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Alumni Profile: Will Marsolek

February 19, 2019

When did you graduate and what was your degree?

I received my BA with a major in philosophy in the spring of 2018.

When did you realize you wanted to study philosophy? Why?

Back in high school, I would read tons of literature. I’d “make” my mom and sister join me in these hours-long escapades to used book stores, where I’d look through the shelves—making notes of authors I’d like to know more about—and pick up as many titles from authors I’d already cleared by prior research, as allowed. I really got to know the literature sections that way. But then I walked into that tiny aisle under the “Philosophy” sign and it was like entering a whole new world. I knew who James Joyce, Cervantes, and Henry James were, but who was this Kierkegaard guy? And what is in these Descartes Meditations, which seem to have like a billion copies? There’s a William James? So I took note of these authors and began to look them up. I noticed how much these authors explicitly influenced each other and how many interconnections exist between their projects. I loved tracing the philosophical lineages of whatever thinker I looked up; that is, I fell in love with the philosophical tradition. There was no way those little philosophy aisles could suffice, so I knew I was going to study philosophy if I was accepted into college.

What philosophical questions were you most interested in as a student? Are you still interested in these kinds of questions?

I went through a lot of phases in my time as an undergraduate. When I was at MCTC, I started off reading a lot of the French existentialists, but then delved into the thinkers and schools that influenced them (Heidegger, Kant, Marx, etc). Then, upon entering the program at UMN, I really got into works by the ancient Greeks, especially Plato’s Theaetetus. The kinds of questions that text brought up (such as: “What is knowledge?” “What role do good reasons have in determining whether I know something?” “What counts as a good reason to believe something?”) seemed to keep coming back in just about all my subsequent philosophy courses. When I returned to studying Kant, these questions exploded into a wonderful, robust, and strange system. I am very much interested in these sorts of questions, how these questions relate to other areas of philosophy, and how Kant sought to answer them.

Tell me about an experience or faculty member who had a powerful influence on you.

I don’t know how she would react to reading this, but Professor Emerita Sandra Peterson has greatly influenced the way I think a philosopher should act. She exemplifies three great qualities of a philosopher and human being: brilliance, humility, and curiosity.

Have your studies in philosophy helped you in your post-college life and career? If so, how?

My studies at UMN have been nothing less than a necessary condition for my attending graduate school in philosophy. The instruction given to me by the faculty at UMN has permanently affected the course of my life (and in a good way, too!).

What are the most important skills that pursuing a degree in philosophy fosters and develops?

Besides a thorough understanding of the material, I think learning philosophy at UMN teaches many things unspeakably helpful for one’s life as a citizen. In order for a polity to be truly free, it must be composed of citizens who think for themselves, and—crucially—who can do so responsibly. This means each citizen needs to have the intellectual tools to guard themselves from potentially dangerous prejudices (insofar as possible) and fallacious reasoning practices. By forcing us to critically examine our most basic concepts and reasoning methods, philosophy is incredibly liberating on both a personal and societal level. It also helped me personally. Learning how to ask the right questions has been really important in directing my own life, among other things.

What advice do you have for philosophy students approaching graduation?

Don’t let a job get in the way of philosophizing! You can do it just about any time!