Congratulations Class of 2020 Philosophy Majors and Minors!

Over graduation weekend, we got to celebrate virtually a very dear group of philosophy majors  and minors.  While we missed the opportunity for an in-person toast, we had a chance to celebrate the graduates together with their families and friends.  Here are a few photos from the event.  Congratulations to you all!

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(graduates not pictured include: Eli, Izzy, Hannah, Jack, Dylan, Eric, Madilyn, Jacob, and Dane)

An Interview with Maia Bernick ’15

Maia Bernick

Interview by Colleen Hanson ’19

In recent years, the Department of Philosophy has interviewed alumni and graduating seniors about their experiences as philosophy majors, how philosophy has prepared them for post-graduation, and what advice they have for current students (you can find some of those interviews here and here.)

After graduating from the University of Puget Sound with a philosophy major and a bioethics emphasis, alumna Maia Bernick ‘15 studied law at the University of Seattle Law School. Bernick currently works for the Washington State Department of Health as a staff attorney. Bernick says, “The division I work in helps the healthcare profession programs ensure that everyone is following their standards of practice and rules and helping with public safety.”

When discussing her interests within philosophy, she said, “I am very interested in how philosophy is going to develop in advancing AI technologies, robotics, cybernetics and how that’s going to change our whole human identity because we’re going to have to compete with something that’s as smart as us and I don’t think we’re going to be able to handle it. The first thing that got me interested in AI/robotics was the whole imminent care crisis, with not as many younger folks and a huge generation of people in the next five to twenty years who are going to need long term care because they are seniors and we are critically understaffed in terms of long term care workers. So, people are starting to theorize how AI can kind of step in. As of right now, I don’t think we or anywhere else in the world have robust enough or reliable enough AI to actually apply any help. But maybe in the next 10-15 years, we could have nurse bots or bots that do the functions of medical assistants like take pulses and other kinds of readings, or bring people food/drinks – to kind of ease off that gap a little bit. That was the first area of robotics I was interested in and it kind of grew from there.”

When asked about the relationship between her philosophy major and her studies in law school, Bernick recommended against going to law school thinking that you will study philosophy, but she emphasized that this is “not to dissuade people from going to law school because it opens up a lot of doors. I think a lot of people have a closed mind about what a JD can give you, and it doesn’t just mean being an attorney. [You can] go into politics or rule writing, there’s just a lot of different fields.” She added that “the philosophy major is an excellent foundation in terms of skills to prepare you for law school. Because of persuasive writing and critical reading and analysis skills, you are going to be better off than a lot of your peers in law school who came in with different majors that don’t emphasize those skills.”

She went on to talk about the relationship between philosophy and the law, as well as her personal experiences learning about them:

“I interned with a judge and I helped with recommendation memoranda – which is basically when you look at a case and you say, ‘based on the law, this is what I recommend you rule.’ And you would research such law. I had one hell of a time doing this because I would be like, ‘The law says this, but public policy…’ ‘Public policy’ means ethics in the legal world; it is code for ethics. I didn’t get in trouble with my judge but I had to be told that when you’re making rulings, you can’t just use what you feel is ethically right – or even what is ethically right – because the law and ethics are not the same.”

“That’s one of the things I had learned here [at Puget sound] too is that…there are instances when [the law and ethics] do overlap, but I would venture to say that it’s the minority of the time. So I think that if you’re gung-ho about ethics, law school may not be the place for you because you’re not going to get to it really. Or, don’t go into a field after law school where the strict reading of the law matters because you will feel frustrated.”

Bernick was motivated to go to law school because she wanted to directly help with some of the ethical issues she was studying in philosophy and bioethics. She says,

“I wanted to directly interact with people a little more. And you know it’s funny because I originally wanted to go to law school to do elder law and help individuals with their end of life planning. I’m really passionate about normalizing end of life conversations and preparations and stuff like that, and I ended up in a field where I don’t have a client. My “client” would be the state of WA because I work for the state at the Department of Health as a staff attorney. We help to make sure people are getting good care. In that way, I kind of circle back to bioethics because I’ve always been interested in healthcare. So I’m back kind of where I started but I’m doing a little more ground floor work versus, I don’t know, if I was an ethicist in a hospital I might just be sitting in a room reading cases and coming out with a ruling, etc.”

Bernick offered some advice to current philosophy students:

“Here’s my small piece of advice: what really got me passionate about philosophy is, find what you’re already interested in – and for me it was robotics – and think about ways that you can incorporate philosophical study into that. That can include ancillary fields. So, because I’m interested in robotics, I want to learn about philosophy of mind because you can think about how humans think and how that can be applied to robots.  I just think that when you’re studying theory after theory and sometimes it’s not about subjects you’re particularly interested in, it can just feel like you’re reading words and it’s dense so finding ways to tie it to stuff you’re already interested in can really enhance the experience and learning. This is just personal to me, this may or may not apply to others but some people can study for the sake of studying and I will tune out if I don’t care about what I’m studying. I think finding a way to tie it to something you’re already passionate about helps because there is a philosophy of everything. It doesn’t even have to be stuff you study in class. I think that’s the best advice I can give that’s more narrowly tailored and has more of a practical application.”   

Bernick also offered her advice to philosophy students thinking about law or graduate school:

“One piece of advice I have for people interested in grad school is to take a gap year. This is totally my personal experience and based off of anecdotal experience, but I think that people who take gap years and work or volunteer or even just rejuvenate themselves after college or whatever you do with your gap year (or years) – I wish I would have done it, for one. Especially if you’re someone who has gone straight through school. This may be different for people who are going to college at a different stage in their life (and that’s also badass if you’re doing that), but for people who have gone straight from kindergarten through (they call them KJDs in law school), it’s not like you’re not going to do well but – anecdotally – it seems that people generally did better when they took a gap year…”

“I think it does have to do with mental fortitude. You’ve rested and I think if you come back to something after a few years, you know that that’s what you want to do and you’re not just like, ‘I don’t want a job so I’m going to go to graduate school.’ Obviously, I carve out exceptions – if you’re someone who knows you’re not going to do this again if you take time off, then there’s something to be said about that because you get a job and you start making money and it becomes harder and harder to go back to being a student and having to put stuff on hold. If you’re like, this is the only time in my life I feel like I can do this – awesome. Or, if you’re coming out of undergrad feeling motivated and energized, then you should definitely do it. But if you’re someone who is like, yeah, I’d like to do grad school but I’m not jumping to do it – also just speaking practically, I hate that everything people do has to be informed and the consideration is how practical it can be for employment down the road.”

When asked about her experience with the job search after law school, she said,

“Everyone is like, ‘it’s always about who you know, it’s always about networking.’ I didn’t network. I don’t network. I can talk to you one-on-one because we’re in a one-on-one conversation, but I don’t like false interactions with people which is what networking is. I did some forced networking but it was never for anything I actually wanted to do and I never followed up on it. So, I think people have done a disservice by overestimating how many people can actually get a job through networking because it may not be one in a million, but it’s more rare than you would think. I think it might be easy to get an internship word-of-mouth where they don’t have to pay you, but with a job, you have to go through the grovel most of the time…”

Alumni Updates: Raffi Ronquillo ’14


The paths that people choose to take can lead them all across the world; in Rafael Ronquillo’s case, his degree in philosophy led him to Guatemala, where he is applying his philosophical background to help a small community.

My name is Rafael (Rafi) Ronquillo and I have been serving in the Peace Corps in the western highlands of Guatemala as a Maternal and Child Health Volunteer since March of 2018. I live in a community of about 6,000 people in the department of Sololá and serve with my partner, Rachel Moore, who is also a Puget Sound graduate, (class of 2016).

While it’s true that these days I’m spending more time eating tortillas than I am writing term papers, I’ve found that studying philosophy in college has had many practical applications here in the Peace Corps. First and foremost, it has helped me understand other’s perspectives in a rich and more contextualized manner. Secondly, spending time reading and grappling with complicated texts and concepts has allowed me to feel comfortable taking a break from something in order to come back to it later with a fresh perspective. These two skills have benefitted me immensely here in Guatemala.

I like to think that regularly having to evaluate written arguments has given me the ability to seek out and engage with differing perspectives. I run into many community members while working at our local health center who are hesitant to seek certain forms of health care, like vaccines. I was initially confused and frustrated as to why so many people were disinclined to receive free, potentially life-saving treatment. It wasn’t until I was able to read more into the country’s violent history with governmental institutions and talked to individuals in my community about their history that I was able to gain a richer perspective on the matter.

The ability to be patient is another skill I’ve found incredibly rewarding here in Guatemala. That skillset is something that the study of philosophy helped me hone. One of my mantras here in the Peace Corps has been, poco a poco, or little by little. This mantra has helped me persevere through countless uncertain work and interpersonal situations here in the country. I’ve been able to step away from a problem, gather evidence, synthesize that evidence with context and form a solid plan of action. This slow and methodical process was something I used countless times while studying at Puget Sound.

I look back fondly at my time spent at Puget Sound. The lessons I’ve learned while studying philosophy have stuck with me over the years since, and I have no doubt they will continue to prove useful in the years to come.




Opening the Tower Gates: Philosophy’s New Relationship with Technology

guest post by Peter O’Meara ’19

A new age could be dawning for philosophy beyond the Ivory Tower. From A.I. to design to data, tech leaders express a desire to see philosophy incorporated into the developmental process for products and services (see for example articles like this, this, and this). Given the human connections many innovations seek to simulate, knowledge of ethics, for just one example, is coming to be appreciated by different types of companies. There are few roadmaps on how to translate the skills of digital native philosophy undergraduates into careers in technology that are in need of the skills developed by philosophy majors in their undergraduate education.

SXSW 2019, the annual ideas festival in Austin, saw a congregation of tech titans and start-ups, each vying to reinvent the relationship between humans and innovation. For example, the Google Home Mini was likened to a pebble, while some social networks were compared to a hearth, aiming to bring communities together. Such designs, chameleon in imitation, raise questions about impact on behavior and what it means to be human. “We should ask philosophically ‘what makes us human?’ ‘Can technology try to be human in that way?’ ‘What is this good experience we are trying to design?’” says Yihyun Lim, MIT Design Lab director and one of SXSW’s many speakers. “As we are developing tech, if we remember what the core value is, that can direct where tech will go in the future.” Philosophy grads can be shepherds on that journey.

A.I. is not exempt from similar considerations: in discussions from totalitarian code to autonomous vehicles to musical instruments, the need for ethics is embraced. Already government leaders are seeing the wielding of A.I. for deplorable ends, and it becomes clear that new voices are needed alongside programmers. Josh Marcuse, executive director of the Defense Innovation Board, warns SXSW, “not all nations share our values, and the world authoritarian regimes compel engineers to create AI for repression.” On an ethical note, he adds “If you have a consequentialist, you care more about what you are emphasizing than what you are explaining. In autonomous cars, you are asking how many thousands of people will die? Why should explainability be the standard?” Ultimately, he calls for integration, declaring “We need to think of diversity in a broader context. Philosophers and engineers working together, working in teams.”

Data repeatedly demonstrates its capacity to harm as much as it helps with its unintended consequences. Facial recognition systems have been known to discriminate based on race, while surveillance data frequently ignores inferences. Josh Klein, CEO of H4X Industries LCC and SXSW speaker, argues that data can be used for good, but often isn’t due to human laziness. This is a bad excuse, he argues, and while change is difficult, “we ought to endeavor to improve data on people such that ethics are met, and business still thrive.” Klein further remarks “treating people like robots does not equal profit. If you get data on toothpaste wrong, toothpaste doesn’t have a bad day. If we don’t face biases, we don’t create large scale positive social change.”

While there is a desire by science and technology to incorporate philosophical rigor, a meaningful roadmap for integration doesn’t yet exist. While some, like Klein, have given isolated, concrete suggestions, there are few real, tangible initiatives. Jake Silberg and James Manyika of McKinsey & Company reiterate this priority for collaboration between tech and philosophy. In their piece “Tackling Bias in Artificial Intelligence (and in humans)”, bias in A.I. is described as an issue only addressable with a multidisciplinary approach. “Business leaders can also help support progress by making more data available to researchers and practitioners across organizations working on these issues, while being sensitive to privacy concerns and potential risks” they argue. “More progress will require interdisciplinary engagement, including ethicists, social scientists, and experts who best understand the nuances of each application area in the process.” Several potential routes undergraduates could take can promote this participation include: Universities could offer bachelor’s degrees with emphasis in certain areas of tech or philosophy of science. Internships with organizations and think tanks facilitating discussions across disciplines could be created as well. Philosophers working alongside programmers, insofar as both parties are involved in decision-making or influencing capacities, could also be a great way to implementation more integration. Panels focusing on empathy and bias, areas which philosophy is adept at reflecting on, could be held on a regular basis to evaluate the current codes and products.

Philosophy’s role in tech appears unquestionable, and the attitudes presented by the latter’s leaders are a welcome sign for those feeling trapped in the Ivory Tower or believing their degree has limited use.

Peter O’Meara holds a philosophy degree from the University of Puget Sound outside Seattle and has studied multiple coding languages. He can be reached via LinkedIn and at


Congratulations 2019 Philosophy Graduates!

We will miss the impressive group of philosophy majors who graduated yesterday!  We got a chance to celebrate with some of them on Saturday.

We wish each of you all the very best as you move on to the next stage of your lives and are so very proud of your accomplishments during your time at Puget Sound.  Keep in touch and come visit us! 


2019 Philosophy Graduates Bennett Barnes, Colleen Hanson, Sam Lilly, Sammy Jones.

Grads and Profs

Philosophy faculty and graduating seniors at the Philosophy reception on Saturday, from left: Prof. Tiehen, Colleen Hanson, Sam Lilly, Prof. Protasi, Bennett Barnes, Sammy Jones, Prof. Beardsley, Prof. Tubert, Prof. Garrison.


2019 graduates Colleen Hanson, Sam Lilly, Bennett Barnes, Sammy Jones.


Graduating Senior Samantha Lilly Receives the Watson Fellowship

Samantha Lilly ’19, majoring in Philosophy with an interdisciplinary emphasis in Bioethics, is a 2019 recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Out of around 200 students nominated by universities, this prestigious fellowship is awarded to up to 50 students. As described by the Puget Sound Fellowships Office, “in selecting Watson Fellows, the Foundation is most concerned with holistically identifying individuals who demonstrate integrity, imagination, strong ethical character, intelligence, the capacity for vision and leadership, the promise of creative achievement and excellence within a chosen field, and the potential for humane and effective participation in the world community.”

Samantha illustrates the fellowship, her project, and how her philosophy education has prepared her for the project:

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, colloquially known as “The Watson,” is a rare window after college and pre-career to engage my deepest interest on a global scale. Watson Fellows conceive original projects, execute them outside of the United States for one year and embrace the ensuing journey. They decide where to go, who to meet and when to change course. The program produces a year of personal insight, perspective and confidence that shapes the arc of fellows’ lives. Started in 1968, Watson Fellows comprise leaders in every field.

My project, “Understanding Suicidality Across Cultures” will take me to the Netherlands, Argentina, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Nepal. In each country I intend to understand the tangible ways that different communities and cultures understand suicidality. In other words, my project is driven by my background in philosophy because underneath the hands on work I’ll be doing, I am asking questions that I believe are best answered philosophically: “What makes a life worth living? What does flourishing look like? Can suicide be ethical? Why do people die by suicide? How do we know for certain suicide is wrong? What makes a suicide rational or irrational? And, when is paternalism justified and when is it an infringement on autonomy?”

It is my hope that my Watson Year further shapes my ability to think freely, reason well, and grow as a philosopher and human.

After my Watson year, I intend to pursue a J.D. in Health Law with a special interest on mental health care law in the United States. But, I try not to think about that too much. I want to live in this moment of achieving something I’ve been dreaming about and working toward since I was a wee sophomore here at UPS. There’s honestly not much else I’d like to say except to give thanks and express my gratitude to every professor in the philosophy department for mentoring me and guiding me through this major and ultimately shaping me into the type of person who gets awarded a kick ass fellowship like this.

If it were not for Ariela, I would not have even considered becoming a philosophy major and definitely would have never thought of going to law school. Thank you for being my advisor, mentor, and friend. There is so much more I could say here, but I just want you to know you have changed my life and I am grateful.

I am more ethical (gentler, warmer, and softer) because of you.

Without Justin, I would have never asked the important questions regarding mental illness, the mind, and how we can be certain of our beliefs. Thank you for teaching me how to question and how to articulate my thoughts. I am a better thinker, questioner, and joke teller because of you.

Or, in other words, I am a better version of myself because of you.

Sara, I would have never considered a disability framework for suicidality until I took your class. And, quite frankly, I’d still be writing scattered papers with absolutely no sections (yikes!) if you hadn’t taught me what makes a good philosophy paper.

I am more considerate and empathetic because of you.

Beardsley, oh boy, where to begin? I don’t know where I would be today without 19th Century Philosophy. Your ability to teach and communicate Hegel is I bet pretty unprecedented. I think about this class every day — it has shaped my thoughts about the world around me and has overall given me the words and confidence to speak about the future and the past.

I am more thoughtful because of you.
And, this is out of context, but I also think about souls and owls a lot because of you.

And finally, Sam. I think similarly to Ariela, I cannot thank you enough for the time and effort you have put into my work. You have allowed me the opportunity to articulate how I feel in a way that is constructive and worthwhile.  There are so many things to say and so little time. I suppose I’ll just leave you with this:

I am a better philosopher because of you.

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Interview with Peter O’Meara ’18

As the Class of 2018 prepared to graduate, we wanted to hear from philosophy graduates about their time as philosophy majors at Puget Sound. Peter O’Meara ’18 majored in Philosophy and minored in History. In the summer of 2016, he completed an internship at the Institute of Ideas in London.

If you are interested in becoming a philosophy major, if you are a current philosophy major looking for advice from recent alumni, or if you’re simply curious about the endeavors of a philosophy major at Puget Sound, read Peter O’Meara’s interview below:

How did you get interested in philosophy in the first place?

That is the question I have never been able to answer quite clearly. There was no book I read, no person I heard speak, not even a class that I took. It just came to me. I know that no one is endeared by such a vague answer, but that is how it was. It was a primal feeling from the start.

When and why did you ultimately decide to become a philosophy major?

Formally, I believe it was some time during my senior year of high school. In retrospect, I suppose I had not given a great deal of thought to that course specifically. Rather, it was merely a natural progression of the passion itself.

How did your parents and strangers react when you told them you were a philosophy major?

My parents did not have any bias, surprisingly; they were supportive from the very start. The challenge that I have endured came not from any opposition to the major itself, but rather how to best utilize it in the pursuit of the path. I want to get my Ph.D., yes, but how to forge the best profile? This has made itself apparent in more recent years. I have found myself increasingly in a state of mind that emphasizes the “golden lining” of one’s resume. That is, in order to appeal to the tiers I am aiming for, I have been forced to consider all avenues of potential success, even if it is distant from my chief interests. My parents have at times emphasized the raw intrigue of combining my major with neuroscience, law, and the like. It has been frustrating on occasion, especially as I have struggled to put into words just what my areas of interests are. It can also be especially frustrating when you feel like sometimes others do not understand just how frequent and “close to home” your chosen path is; when you say that it must be done every day, and you mean nothing less than that. This is not to disparage such a strategy, nor the actual pursuit of alternate venture within the discipline. Philosophy can be integral with used in tangent with either, and I wholly support it.

Is there an area of philosophy that interests you the most?

As it currently stands, I am enthralled by the notion of variety, specifically on a metaethical level. I wish to explore how it is that variety interferes and interacts with morality. To that end, I may also pursue the questions in metaphysics, as well as normative ethics. I am also highly curious about human sexuality, and its own subsequent ethics, though I do not yet know how it will figure into my central path of inquiry.

 What about those areas are interesting to you?

Much of my interest comes from my frustration with Mill’s rule utilitarianism. I am myself a deontologist. For a doctrine that aims to be a communal morality, it seems content to leave many people behind. I am mesmerized by that which deals with the most and least of something; the majority and the minority. How everyone ought to be accounted for no matter what. Further, within a moral being, there exists the idea of being an “expert” in something, yet not in other things. I am captivated by the idea that one does not need to be an expert or scholar of something (for the sake of clarity, morality), but it is evident to them, at least given the appearance of thorough consideration juxtaposed with holding a belief that is not as scrutinized, that there exists an ethical breach that is not disconcerting. That which appears to be at a glance merely a case of weakness of will, yet indicates a more nuanced perception of morality. I do not mean to be so abstract. This is actually a line of inquiry acquired only a few months prior, and I have had difficulty putting it into clearer terms.

As I am trying to formalize my interests, I believe my interest in variety initially stemmed from questions I have regarding sexuality. I have long been fascinated with its grip on humankind when compared to other “base desires”. It is a visceral feeling to deal with something that is considered quite personal and normal, yet to desire to subject it to philosophical scrutiny all the same.

Has your study of philosophy informed your day to day life or how you make decisions?

I practice philosophy every day. It is the only way to stay on top of it. The greatest revelation, one could argue, is that philosophy truly is everywhere. No one and nothing is exempt from it. It is legion. On a less poetic note, though, I do indeed inform my decisions everyday using philosophy. I do not believe in “keeping work at work”. I frequently find myself asking how I could do something which entirely concerns everyday life if I am not actually going to act as I say. That is one of the grand ironies of philosophy, I find. It is something which concerns everything, and yet is easy to keep locked away in the Ivory Tower. No matter how abstract something might be, I do everything to try and integrate it into routine.

What was your favorite philosophy class?

Ha! That is like picking children! In truth, I could not choose a single class, as it has all been instrumental in developing the way I think and pursue philosophy, and I cannot imagine being without their respective teachings. That said, if I had to name one in which I feel that many of the skills and axioms attained were demonstrated, it would be one of the last two classes, “Topics in Knowledge and Reality”, during my spring semester of senior year.

How has your minor and/or other major shaped your philosophical studies and vice versa?

My minor was history, and while I cannot say that there has been a great deal of interaction between the two thus far, I look forward to seeing how that arises in time.

Do you have a particular memory as a philosophy major at UPS that stands out to you?

During my senior year, I was taking a “Philosophy of Emotions” course with Professor Protasi. I had a reputation for run-on sentences and highfalutin language. As such, she challenged me to answer the daily writing prompts using no more than fifteen words per sentence. Though difficult at first, I was able to keep to this throughout the semester, and as a result, I found that my writing improved drastically. There was one instance, however, when I ended a sentence with the word “entelechy”, which, though a stretch, I thought at the time captured what I was trying to say. After submitting, I prepared to go to class, and the Professor walked by, having read the post. She stopped, looked at me and remarked “‘Entelechy?’ Really, Peter?”. Once again, my manic logophilia got the better of me. I will treasure that moment forever.

Do you have any advice for current philosophy students?

Firstly, the dictionary is not your friend! If you are asked the question “What is good?”, the worst thing you can do is look it up and offer it as part of your explanation. While it can be helpful for certain terminology, do not rely on it to get you far in philosophy. Secondly, philosophy must be practiced outside the classroom every day. This is not to say you are thinking about it constantly, but it is the only way to improve and to learn how philosophy is meant to have a chief place among decisions and day-to-day life.

Any final thoughts?

If you ever want to know if you are passionate about philosophy, you must be willing to speak about yourself a bit morbidly. Can you ask yourself “Can I live without this?” or can you say “I give myself wholeheartedly to this?” Perhaps you might even say to yourself “I have been called to the holy work (and nothing less)”. If you can do these things, do not fret, because even when people react with fright and worry, you will be able to rest in the knowledge that such words belie the most relentless optimism.  

Interview with Jessica Chan-Ugalde ’18

As the Class of 2018 prepared to graduate, we wanted to hear from philosophy graduates about their time as philosophy majors at Puget Sound. Jessica Chan-Ugalde ’18 majored in both Philosophy and Computer Science. In the summer of 2017, she conducted summer research that combined both disciplines. She was also an awardee of the John and Kathryn Magee Memorial Scholarship Award for 2018.

If you are interested in becoming a philosophy major, if you are a current philosophy major looking for advice from recent alumni, or if you’re simply curious about the endeavors of a philosophy major at Puget Sound, read Jessica Chan-Ugalde’s interview below:

How did you get interested in philosophy in the first place?

I’ve liked philosophy since middle school and took a course at my local community college my freshman year of high school. When I got to college, I wanted to take some courses just for fun. I took Human Natures (SSI with Prof. Justin Tiehen) my second semester of freshman year and realized how much more I enjoyed writing philosophy papers (as opposed to papers in other disciplines). The topics discussed and readings assigned in class addressed a lot of issues that had been floating around in my mind, sometimes largely unarticulated. I found that the process of philosophizing was also an exercise in self-expression.

When and why did you ultimately decide to become a philosophy major?

I really just love the discipline. I kept on taking philosophy courses until it became an easy decision to major. I knew I was going to major at the end of sophomore year. It took me longer to decide to actually major because computer science was my primary major and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to meet both requirements. When it became clear that this was a feasible option, I declared.

How did your parents and strangers react when you told them you were a philosophy major?

Because I’m also a computer science major, I think people react more to the combination of CS and philosophy as a major than philosophy alone. I think some people are wary about the job market for philosophy majors and find CS to be more reliable and lucrative. I’ve also found that people my age are more likely to recognize that three quarters of college graduates work in a field unrelated to their major.

Is there an area of philosophy that interests you the most?

This is a difficult question. There are so many ways to index topics within computer science (e.g. traditional branches, methodology, time period, etc.). If I had to choose, I think I’d go with how different philosophers interpret the divine and our relationship to it. For example, Aristotle talks about a ‘god-like’ quality that humans possess (EN Book X) with which we should align ourselves; Descartes justifies the existence of an external world by appealing to god. One aspect of this area that’s particularly interesting to me is how logical frameworks and epistemological traditions influence our ontological assumptions of the divine.

Has your study of philosophy informed your day to day life or how you make decisions?

Yes, immensely. There’s always a part of my mind that consults philosophy before I make decisions. I’ve learned to be more charitable to others (and myself) — as a result I’m less attached to being right and more interested in rigorous analysis. I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t think about or implement a philosophical concept to some degree.

What was your favorite philosophy class? Why?

This is also a difficult question. I’m going to have to go with Ancient Philosophy. I think it’s amazing to see how philosophies formed thousands of years ago are still discussed, implemented, and amended to this day. Additionally, the content of the class has come up time and time again in my studies of more contemporary philosophers — the extent to which ancient philosophers influence contemporary philosophical dialectics is impressive.

How has your other major shaped your philosophical studies and vice versa?

Computer science is a field that requires creativity, diligence, and attention to detail. It also prizes optimization — the concept that the results of a program are not the only success metric for it. Instead, we should also look at how we achieved the result and whether it is efficient and robust. This practice has made me more conscientious of making robust claims and arguing for them in the clearest, most efficient manner possible.

Could you describe the summer research you did in 2017?

Last summer I was looking at the ethical implications of recommender systems (algorithms that decide what to show or recommend to you). I wanted to find a link between Aristotelian friendship ethics and the ethical responsibility of ‘artificial agents’ (non-biological agents, like artificial intelligence). I found that there is significant philosophical precedents that support the idea of conceding agency — and by extension, moral agency — to intelligent, non-biological entities. Given that artificial agents may in some circumstances be considered moral agents, I found that it is a tenable option to subject them (e.g. AI, recommender systems) to the same ethical responsibility we subject our friends to (e.g. not disseminating misinformation, expressing ‘good-will’).

Do you have advice for philosophy students interested in summer research?

I’d recommend starting with a very narrow topic and expanding as necessary. Considering students are usually very passionate about their summer research, it’s very easy to be carried away into interesting rabbit holes that can detract from the cohesiveness of the final research product.

Do you have a particular memory as a philosophy major at Puget Sound that stands out to you?

There are many memories that stand out to me. However, there is one strand of memories that are particularly memorable. I’ve visited my professors’ office hours pretty regularly every semester and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career. The kindness, interest, and encouragement extended to me and my philosophical endeavors made me feel like a part of the UPS philosophy community. The conversations I’ve had during office hours made me realize that I can no longer imagine a life without philosophy.

Do you have any advice for current philosophy students?

Take advantage of office hours! It’s so helpful to articulate (or at least attempt to) questions or concepts that remain nebulous in your mind. Especially early on, it’s really useful to have someone guide your thinking/writing process.

Any final thoughts?

The philosophy department at UPS is impressive in rigor, community, and care. My education here has shaped my conduct, analytic process, and intellectual interests. I’m very thankful to have been a part of it.

Alumni Updates: Nicolas Navarro

Among many other skills, philosophy students are taught to think critically, analyze thoroughly, and approach challenges confidently. This kind of education and training prepares philosophy students for any post-graduate career or endeavor. Alumnus Nicolas Navarro ’16, who studied both psychology and philosophy, shares an update of his post-graduate life:

The misty mornings walking to class through the President’s Woods seem a world away as I, Nicolas Navarro, write this update from Huehuetenango, Guatemala as a current Peace Corps Volunteer. In the short two years separating my days in Guatemala and Tacoma, my philosophy on life has changed considerably. I’ve continued my education by working with different non-profits supporting youth development and entrepreneurship, completed coursework for a master’s degree from the University of Miami, and embarked on some of the greatest adventures of my life. I’ll take a note from John Dewey and say, “education was not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

At UM, the Communities and Social Change master’s program included topics on community psychology, youth development, and the management of community organizations. Complementing my studies in Psychology and Philosophy at UPS, I was prepared to think critically and synthesize large amounts of information. Here in Guatemala, I draw from my formal education career and life experiences to support the Peace Corps’ Youth in Development (YID) program.

Encouraging youth leadership, teaching life skills & healthy decisions, and focusing on building local capacity to support youth, the YID program strives to improve the lives of young people around the world. As a program coordinator, I am most passionate about authentically involving young people in both the creation of programs and decision-making processes that impact them. The psychology and philosophy departments at UPS taught me the importance of supporting dialogue between youth on topics of well-being, philosophy, and education; my master’s program taught me the importance of taking action; now I find myself, practicing what I’ve learned.

With plans to further develop the Youth in Development program framework, submit two research articles in community psychology journals for review, and to explore the epistemology of Quality in my next book, life seems to be moving at full speed. Beyond school and work, I’ve found time to ride my motorcycle cross-country from Tacoma to Miami, hitch-hike the west coast’s Highway-1, and I’ve met incredible people all along the way. My philosophy on life is becoming less and less goal oriented, narrowing in on the importance of the process it takes to tell a story. I am grateful for the privilege to be invited to work in such a beautiful country as Guatemala and grateful for all the hands that have helped me get to where I am.

To read more of my thoughts, check out my blog!

Event on Nov. 3: Philosophy and Beyond

Philosophy and Beyond

Join philosophy faculty members and students to find out where philosophy can lead you! This event will feature a presentation, “From Philosophy to Law,” by alumna Maia Bernick ’15.

Philosophy majors are well-prepared to pursue a wide variety of career interests, because studying philosophy teaches you how to think critically, how to write clearly, and how to reason effectively. Philosophy majors do exceptionally well after graduation— the proof is in the outcomes!

Friday, November 3rd, 4 pm
Wyatt Hall, Room 109

All majors, minors, and all students interested in philosophy are welcome.
Pizza and beverages will be provided.