Profile: Brian Murphy

Inaugural Winner of the Josef Zagrodney Prize

Josef Zagrodney, a UBC Okanagan (UBCO) Philosophy graduate, died unexpectedly and tragically in 2018. Josef was an outstanding student and a very fine young man. His academic awards include the British Columbia Government Scholarship, the Chancellor’s Scholar Award and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Scholarship for Continuing Students. At graduation, Josef received the University of British Columbia Medal in Arts.

To commemorate Josef’s time at UBCO and his many contributions to the academic community, the Department of Economics, Philosophy and Political Science created an undergraduate prize, the Josef Zagrodney Prize in Philosophy. The $1,000 prize is given to the student, majoring in philosophy, who has the highest cumulative average in the philosophy courses required for graduation. The prize honours Josef by recognizing excellence in others. The first student to win the prize is Brian Murphy.

Brian is an immigrant from Ireland and now a proud permanent resident in Canada. He worked for many years in the IT industry prior to beginning his academic journey at UBCO. Graduating in 2020 with a double major in English and Philosophy, Brian is now eager to begin his MA in Global Studies right here at UBCO. His research will focus on how language can be coded to mediate, sublimate or hide political or social intent, from propagandistic or authoritarian to progressive or reformative, and how historical examples of this type of multi-meaning language are rampant in the fraught landscape of contemporary political ideology and social discourse.

Brian is active on campus and works as a Senior Writing Consultant in the UBCO Student Learning Hub (formerly the Writing Centre). Off campus, Brian spends much time reading, playing Trivia and trying to improve his guitar playing.

Interview with Brian Murphy

Q: Congratulations on winning the 2020 Josef Zagrodney Prize. Why did you choose to study at UBCO?

Brian Murphy: My studying at UBCO was utter serendipity. When I arrived in Kelowna from Ireland in 2007, and decided to leave the private sector to pursue my academic goals, I was just lucky to have a world-class university on my doorstep.

Q: You did a double major in English and Philosophy. Why did you choose Philosophy?

Brian Murphy: Rightly or wrongly, philosophy has always seemed to me the best foundation from which to understand anything and everything. It seemed to me that unlike studying disciplines such as geography, political science or art, philosophy was a way to learn how to examine, understand and critique the ideas that one finds in these disciplines. I’ve always been attracted to the broad applicability and flexibility of the philosophical method, and to the depth and precision with which philosophers examine supposedly simple ideas like justice, as well as the complexities of language or consciousness.

Q: Has your degree helped you think in detail about any particular issue or issues? Or has it made you a generalist?

Brian Murphy: The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. One of the major benefits of having studied philosophy is that I am a better generalist. I’ve sharpened my critical comprehension faculties and learned to arrange and clarify my own thoughts on a multitude of topics. Additionally, I’ve had to develop a healthy, yet critical skepticism which helps when navigating the myriad convolutions of modern life, from digital rights and social media morality, to the mire of ever-intensifying political ideologies and social-justice movements.

My philosophy studies have also helped me to appreciate how significant language is. Whether it’s merely clarifying definitions to facilitate good-faith conversations or searching for the basis of theories of meaning, language permeates almost every facet of human life. Something I am particularly fascinated by is the way in which we encode multiple or hidden meanings in our language to facilitate literary art or to send certain political or culturally sensitive messages.

Q: Do you have any advice for students who are considering taking just one or two Philosophy courses?

Brian Murphy: Absolutely go for it. The philosophy professors at UBCO are fantastic and fully committed to helping students get the most out of their studies. UBCO’s philosophy courses will certainly help students clarify and hone their ability to think clearly, not just in relation to whatever their major is, but in general.

Q: Do you have any advice for students who are considering majoring in Philosophy?

Brian Murphy: Whether you have a clear vision for what you want to do after university or not, a philosophy major is a great option because it lends itself to innumerable other disciplines. Obviously, philosophy is a discrete and vast field in itself, and can be pursued to graduate level and beyond, but if you decide you want to go on to further studies in law or business or journalism or science or tech, the skills learned in a philosophy degree are equally applicable and perhaps even a more advantageous basis from which to proceed. Alternately, if you decide to go directly into the workplace after majoring in philosophy, the communication, organization, reasoning and problem-solving skills learned by majoring in philosophy will be invaluable there too.

Q: Now that you’ve graduated, what are your plans?

Brian Murphy: I am all set to begin an MA in Global Studies here at UBCO in September 2020.

Anyone interested in supporting the Josef Zagrodney Prize can find further information at

Submitted by Professor Andrew Irvine, September 2020.