Essential Philosophy Reading for MBA Students

Apr 4, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

MBA students, listen up: you should be reading philosophy.  Why?  It’s good for you.  You need to think about business and global economies in a broader context than Excel spreadsheets, cost-benefit analyses, economic theory, and budgets.  You need to see business from a broad strokes perspective.  Go ahead.  Try it.  Put your spreadsheets away.  Crack open some philosophy.  Get enlightened.

 

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1. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

Rand’s classic, final novel envisions a dystopic United States in the face of regulations that destroy industry.  Rand advocates for reason, individualism, and capitalism.  She also outlines her ideas of Objectivism, the idea that your happiness is the purpose of your life, created through productive achievement and reason. This book has far-reaching political implications, too.  Her point?  The world needs innovators.  Those who can think “outside the box.”  Sound familiar?  Cozy up and enjoy—it’s a long, worthy read. 

 

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2. The Emperor’s Handbook, Marcus Aurelius

Read the story of the “philosopher king, “Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome from 161-180 A.D.  He writes about Stoicism, life, and leadership from a practical approach.  A leader’s approach.  How should you look at your life?  How should you appreciate your life?  How can you be a kind and generous leader?  If you’re learning how to be a business leader, learn from one of the finest.    

 

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3. A Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin

To be truly authentic, you can’t mechanically reproduce something.  Do you want unique products?  Or products that are all the same?  What does it mean to be original?  How do you defend your choices and maintain your individuality in the business world? Find out the answers to these questions and ponder how they can inform your business practices in this monumental 1936 essay.  You might be surprised.

 

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4. Truth and Method, Hans-Georg Gadamer

Gadamer’s major 1960 philosophical work deals with the art of hermeneutics—or the art of interpretation.  What does he study?  How humans interpret things in context—and how interpretations change when the context changes.  Sound like your advertising and marketing textbooks?  It should—and it will help you understand that business never happens in a vacuum.  While your business philosophy can stay the same, your process should always evolve.

 

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5. Twilight of the Idols, Friedrich Nietzsche

If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to read this book.  Twilight of the Idols, or How To Philosophize With A Hammer hits the nail on the head.  Accept the “less-than-perfect is ok” mantra that you can adapt as a business strategy.  Consider the give-and-take of business deals.  Accept that you cannot achieve the “ideal” and that “what does not kill [you] makes [you] stronger.” 

 

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6. Politics and the English Language, George Orwell

At it again, Orwell studies the intricacies of language to make a political point.  Extrapolate that.  As an MBA student, your language needs to be precise to sell, market, and convince.  Political in nature, yet completely appropriate to business, Politics and the English Language offers a series of essays on what it means to communicate in subtle and conspicuous ways.  Here: read it for free.

 

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7. Nature and Selected Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is your call to action.  You are the one responsible for your life—no one else.  You must live with every decision that you make.  The beauty of nature will only enhance your decision.  Create your own circumstance in harmony with—not in conflict with—the world around you.  How can you apply this to business?    Advocate for yourself.  Be your own person.  Don’t be afraid to do the right thing.

As an MBA student, you have lots to learn.  Make room for philosophy.  Why?  It stays with you, forces you to ask questions, and forces you to be a better person—a better business person in the long run. 

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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