THE UPSIDE of entering Harvard with less academic preparation than many of my classmates was that it forced me to rethink much of what I thought I knew.

So, too, did Raphael Demos, Professor Demos, an authority on Greek Philosophy, was Harvard's  AIford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy and Civil Policy.

But to me, when I took his class with him my sophomore year, he was a genial little man with white hair and an exceptional talent for engaging students from the lecture hall stage, using an overturned wastebasket as his lectern.

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 my natural but latent tendency toward questioning and skepticism.

I concluded that you can't prove anything in absolute terms, from which I extrapolated that all significant decisions are about probabilities.

Internalizing the core tenet of Professor Demo's teaching - weighing risk and analyzing risks and trade-offs was central to everything I did professionally and in the decades ahead in finance and government. 

At the same time that I was processing Professor's Demo's class, one of the ideas floating around coffee houses in Cambridge Mass, was existential philosophy.

In time, I arrived at my own interpretation of that way of thinking.

To me. existentialism is an international sense of perspective. I came to believe that on one hand, the present matters a great deal, but on the other hand, in the totality of space and time, the here and now becomes insignificant.

I'm asked from time to time which undergraduate courses best prepared me for working at Goldman Sachs and in the government.

People assume I'll list course economics and finance, but I always answer that the key was Professor demo's Philosophy course and the conversation about existentialism in coffee shops around the campus.

There was a point in the early 1980s when the Goldman Sachs arbitrage department, which I led, lost more money in one month than it had made in almost any one year, driven-

By severe declines in the equity markets. Given the vicissitudes of the markets, there was no way to tell  whether we'd  reached the nadir and recovery was around the corner -or-

Whether we were about to go off the cliff.

Despite the pressure, and the emotional state of the markets, I drew on an  existential perspective, and my colleagues and and I made careful decisions to adjust our portfolio.

During my time in the Clinton White House, my colleagues and I tackled similar complex situations.

The Honor and Serving of the latest Operational Research on Philosophy and Real World continues to Part 3. 

!WOW! thanks Secretary Robert E. Rubin for enabling  all the students  of the world, to ponder and think.


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