Robert E. Rubin: “Philosophy Prepared Me for a Career in Finance and Government”

Robert Rubin was the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury from 1995-1999. He started out his career at Harvard University, but of all of his courses, it was his first philosophy class that he chose to write about in The New York Times.

“Professor Demos would use Plato and other great philosophers to demonstrate that proving any proposition to be true in the final and ultimate sense was impossible. His approach to critical thinking planted a seed in me that grew during my years at Harvard and throughout my life. The approach appealed to what was probably my natural but latent tendency toward questioning and skepticism.”

Rubin discusses two of the scariest moments in his career: the time in 1980 when he lost more money in a month than he earned in an entire year, and that time in the White House in 1995 when the budget battle led to a debt-limit crisis and two government shutdowns. What kept him afloat? His philosophy class:

“In both of those situations — one on Wall Street, the other in Washington — I drew from Professor Demos’s philosophy class and the existentialist lessons from the coffeehouses, which shaped my thinking on how to make decisions and helped me build a durable sense of remove and perspective.”

Rubin doesn’t give a lot of detail, but he doesn’t have to. It’s clear from the article that philosophy is a core tool for his job and for his life. His affection for the subject and the professor her never actually spoke with is palpable.

Read his opinion piece here.


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