The Importance of Studying Philosophy According to Legendary Investor, Bill Miller

in Blog
February 22nd, 2018

Human in Suit

Bill Miller, American investor, fund manager, and former chairman and chief investment officer of Legg Mason Capital Management, recently had an email interview with Ethan Epstein of the Weekly Standard to discuss Miller’s $75 million donation to his former alma matter, John Hopkins University. The donation will go to the philosophy department, where Miller himself earned his PhD in philosophy.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the “$75 million will be used to nearly double the department’s full-time faculty members in the next decade from 13 teachers to 22 and to create nine endowed professorships, including one for the chairman of the renamed William H. Miller Department of Philosophy. In addition, $10 million will be allocated for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The university also aims to encourage more undergraduates to study philosophy by offering new courses.”

Despite his remarkably successful career in finance, Miller stressed the importance of studying philosophy, and noted the significant role it played in his own life.

TWS: How did the study of philosophy affect your career?

Bill Miller: Philosophy involves critical thinking and reasoning about highly complex issues. At its best it is rigorous and analytical. These skills are exactly what are required to think through and understand capital markets and the analysis of businesses. However good one is at this, philosophical training will make you better.

TWS: More broadly, how did the study of philosophy affect the way you live your life?

Bill Miller: Wittgenstein said something to the effect of if philosophy does not change your life then it has no point. The French existentialist Gabriel Marcel said “the problem I consider essential is the relationship between philosophical research and life.” The study of philosophy has immeasurably enriched my life, made it fuller and more complete. It has exposed me to the best that has been thought about life’s most important issues. It has also made me painfully aware of my ignorance and shortcomings. Had I not studied philosophy I would be a completely different, and probably worse person than I am.

TWS: In recent years, STEM education has been championed at the expense of the humanities. Do you think this is a mistake?

Bill Miller: STEM education is essential in today’s word. STEAM would be better, where the A is for the Arts. I agree with the literary critic Stanley Fish, who when asked what the liberal arts such as philosophy are good for, answered that they are good for nothing: they are good in and of themselves and need no further justification.

Read the full article on the Weekly Standard.