One hallmark of our profession is the notion that we are mind workers. Our stock in trade consists of professional skepticism, rational thought, and the weight of sufficient competent evidentiary material on our analysis. We are a profession of Spocks, not Kirks. (Tech Tips is an unabashed Trekkie, if you hadn’t picked up on that by now.)
So, a query for you, fellow practitioner: Given that we are in the business of thinking rationally, why do we eschew and otherwise look down on the courses in the liberal arts?
I understand that some of you may not do so, but consider this query at the level of the profession, not an individual practitioner. What courses must one have to sit for the CPA, EA, or Bar exams? What courses do employers want to see on transcripts? What does our profession value – in terms of its requirements for entry and continued practice, and do those actual values differ from the values stated in marketing pieces from industry level bodies?
I will tell you that in my entire time as an undergrad accounting major, I did not have much exposure to the liberal arts, other than the bare minimum. (Liberal arts here is defined as academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, mathematics, and social and physical sciences as distinct from professional and technical subjects.)
I graduated with honors, yet I could barely write a paper worth reading, and some might still say that’s the case. Touche.
This is a weakness of our profession. If we make our livings with our minds, if what we offer to the public is our ability to think, then we hurt the profession and the public by not integrating more of the liberal arts into the core accounting educational curriculum.
To that end, we’re going to engage in a crash course of philosophy over the next several posts.
This post will start with a brief history of that august subject.
Philosophy means ‘The study of wisdom or knowledge’.
Einstein, when asked about his taxes, famously quipped, “Taxes? The math is too difficult, it would take a philospher.”
We are that philosopher.
Thousands of years ago, the ancient Greeks, forebears of our society, embarked on what would become the sciences under the umbrella term, philosophy. We use the term philosophy to refer to all the fields of study as they were practiced then. Aristotle, granddaddy of logic, was equally at home in rhetoric, science, math, government, languages, arts, etc, but he wouldn’t have considered himself solely as one practioner of this field or that field – these categories came later.
As knowledge in each respective field advanced, it peeled off to its own ‘sophy’ or ‘ology’. What remained in philosophy as we understand it today is the use of logic and premises to determine if something is true, correct, or valid. Also included in this field are things like epistomology (the study of ‘how we know what we know’), aesthetics, metaphysics, and something of constant concern to us, ethics.
I cheekily referred to Aristotle as the ‘granddaddy of logic’ because of his extensive writings on this subject in his work, “De Interpretatione” which is one of the earliest writings we have that delves into the link between language and logic (https://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_IInterpretatione).
Later scholars took this work, particularly in chapters 6-7 and set forth a diagram we know today as the ‘Square of Oppositions’. Some of you may be familiar with the premise that ‘All men are mortal. Socrates was a man. Therefore, Socrates was mortal.’ and similar constructs. This is the foundation of logic.
I don’t know about you, but I never learned any of this in college, nor in my CPA exam prep, nor in any professional context in 2 decades of practice. I had to go out and get this knowledge on my own, long, long after my college years. And it’s a shame because we who must use logic to do our jobs properly should be introduced to these concepts during our training.
We once had a junior staff member on our team who made an off-hand comment of derision towards the liberal arts as a waste of time. This person had integrity, a good work ethic, high grades, and looked great on paper, but in the aggregate, did not make for a good accountant. To do what we do, we must go beyond debits and credits. To truly understand what these laws and regulations require of us, we must understand how they are formed. That is the realm of logic.
To understand how to persuade people that it’s in their best interest to comply with these rules, that is the field of rhetoric. To understand what is real and what is fake, that is epistomology. To have any hope of knowing what actions to take in a difficult situation, that is ethics.
It is of course beyond the scope of this blog to make us all experts in each of these fields, or any one particular field, but my hope is to give a brief introduction to each of these topics that can then inspire you to continue your reading and growth on your own – and to invite you to share what you’ve gained with us at our FB group, or at the email below.
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Thanks, and catch you next time!