March 23, 2017
Reflections on PPE

A recent Guardian long read on the history of PPE—the Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree at Oxford—has made me reflect again on different experiences with the degree. I’ve also read the somewhat unnecessarily detailed “The Poverty of PPE”, written in 1968 by Trevor Pateman. But there are lots of other articles critical of PPE which are useful points of departure.

I have studied Philosophy & Economics as an undergraduate in Germany, at a small, provincial Bavarian university (Bayreuth); and then later I found myself a some-time teacher to Oxford PPE undergraduates. My German course was clearly started as an homage to the enormous success of the Oxford degree, even if curriculum-wise it was far from a copy. (More on that later.) Indeed, PPE is en vogue: it has spawned a variety of copycats across the world, and new programmes continue to crop up. So here are some observations regarding the promise, and shortcomings, of PPE.


January 3, 2017
The Madness of American College Admissions

When I finished high school, I wasn’t a particularly interesting person. I didn’t have many discernible hobbies or interests. I played chess, but not very enthusiastically; I wasn’t even in the better half of chess players in my own club. I liked “reading”, but my tastes were eclectic and protean. I played no instrument. I proudly detested sports. I didn’t take part in any foreign exchange, and never visited foreign countries beyond family trips. I learned no foreign languages beyond English, and even that I dropped in favour of Latin. I took part in one summer school, only because my high school pushed me into it. I won a state Latin competition, but wasn’t particularly invested in Latin. I did no meaningful amount of “volunteer” or charitable work. I spent lots of time with my local church, where I helped organise events for children and teenagers. But that’s just what our church did; it wasn’t particularly glamorous.

So when I finished high school, my list of provable life achievements was remarkably short. But luckily that didn’t matter, because German universities do not care. I did well in school, and I could cobble together a not-terrible letter explaining why I liked philosophy. Most German universities simply select on the basis of GPA (Abiturnote), and I got places at all the universities I wanted to go. (Indeed, I only applied to three.) Because the system is transparent and uncomplicated, I never much worried about my “CV” before university. I didn’t have to; the system of applying to university wasn’t mad.


November 20, 2016
A Story of a Philosophical Outsider

In 2013, I helped with a small student society, the Ockham Society, which organised talks by and for graduate students at Oxford. Our only real aim was to put up a talk every week, and to get a decently sized, interested audience. This proved hard enough; we sometimes had vacancies which needed to be filled on short notice, in which case we would put out a call for papers. It is a reply to one of these which gets this story started.