Senator Rubio, Welders and Philosophers

“Welders make more money than philosophers,” said Mr. Rubio during last night’s Republican presidential debate. “We need more welders and less philosophers.”

No one on the stage seemed to remember John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, who observed,

“I must study politics and war [in order] that my sons may study mathematics and philosophy.”

Instead of raising the minimum wage, Mr. Rubio calls for re-tooling America’s educational system to prepare people for jobs so they’ll make more money. Education would become training for a specific job.

His contrast between welders and philosophers is more about liberal arts education than about wages. Classical liberal arts programs teach people how to think. Philosophers are thinkers.

There is an anti-intellectual streak in American culture. When a skilled debater scratches that itch, there is loud applause, as there was last night in Milwaukee.

In the search for simplicity, those who applauded Mr. Rubio’s swipe at philosophers ignored philosopher Bertrand Russell’s observation.

“To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.”

The stereotype of the philosopher as aloof and beside the point makes for an easy target and an immediate laugh. But governing is not like welding.  We need need good philosophers and good welders.

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy; neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” – John W. Gardner

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 11, 2015


8 thoughts on “Senator Rubio, Welders and Philosophers

  1. Gordon, I think our countrymen and these folks who envision them selves as “leaders” would be better servants if they would reflect for a moment on “The Good.” If pleased by the process they could proceed to examine the validity of the assumptions of their arguments – proposals. Observing businesses for 28 years – the biggest challenge is and always has been ETHICS.


  2. I see your point, but I read his comments differently. I rant against the idea that everyone should have a bachelors degree in order to make money. It feeds the diploma mills and costs unnecessary expense and anguish for students in college for the wrong reasons.

    Yes, I herald the importance of liberal arts learning, but I think people should understand that’s what it is, not a place to train for a job. Money is one of the least of reasons for in-depth, creative learning.

    I also am happy that I spent/spend my career in the thinking and research area in spite of the fact that I didn’t get rich doing it.


    • Mona, Thanks for the comment and for reminding us that a liberal arts education is not for everyone. As my homeowner association board presidency reminds me weekly, I need people who actually know how to do stuff!!! We need good welders. Good electricians. Good mechanics. No doubt, and they need to be trained well.

      The issue at hand at the point in the debate where Mr. Rubio made his quip was the minimum wage. Rubio pulled out the Joe the Plumber card, stating his opposition in a way that appeals to working people while tapping into anti-intellectual undercurrent of American culture. The statement was well crafted for just such an occasion. It drew a laugh that took him off the hook. BTW, notice the grammar: “more welders and less [fewer?] philosophers.”


        • I just found it a bit funny, but not so funny really, that the line about welders and philosophers, well-scripted before Mr. Rubio walked on the stage, failed the test between “less” and “fewer.” Pretty snobby, I know. But, hey, if you’re going to run for the highest office in the land, you expose yourself to criticism.


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