College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities

Philosophy Q&A with Clemson’s first Rhodes Scholar


This fall, Louise Franke made history as the first Clemson University student to be named a Rhodes Scholar. The Rhodes Scholarship provides for study at the University of Oxford and is recognized worldwide as the top undergraduate award for college students. As a biochemistry major with minors in philosophy and political science, Franke has a unique perspective on the relationship between the study of science and humanities—a perspective which has had a significant impact on her choice of studies at Oxford. She shared her thoughts with the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities on how her studies in philosophy have transformed her academic career.

CAAH: Why did you decide to minor in philosophy?

Louise Franke: I decided to minor in philosophy because I had taken political philosophy courses through the Lyceum Program at Clemson and through summer programs and realized that I loved the intellectual freedom of studying philosophy. I thought a long time about adding the minor, because I had originally hoped to double major in political science, but ultimately the diverse array of classes and the ability to pursue an undergraduate honors thesis won me over and I have had a wonderful time!

CAAH: How has your study of philosophy made an impact on your future plans? 

Franke: Concretely, studying philosophy has redirected my life plans: I will be studying philosophy and politics at Oxford for the next two years, and then hope to begin a joint M.D.-Ph.D. in bioethics—none of which I would have ever imagined before studying philosophy. More so, though, studying philosophy has redirected my life by changing how I look at the world. I care much more about whether I am living a good life, day to day, and I take my life much more seriously. Among many other benefits, I think that studying philosophy has made me think much more deeply about my choices and prioritize happiness! 

CAAH: Why do you think the study of philosophy—and of the humanities more broadly—is important for scientists? 

Franke: I think at least having studied some philosophy is extremely important to understanding the potential implications of scientific findings, as well as public perception and public discourse around such findings. Scientists must of course have ethical principles guiding their research, but I think that less obviously, good scientific communication is only possible when scientists understand the ideologies and methods of thinking of the general public. Studying philosophy opens your eyes to the many ways of perceiving the world, which I think makes it easier for scientists to make important findings understandable and relevant.  

CAAH: Can you recall a specific idea you encountered during your humanities studies at Clemson that had a significant impact on your thinking? 

Franke: In my first political philosophy course, we read Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals and (as incredibly cliche as it sounds) it changed my life. The content, obviously, was absolutely insane and caused a slight existential crisis. What I remember more, however, was reading it and thinking that I simply could not, not study philosophy—I could not leave that class and engage in only Biochemistry for the rest of my undergraduate education. 

CAAH: Which professor would you say made the biggest impression on you during your study of philosophy? 

Franke: In Political Philosophy, Dr. Hoffpauir was the first professor I ever had in the humanities, and he took both the ideas and students in his class incredibly seriously. Had I not taken his course, I do not think that I would have remained engaged in the humanities at all, much less pursued further studies in philosophy after Clemson. In the Philosophy department, Dr. Brookes Brown’s Philosophy of Law course forced me both to think and write methodically and clearly, and though it was one of the most difficult courses I have taken at Clemson, I think that it was one of the most necessary for my growth as a student and writer. 

CAAH: What would you tell a younger college or high school student who is unsure about the value of their studies in the humanities? 

Franke: I would tell them that nothing in college has made me happier than studying the humanities. I remember my high school running coach once telling me that teaching a kid to like to run is giving them a gift that goes on giving for the rest of their life, and I feel the same way about learning to love to study the humanities. Regardless of your major and your career goals, gaining a window into the study of the world of ideas is a wonderful gift that you can pick back up on anytime, anywhere. 

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