Jim Cavan '05
Why did you major in philosophy?
It was basically a coin flip between English and philosophy. I knew I loved ideas, and I knew I loved to write. What I couldn’t foresee was how quickly the courses would grip me. How acutely the dialectical process — discussing ideas, distilling my own dream-broad vagaries into cogent, cohesive arguments — would come to shape my worldview. Looking back, I feel eminently lucky the internal coin landed how it did.
Interesting stuff you did as a UNH undergrad? Thesis, study abroad, etc.
Far and away the most rewarding project I undertook was a senior-year honors thesis. Shepherded by the steady minds and hands of Nick Smith and David Hiley, the resulting screed — “Habermasian Social Ecology,” for the sake of space — challenged me in ways few things have before or since.
Beginning my junior year, I wrote a weekly political column for The New Hampshire. Even here, in a space meant to cut loose from the nuts-and-bolts rigors of thesis-building, the writing was deeply informed by my experience in the classroom, in principles and process both.
What are you doing now?
I most recently served as senior editor and writer for The Cauldron, a quasi-affiliate of Sports Illustrated housed on the Medium platform. Ten-year-old me dreamed of being a sportswriter, and after years of editorial jukes and jogs, that halcyon hope became a reality (albeit with a bit of a bent). It may seem a galactic cry from Kant and Heidegger, but to me the thread that binds it all — of thought, self-critique and narrative care—seems clear as ever.
How has philosophy been valuable in your personal and professional life?
Beyond the lasting friendships, of which there have been precious many, philosophy compelled me to be a better listener and a more willing communicator. Which in turn made me a better person and more engaged citizen. It’s helped me challenge convention, appreciate nuance and salvage relationships. Put simply, majoring in philosophy taught me how important it is to understand one another (shoutout to Habermas again). For it is only when we engage one another, in the moment and on the merits, whether face-to-face or in a Facebook thread, that big-T Truth can be truly approached — even if it’s never fully grasped.
Any advice for students considering a philosophy major or graduating with a philosophy major?
Ignore the cynic’s scoffs and family second-guesses. Even if you don’t see a career path cobbled at your feet, the tools you’ll be walking away with — critical thinking, communicative ethics, ideas and ideals to last a lifetime — are universally applicable, full stop. For me, a degree in philosophy provided the tools with which to understand and navigate this always-wild world. Its pitfalls and problems, yes, but its people and beauty as well. At the very least, you’ll be much better prepared to handle that awkward Thanksgiving gun-control debate with Uncle Frank. At most you’ll change the damn world, one mind or heart at a time, while watching your own grow in kind.