Changing path is not a failure, but a strength

It’s been a while I haven’t been writing on here, and I know the reason why.

Ever since my last post, in November 2016, I’ve been in a complicated and pretty stressful process of changing path. It’s been a bumpy road, but now that I’m back on tracks, I can say that what I saw as a failure has become a strength. Let’s start from the beginning.

Last year, in September, I was starting a masters’ degree in philosophy at King’s College London. I had just graduated in University of Geneva, where my philosophy teachers where passionate, motivating and brilliant. They had made me think of following an academic research path, by doing a M.A. followed by a P.h.D. I was fully motivated by that choice when I arrived in London.

It lasted a month.

After a few weeks, I was slowly starting to lose interest. I had only 6 hours of class a week. None of the subjects interested me fully. The way of thinking and interacting was not the same as in Geneva. I had lost the vibe that had made me love philosophy so much, and that was probably specific to the department in Geneva.

Moreover, London was too big. Too fast. I was overwhelmed. London is a great city, but I’m persuaded that one must have a specific reason to live there, in order to enjoy it. If you don’t have a precise goal that you wish to realise in that city, you’ll get lost. That’s what happened to me. Soon, I had no idea why I was there anymore, as my studies were my only reason to go to London and I wasn’t enjoying them as much as I should’ve.

In February, I decided to stop my degree. It took me a few months to be sure that it was the right decision, but then I knew I had to do something. It wasn’t getting better. I passed the first semester’s exams, got my grades, and went back to Geneva.

“You could force yourself to finish, it’s only one full year”, “It’s one of the best universities in the world, it would be sad not to finish your degree”, “Are you sure you won’t regret?”, people were advising me, and most of them were skeptical.

But I found the strength in myself, to not give a fuck. It was hard, but I was following my instinct. I wasn’t happy in London, and it couldn’t stay that way. Even though it was only for 6 more months.

In March and April, I took some time to think. It soon appeared as an evidence that I had to try studying law, as it was already an idea back in high school. I could always come back to philosophy later. I had acquired the basic tools, and they would always be helpful, even in law studies. So I applied in law at university of Geneva.

I also wrote a lot.

From May to August, I’ve been travelling. First, I spent a month in Berlin to get a bit of my German back. Then I took the transsiberian train through Russia, Mongolia and China. That travel deserves its own post. And I came back to Geneva, ready to start studying again. All over again.

Now, I am enjoying law. Everything is very new and there is a lot to learn, but my previous studies help me so much. I can see how my analytical and research skills make it a lot faster for me to apprehend the legal bases and organise them. Moreover, I have a critical way of thinking about laws, thanks to philosophy. For example, many words used in laws are not well defined, therefore their extension – the things that fall under that definition- is not clear. That could be improved. Also, the logic we’ve worked with in philosophy is broadly the same as the one used for developing legal syllogism. It’s interesting to see that in law, they are not as strictly respectful of the rules of logic as analytical philosophers would be.

All in all, I’m starting to see that having studied different subjects is a real advantage. I am proud to have found the strength to listen to my instinct and to stop my degree without culpability, because I knew that it was better for me (even though society did not objectively think it was a good choice). I had lost my path for a few months, but after getting lost, what a pleasure it was to feel back on tracks again. More than that, I don’t see this whole experience as a failure, but as a short detour that gave me time to listen to my needs and wishes.

The sinuous road might be longer than the highway, but you can see beautiful things on the way and get to know the surroundings a bit better. And in the end, you’ll get to the same place as those who took the highway. So don’t be afraid to take your time.

– The Dilettante


What Is Money? From Aristotle to Socially Responsible Investments

A month ago, I started working at a bank as a summer job. I figured it would be nice to see something a bit different. Indeed, I have never really been interested in the financial and economic world. As I study philosophy and literature, I thought it didn’t matter so much that I didn’t know about these subjects. But I was quite wrong, I admit.

In a very short time, I had to understand things I had never tried to learn. I was taught about bonds, hedge funds, macro-economy and how investors choose the assets they put in their clients’ portfolio. All of this was very new for me, but I was aware that if I wanted to understand better the world we live in, I needed to understand how the « money world » worked.

I realised soon that my main problem could be expressed in one single question: What is money? That is where philosophy gets involved, and it gave me food for thought. The nature of money is something that is really hard to understand, but we never question it although we use it everyday.

Aristotle wrote about the nature of money in the Nicomachean Ethics. He stated that money has three functions: it stores value; it is a measure of value and a medium of exchange. The interesting fact is that money is still defined the same way by modern economists.

Aristotle already identified that one of these functions was dangerous for ethics. Indeed, the fact that money has the capacity of storing value means that it is possible to grow a capital and to get richer. If getting richer becomes a goal, both the seller and the buyer want to generate a value-added product, which creates money from money. Money becomes a goal in itself, but it is only supposed to be a medium. Aristotle calls the accumulation of money chrematistics, and opposes it to economy. Indeed, economy etymologically from oikos (house) and nomos (rule, law), is supposed to be the art of maintaining a household. So in an Aristotelian philosophy, adding value to products only to get richer is opposed to economy (in its original meaning), where money is used for a good and necessary end. Aristotle goes even further: for him, chrematistics should be illicit because it leads to greed, which is opposed to moral self-improvement.

So the fact that money stores value is dangerous, but the fact that it is a medium of exchange might cause problems too. Let’s speak about currency for example. Currency works as a medium of exchange only if the person in front of you believes (just like you) that the piece of paper you give to them has value. It means that we believe in the value symbolically stocked in currency as long as people in the same society trust each other and moreover trust their state. Indeed, governments define currency, and their decisions can be more or less reliable.

What really gets my attention is that currency has no intrinsic value. If you give it to people in a society that doesn’t accept its symbolic value, it is worthless. Currency replaced barter because it was easier to store, easier to count and easier to exchange. But barter has other advantages: it is a direct exchange that takes place between individuals or concrete groups of people. The exchange is physical for the seller as well as the buyer. Contrarily, with currency, the seller receives a paper stocking symbolical value in exchange for what was bought, and that paper is supposed to keep the same value until it can be used to buy something else. But who knows if the value stocked in the banknote will still be the same after some time? Who knows if the next seller will recognize the banknote as valuable or not? Nowadays, we all think that currency is pretty stable and that we can trust what it represents. But it is becoming more and more abstract, and I feel like it doesn’t represent anything anymore. Digitally, in the traders’ computers, billions and billions are being exchanged everyday. Can we even grasp what a billion is worth?


More than that, the fact that money is becoming digital implies that we have no idea who we are exchanging with. Everything can be bought on the Internet and this is what our future will be made of. I think that we are losing the social value of exchange, the relationship that should be created between the seller and the buyer. There is something that sounds ironic about it, because we need to trust the money we’re using more than ever, as it is not physical anymore, but in the same time we have little regard for the value of trust, as we do not care buying things without having a concrete entity in front of us.

I think society gave so much power to money that people are starting to fear the economic future, because they know it is out of their control. It is known that in times of crisis, barter and other more direct mediums of exchange come back in the spotlight because people tend to trust easier in each other than in abstract entities.

Of course, even though Aristotle would cry about it, people want to make money. The world works like this. But more and more, we realize that accumulating money should not be considered a goal in itself, because it is absurd. Many studies concerning Millennials (the generation of people who were born between 1975 and 2000) showed that they are willing to direct their investments toward social and environmental good (as well as a little financial return). It is called socially responsible investments (ISR), and it keeps growing and growing. People still want to make money, but they also want to do it well. And it is already a good change of mentality. “A 2013 U.S. Trust report found that 64 percent of high-net-worth Millennials said that they were more comfortable investing in physical assets than stocks. Interestingly, despite their reservations and skepticism about stock markets, they are actually willing to accept a higher risk profile or receive lower returns to invest in companies that create positive social or environmental impact.”[1] Moreover, the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2015 found that “Millennials overwhelmingly believe (75 percent) businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society”.

I think the fact that our generation gives more regard to social and environmental issues shows that the greed feared by Aristotle might be overcome in the next decennials if we keep making small steps toward social consciousness. If we believe that we have the power to change the economic and financial trend by making our relationship with money healthier, we might build a brighter future.

[1] Millennials Will Bring Impact Investing Mainstream, J. Emerson and L. Norcott, Stanford Social Innovation Review,, 2014

The Dilettante