The PPE program at George Mason University allows students to pursue topics in the intersection of philosophy, political science, and economics. The PPE model originated at Oxford almost a century ago. In the US there are a growing number of PPE programs and interest is rising. Mason’s program – which is offered jointly by the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Economics, and the Schar School of Policy and Government – is the first PPE program in the metro DC area.
Students in Mason’s PPE program embark on an ambitious course of study. After allowing students to familiarize themselves with each of the three disciplines, the program is centered around a series of courses that were designed or repurposed to cover topics in the intersection of philosophy, political science, and economics, and which adopt a robustly interdisciplinary approach. The program culminates in a capstone course that integrates insights from the entire program.
Why Study PPE?
There are many reasons why it makes sense to study philosophy, political science, and economics together:
Every significant social or political problem has ethical, political, and economic aspects; consequently, it cannot helpfully be addressed with one set of disciplinary lenses only.
The boundaries between the three disciplines are of recent vintage and largely a historical artifact: Adam Smith, who is often described as the father of modern economics, was in fact a professor of moral philosophy.
And recent disciplinary trends have once more made any firm separation between the PPE disciplines arbitrary: there is by now a standard set of problems and tools for dealing with them.
While traditional academic disciplines are getting increasingly narrow, PPE students have more than a superficial understanding of three disciplinary approaches, and are trained to use whatever tool is most appropriate to the problem at hand.
What Can I Do with a PPE Concentration?
Because the PPE concentration trains students to attack a wide range of problems using rigorous analytical techniques, it is an excellent basis for those who want to pursue careers in industry, journalism, politics, management, intelligence, marketing, industrial organization, and elsewhere; for those who want to go to law school; and for those who are interested in going to graduate school, whether in philosophy, economics, or political science.
If you want a career in industry or public service. For better or worse, the business world moves so fast that much of what you learn today will be obsolete after 5–10 years. What will never become obsolete is the ability to process information, understand what motivates people, adapt to new situations, solve problems, think straight, and communicate effectively. These are all skills that you will hone in the PPE program. Take it from people like the C.E.O. of Delta. When Richard Anderson is hiring, he wants people who use complete sentences, read books, can think about values, communicate well, and are able to solve problems.
If you’re going to Law School. In law school and beyond, nothing is more important than being able to take in large amounts of information, assess what’s important, spell out and analyze arguments, and being able to present your conclusions clearly and convincingly, whether orally or in writing. The PPE program will help you develop all these skills. The data back it up: among the twelve largest disciplines, economics majors and philosophy majors are tied for first place in terms of LSAT scores, which play a pivotal role for entrance into law schools.
If you’re going to Graduate School. In graduate school and beyond, you’ll be expected to read huge amounts of text, synthesize the important points, and develop and present your own original work. Unsurprisingly, PPE students do very well in graduate school and beyond, including in academic careers. Again, the data reveal that majors in the PPE disciplines consistently score at the top of the rankings on the GRE test, on which admission to graduate school is partly based. And if you’re wondering, the evidence shows that they do spectacularly well on the GMAT too.