Philosophy degrees have been incredibly useful in Silicon Valley leading to both riches and ideas that have changed the world. Consider Peter Thiel, who earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Stanford University in 1989. Forbes.com calls him one of the most powerful people in the world.
Peter Thiel has gone from successful entrepreneur to successful venture capitalist. The PayPal cofounder was Facebook’s first professional investor, giving Mark Zuckerberg and his hoodied cohorts a $500,000 check in 2004 in return for more than 10% of the company. Thiel still sits on Facebook’s board, but sold most of his stake in the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social networking company following its May 2012 IPO. His various venture firms include Founders Fund, which backed rocket builder SpaceX and CIA-backed data-mining software company, Palantir, where he is also a cofounder. FORBES revealed in May 2016 that Thiel was secretly funding the legal costs of Hulk Hogan, a former professional wrestler who sued website Gawker for publishing a sex tape of him with his friend’s wife. That lawsuit led to a $140 million verdict in favor of Hogan and set in motion a process that led to Gawker filing for bankruptcy in June 2016. Thiel also supported Donald Trump’s 2016 bid for president, and was appointed to Trump’s transition team following his electoral victory.
But he is not the only one. As The Tech Street Journal explains, Eric Hoffman, LinkedIn founder received his Masters in Philosophy from Oxford and Paul Graham also hold philosophy degrees. Here is their description of Graham:
These days Paul Graham is famed for conceiving the idea of startup accelerators and then launching the world’s first, Y Combinator. Graham came to prominence as the co-founder of Viaweb, arguably the first ever web-based application, which he and his co-founder Robert Morris (yes, that Robert Morris) sold to Yahoo! for $49 million in 1998. He’s also known for his work on the Lisp programming language (and his own dialect of it). Terman became aware of Graham in 2005, soon after the publication of his book, Hackers & Painters. A computer scientist friend, who was pursuing a somewhat esoteric Ph.D. topic at the time, introduced me to one of Graham’s eloquent, thoughtful essays, which span a number of topics from startups to how to argue, to practical philosophy.
Philosophy, for them, wasn’t just as passing phase. Tech Insider links to these two videos that show Hoffman and Thiel reminiscing about their time together at Stanford. They describe meeting each other for the first time in a philosophy class, then spending hours on the quadrangle debating “life, the universe and everything”, and seeking “truth”. The videos also show that, far from spurning “public intellectuals” as might happen in certain other entrepreneurial circles, these two billionaires want to foster a culture of intellectualism to help guide the future of their country and the world.
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