As a successful lawyer with Fortune 500 companies such as Brown Shoe, Emerson Electric and 7 Up, Thomas Knoten has seen the world. Fluent in French, he specialized in international law and held meetings in Paris and Hong Kong.
But this past Saturday, Knoten embarked on a new career when he earned his master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Missouri–St. Louis and served as a commencement speaker (see video of speech below) – he wants to teach philosophy at the college level.
Knoten began pursuing a degree at UMSL after taking early retirement from Brown Shoe in 2006. He is now actively mapping out his new path. Knoten says he enjoyed working as a teacher’s assistant at UMSL and will teach this summer at Maryville University in west St. Louis County.
“I now see at my age that teachers set people up for success, not failure,” said Knoten, 65. “I didn’t realize that when I was a younger student. Now I know that when I design a lesson plan and syllabus, it’s all to help my students achieve.”
Knoten praises the members of the UMSL philosophy department, who served as his mentors.
“They are spectacular and brilliant,” he said. “Their credentials are what make them so special. They come from all over the world and are excelling. They set a beautiful example for the student body.”
Knoten grew up in south St. Louis and attended Mary Knoll Seminary in Chicago, where he majored in the only program offered – philosophy. He served in the Air Force before earning his law degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1973. He’s lived in the same University City, Mo., house with his wife, Christine, for 35 years. They have four grown children and two grandchildren.
He wrote his master’s thesis was on Ludwig Wittgenstein, a 20th century Austrian philosopher who founded two schools of philosophy: analytic and language. While visiting his daughter who lives in Austria, Knoten happened to visit Wittgenstein’s home and museum at the urging of his daughter’s mother-in-law.
“That sparked my interest in Wittgenstein and I enrolled in a course on him at UMSL,” he said. The course was taught by Waldemar Rohloff II, assistant teaching professor of philosophy. Little did Knoten know that class would set the direction for his thesis.
“During winter break in 2008, Rohloff invited me to be a co-speaker with him at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in his presentation on Wittgenstein,” Knoten said. “I had just finished taking his class. He asked me to polish up a paper I’d written. It was a great experience.”
That introduction to an academic conference, plus his becoming a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honors society, proved to Knoten he was in the right place.
“I definitely feel that Dr. Ross’ decision to accept me was a good one,” said Knoten, who thinks his old life and new life meld quite well. “Philosophy and law are related. The way legal opinions are written by judges is a lot like philosophy.”
Knoten savored his education at UMSL and said he’ll never stop learning, even as he looks forward to life as a philosophy teacher.
“I believe in enjoying every step of the journey,” he said.