David Mwakima '17

david mwakima

One sentence summary: Philosophy is fun and fulfilling; the faculty (and students) are phenomenal.

(1) Fun

Philosophy classes were some of my most rewarding experiences at Harvard - I always looked forward to them. I’m not sure whether it was to listen to the examples that were thrown around to illuminate philosophical positions or whether it was to be shown in a typical Socratic fashion why (to borrow a phrase from Bertrand Russell) “Obviousness is […] the enemy to correctness;” or both! I always thought (disregarding the fact that my sense of humor is a bit too quirky) that the example of getting chocolate ice cream at J.P. Licks to explain freewill and determinism was cute. And, if you think using Battlestar Galactica to motivate philosophy of mind is clever, how about using Play-Doh to introduce Plato’s theory of Matter and Form?

(2) Fulfilling

In selecting my courses, one consideration I was making is whether or not I could study it elsewhere or on my own. Early on in my Harvard career, I realized that I was a poor writer and that my thinking was muddled. I couldn’t tell how or why I was “begging the question” (and yes in philosophy it means something totally different from the colloquial). So, most of my philosophy classes survived elimination. In learning the tools of the trade, the benefits were two-fold: (1) the small student-to-faculty ratio meant that I was enjoying the benefits one would normally enjoy studying at small liberal arts college while attending a large research university. I wanted to know my professors and to let them know me. This was important to me not only for its own sake but also for the sake of mentorship. (2) My philosophy classes constantly spurred me to keep on learning more things. Thus, I took other classes outside philosophy when I needed more than a “black box approach.” While my philosophy of math class took me to Physics 15a, my early modern history of philosophy class took me to SLS 15, for example. And the flexibility of the concentration requirements lent itself easily to this kind of interdisciplinary work.

(3) Faculty are phenomenal.

Whether it was through asking for concentrators’ input for a t-shirt design or the monthly lunches, the Department generally and the Faculty specifically, did a wonderful job cultivating a real sense of belonging in me. I’m grateful to have met faculty who were very supportive and interested in my progress not only in academics but also in life more generally. Among the things I admired is that in spite of being so successful in their fields they don't take themselves too seriously at all. That they reveal their human or approachable side inspired and reassured me.