Economy

Why Philosophers Are Hot Profiles On Corporate Job Market

With technology rapidly advancing, what may set human workers apart is their ability to reason as much as their technical skills.

Big corporations are more and more turning to philosophy majors to fill their ranks (photo illustration)
Big corporations are more and more turning to philosophy majors to fill their ranks (photo illustration)

PARIS — The return of humanities to the business world is becoming more and more visible. With technical jobs being replaced by robots, the quest for meaning in an increasingly complex society is boosting the importance of intellectual professions.

When I was a philosophy student at the beginning of the 21st century, our professors were honest enough to tell us that all the nights we spent analyzing Hegel would not get us very far outside of the world of academia. At the start of the semester at École Normale Supérieure, among the most selective and elite research schools in France, the dean of the humanities department gave a very clear speech: "If you want money, go study science. If you want power, study business. Here, you will be poor, and you will devote yourself to the progress of thought."

This disconnect between philosophy and the professional world goes back a long way — the Athenian sophist Callicles is said to have reproached Socrates for babbling like a dumb child. "Philosophy," Callicles says in Plato's Gorgias, "hears nothing about the laws of the State or language except what it must for handling private and public relationships. There is only the experience of pleasures and of passions which, in a word, are characteristic of men."

Philosophers must dare to knock down idols.

Yet it seems that this millennial affliction is coming to an end. Philosophy and its comrades in the humanities are beginning to be courted by public administrations and private businesses alike. The last report released by Apec, a French employment monitoring agency, speaks of a "triumphal return of the humanities," with an employment high of 88% (one year after graduation) for those with degrees in sociology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and other similar fields.

Last year, I was part of a jury for a Master's of Applied Ethics at the Sorbonne, where philosophy students presented research on commercial activity through the lens of their humanities expertise. And this trend is by no means reserved for the country of Descartes, it is global.

Google has started hiring philosophers. Forbes magazine recently proposed to name "chief philosophy officers" to corporate boards of directors. The first effects of this change in mentality have already arrived: the salary comparison site PayScale found that graduates with philosophy diplomas are better paid than their business administration peers. Silicon Valley startups are busy recruiting Stanford graduates who are "fuzzies' (humanities and liberal arts majors) — set to savor their long-anticipated victory over the techies. In a sign of the times, celebrity investor Bill Miller this year donated an unprecedented $75 million to the philosophy department at Johns Hopkins University.

As many of the tasks that are repetitive or purely computational are now being handled by robots, humans are focusing on logic in their quest for meaning. As Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, education is going to be concentrated in areas that are not (yet) automated, such as critical thought and ethics.

Philosophy cannot content itself with smoothing its goatee and celebrating the middle ground.

In a world where technical skills evolve with great speed and where the role technicians play is becoming more and more limited, sooner rather than later employers are going to need intelligent workers who can put things into perspective, conceptualize a problem and anticipate the quirks of human nature. Here, for example, is where skills from five years of ethnology studies will be best directed: to business schools, those educational messes that came into being in the era of managers and fortunately are destined to eventually disappear.

A similar quest for meaning does not yet need to typify a form of Aristotelian tepidity, and philosophy cannot content itself with smoothing its goatee and celebrating the middle ground. It must provide unsettling thoughts. These occur, like Nietzsche said, at the knock of a door. Other controversial figures such as Peter Thiel or George Soros have understood it well; one is a student of René Girard, the other of Karl Popper. In a time paralyzed by political correctness, philosophers must dare to knock down idols, declare those things others deemed unspeakable, and denounce the comfort of prejudice. This is perhaps even their most important job.

But the students recently protesting in France should not rejoice too quickly. As the humanities begin to have more economic value, businesses will become stricter in their degree requirements. Philosophy is not some kind of confused soul that rebels against lectures. It is a discipline that must be learned. Therefore, an intelligent process of selection is more necessary than ever for the half-million French students who study humanities at university. If philosophy is worth gold, the market will be sure to mine for it.

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Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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