In 2011, Nathaniel Taylor was studying to become a science teacher. He was at Northland College and had a science-heavy schedule that just happened to include a "Philosophy of Science" course. The puzzles and problem solving presented in the class attracted him to the problems and questions posed by philosophers. Not long after transferring to UW-Eau Claire, that attraction took complete hold.
Nathaniel transferred intent on continuing his education degree, but after taking a few courses at UWEC he came to realize not only did he want to do philosophy, it was something he could completely dedicate himself to. He graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and a minor in English literature.
How is he making use of his degree today? Nathaniel is currently a doctoral student in the philosophy department at Marquette University. He has co-taught with several faculty members, and in the fall, years after taking "Introduction to Philosophy," he will be teaching his own "Introduction to Philosophy" course. His research is in ancient and medieval Latin and Arabic philosophy, focusing mostly on St. Thomas Aquinas’s metaphysics and logic.
During his time at UWEC, Nathaniel took advantage of opportunities that helped further his studies and set him up for success in graduate school. During his junior year, he participated in the fellowship program for research at the Hong Kierkegaard Library of St. Olaf College.
“I was fortunate to receive one-on-one attention from the library director and support from a wide research community, all of whom guided me through the process of designing a successful research project,” Nathaniel says.
“The experience also helped me come to see where my philosophical interests lie, and though I no longer do work on Kierkegaard, the extended engagement with his work helped me come to realize the direction in which I wanted to take my own work.”
Nathaniel also was a McNair Scholar, which helped turn his graduate school aspirations into an attainable reality. The McNair Program's goal is to provide students from groups historically underrepresented in graduate programs with effective preparation for research-based doctoral study.
“The McNair Program played an indispensable role in preparing me to do research, apply for graduate programs and learn how to make myself a competitive candidate for graduate studies,” he said. “Upon arriving at Marquette, a member of the committee who accepted my application to the Ph.D. program told me that I had one of the most impressive personal statements he had read, and that is all thanks to the tireless effort and generosity of the McNair Program.”
Speaking about the UWEC philosophy department, Nathaniel cites the rigorous, clear and engaging teachers as its greatest strength. Not only did he learn important lessons about philosophy — for example, how to read complex arguments, reconstructing an author’s arguments, and how to craft good arguments and counterarguments — he also learned important life lessons.
“I learned the difference between being clever and being intelligent, how to really listen to someone’s views, the virtues of being charitable to those with whom you may disagree and the value in taking it slow, so that you may get all the details right.”
As he mentions, the strength of the philosophy department is not just in making sure you can recite Aristotle's definition of happiness or criticize Plato’s one-over-the-many argument, but in helping students become disciplined and careful thinkers.
Looking back, doing his own research with Dr. Sean McAleer was the turning point in Nathaniel’s education. Doing that research forced him “to engage with new ideas critically and independently.”
“It helped me grow confident with my intellectual abilities and, more generally, myself. I learned what I agreed and disagreed with, why I disagreed with it and how to better articulate myself.”
Nathaniel sees this as one of the perks of the university as a whole, saying that UWEC is exemplary at providing students research and career experience. The philosophy department in particular was especially willing to support student research. Through it, Nathaniel learned how to take criticism and pull himself out of hard times and difficult problems.
Therein lies the value of studying philosophy, and something beneficial to any student, in any career.