LEWISTON — This fall, like every year, the students of Niagara University will be attending a variety of classes. Many of them, such as philosophy, while interesting, may also seem irrelevant to the real world they’ll be entering after graduation.

This semester, however, Michael Barnwell, professor of philosophy and director of the University Honors Program at NU, has something that will bring into focus what ancient, philosophical thinking can do for real world doers.

“It’s a class I created, it’s probably the only one of its kind anywhere,” Barnwell said. “It’s called 'Philosophy for the Business World.' ”

Barnwell started the class last semester and it was so successful that this year the school is conducting a national media pitch to celebrate what it says is perhaps a one-of-a-kind chance for students worldwide. 

Barnwell said that philosophy is important. It makes “better thinkers” who “ask deeper questions.” Unfortunately thought, he said, there seems to be a disconnect between learning philosophy and using it in a sensible way in life. 

“I started looking at a lot of the business stuff and all this self-help stuff in business all seems pretty much the same,” Barnwell said. “I had this idea that the things we talk about in philosophy can probably be relevant to the business world and if we really do develop good skills, they should be applicable.” 

Barnwell challenged his students to not only learn philosophy in the classroom, but to speak to real businesses in the community about strengths and weaknesses they might have and actually apply philosophy to those weak points.

Businesses included Blue Cross Blue Shield, M&T Bank, Pegula Sports & Entertainment and several others. Students were broken into teams where they practiced their pitch and were invited into the business’ board rooms to give consultation based on philosophic principles.

Tom Morris, philosopher and business thinker, was also invited to speak at Niagara University late in the spring semester and wrote in an email his advice to young philosophers.

“Be like Socrates and ask the questions nobody else is asking,” he shared. “Use the wisdom of great thinkers who came before us to put into a proper perspective any tough challenges they may face. Wisdom is always about perspective. The practical philosophers have taught me that, while the world is full of problems, we’re essentially at our best as problem solvers. We grow and get stronger as we take on challenges and blaze new paths forward. If I can impart that perspective to young thinkers, I can help them become great doers.”