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The Carletonian

Williams Wins Beinecke Scholarship

<vid Williams ‘14 has been awarded the prestigious Beinecke Scholarship. Williams, a Philosophy major and French and Francophone Studies concentrator, is one of 20 recipients of the scholarship this year. One hundred individuals comprised the applicant pool, each having been nominated by their respective institution. In his successful application, Williams detailed his aspirations for graduate study in philosophy as well as his teaching ambitions following graduate school.

The Beinecke Scholarship is designed to support arts, humanities, and social science-oriented students aspiring to graduate school. In many such fields, the next step after graduate school is not necessarily clear-cut, and the scarcity of career options in certain fields make its pursuit more of a financial risk compared to careers in the sciences. By providing graduate school funds to top-notch students having a genuine commitment in their field, the Beinecke Scholarship incentivizes entering an otherwise risky field. In this way, the scholarship aims to support students who are both committed and courageous in picking a career.

The scholarship will award Williams $30,000 to support his enrollment in the graduate school of his choice. An additional $4,000 is devoted exclusively for visiting various graduate schools and allowing an appraisal of different programs prior to making a commitment. Williams is currently considering high-caliber philosophy programs at MIT and Stanford.

Williams, also a Mellon Mays research fellow and an IRT (Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers) recipient, asserts that his primary philosophical interests lie in the philosophy of science and classical metaphysics. He’s done research on the topics of free will and determinism during his time at Carleton. Gaining further insight into fundamental questions such as “how the world works” and “how change happens” interests Williams.

One day, he aspires to teach philosophy to different groups of people to expose them to its importance. Though he hopes to teach at the institution level, he also wants to help develop a community program aimed at nurturing philosophy to younger students who ordinarily wouldn’t have the opportunity to study its rigors.

According to Williams, education largely doesn’t stress the importance of philosophy in today’s schooling system. Even our educational leaders primarily focus their attention to STEM. “As information becomes more pervasive, it is becoming increasingly essential that the next generation learns to analyze information at a different level.”

Williams believes the philosophical thought process should be taught as well as integrated into our education system – and at an early age. Just as physics is fundamental to the study of chemistry, so too are the arts of philosophical problem solving and critical thinking integral to just about any field of academia one wishes to pursue: “The principals of one instill the principles of the other.”

The fundamental purpose of philosophy, says Williams, is to “critically engage in thought and in a problem. […] Philosophy is a tool against memorization.” It forces us to “think about what’s happening, what we know, how to apply information, and ultimately use it.” Philosophy – the love of wisdom – teaches us to “ask why,” rather than to merely accept the status quo. And while these questions are integral to the learning process at many liberal arts schools such as Carleton, it’s often missing inside the classroom at other schools. For when we consider why something might be true, we can apply similar information in other places. Learning to really analyze our beliefs forces us to consider what things might be entailed by those beliefs. And it is these commitments that cause us to ask interesting questions about reality, explained Williams.

It’s clear why Williams is so enthusiastic about nurturing philosophy to developing minds. Instilling philosophical problem solving skills at a young age forces us to positively challenge our belief framework and to consider the logical possibilities that are rational extensions of the truths we hold.

There obviously won’t be any new philosophy plants opening up down the road anytime soon, but highly motivated and ambitious students like David Williams will continue to find ways to be successful in promoting this ever-important and meaningful realm. 

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