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