-’90s and both decided to major in philosophy. Since then, we have chosen careers in law and business, respectively, but count our time studying philosophy as some of the most engaging intellectually and formative professionally.

Amanda Buck Goehring ’97

Attorney, McKee Nelson LLP

Enjoying the liberal arts

I entered my freshman year at Princeton without a clear idea what I wanted to study or what profession I wanted to pursue. One of the things that was attractive to me about Princeton was that I did not have to choose a major right away. I took courses and considered majors in art history, French, classics, and politics. I also gave some thought to comparative literature and the Woodrow Wilson School. In retrospect, I can see I was taking full advantage of a true liberal arts education, but it felt like I was all over the place at the time. At some point, the description of a course on British Empiricism caught my eye. I was not well prepared for the high-level course and did not do particularly well in it, but I was impressed, fascinated, a little infuriated, and definitely hooked. Further philosophy courses followed.

Ultimately, I chose to become a philosophy major because it allowed me to explore several areas that interested me—aesthetics, linguistics, classics, ethics, even physics—and enabled me to build skills of analysis and argument that I could apply to any field. This decision surprised my parents, as my grades in art history and politics were consistently better than those I earned in my philosophy courses, but I made the decision that philosophy would be more satisfying in part because it posed such a challenge for me, and that grades were not the only reward I wanted from my course of study.

Acquiring skills for the future

When I applied to law school, I wrote my application essay on how studying philosophy taught me to be detail-oriented and to think slowly and methodically, constructing or analyzing arguments one step at a time. It went without saying that this kind of skill and discipline would be valuable both in law school and in a legal career. I soon learned that law schools like philosophy majors. What may at first seem like a purely academic area of study is actually about as close to “pre-law” as you can get at Princeton. Thanks to my philosophy background, I was well prepared for legal writing and analysis of judicial opinions. It is often said that your first year of law school teaches you to “think like a lawyer.” This was considerably easier for me because I had already learned to “think like a philosopher”—arguably a more difficult task. My ethics training also proved valuable, giving me a larger context for the further ethics studies required for my degree and bar certification.

I now work in corporate law, drafting and negotiating contracts. The habits of clear thought, structured argument, and concise writing that I formed as a philosophy major serve me every day.

Equally importantly, my philosophy background and continuing interest in the field enriches my personal life. I am currently on chapter five of Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained, and while I wish I still had a precept group to discuss it with, I do have interesting and substantive dinnertime conversation with my philosophy major husband.

Brian Goehring ’98

Managing Consultant, IBM Corporation

Following my passions

I made a clear choice early in my time at Princeton that I was going to make sure that my studies as an undergraduate were focused on areas that I loved, regardless of any potential connection to what I did after college. In addition to philosophy, I also pursued certificates in cognitive studies and German, weaving all three fields into my independent work. While I did not believe that I would necessarily pursue a career in any of these areas, I knew I would be able to keep them alive in my personal life. What I did not expect was that they would prove fruitful professionally as well.

When I began preparing to interview for jobs during my senior year—primarily in management consulting—I reflected on the influence my studies had on my point of view. How had the study of philosophy changed the way I thought? What had it taught me about how to approach a problem?

What I realized was that the same skills that the consulting firms said they were looking for—critical thinking, a structured approach to problem solving, reasoned argument—were very similar to those I developed in my time studying philosophy. While additional course work in finance or economics may have been desirable, I was able to learn much of that during the summer before I started work and on the job during my first few months.

I now work in a large strategy consulting practice, and when we recruit on campus at Princeton and other institutions, I always have an eye out for résumés from students who appear to demonstrate these skills.

A basis for independent thought

Personally, what I learned from the original texts, precept debates, professors’ lectures, and after-hours discussions will always have an impact on my views of the world around me, our ethical responsibilities, and how our decisions influence identity and consciousness. I am currently reading Carl Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, recently published from his 1985 Gifford lectures in Scotland, and a gift from my wife. Discussing these and other meaningful topics forms the basis for enlightening conversations I continue to enjoy with my wife, family, and friends.

The next generation

As parents of two very young boys, we also hope that they too will seek an area of study that engages them intellectually, helps cultivate a passion for critical thinking, and provides a solid foundation for whatever professional endeavors they choose to pursue.

“… What I realized was that the same skills that the consulting firms said they were looking for—critical thinking, a structured approach to problem solving, reasoned argument—were very similar to those I developed in my time studying philosophy.”