Postmodern Conservative

Senator Rubio, Philosophers’ Lives Matter

Marc Guerra wrote me to say that if we had been at the Republican debate, we would have rushed the stage shouting the above. Actually, Rubio wasn’t the only philosophy hater. Kasich and Cruz chimed in too.

Rubio apparently has praised welders and dissed philosophers often on the campaign trail. It’s hard to know what he means by a philosopher, and so the comparison can be understood in various ways. Someone might say, following Socrates, that a real philosopher — the guy who has no time for anything else but philosophy — lives in 10,000-fold poverty and sponges off his rich friends. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Professors of philosophy do okay, eventually. Mid-career, they typically make twice what welders do.

It impresses Rubio that a welder with a year’s training can start to make decent bucks at 18. That is impressive, in fact. And it does show that a college degree (accompanied perhaps by big loans) is not required to make a decent living. Let’s keep things that way by not making up degrees for every technical task — like Welding Studies or Welding Management.

Contrary to Rubio, it really is true that philosophy majors are well prepared (better prepared than most anyone else) for law school, graduate school, even getting an MBA. But they can’t just hang up their shingles and open philosophy offices or find philosophy positions at corporations. Probably the second-richest person — Fiorina – on the stage in Wisconsin was a philosophy major. No welders, though.

Thanks, in part, to guys like Rubio, gen-ed requirements in philosophy and related fields are shrinking, and the number of tenure and tenure-track positions for instructors of philosophy is dropping rapidly. Overall, it’s a really bad time to get a PhD in philosophy, although it’s always a good time to devote part of your life to the study of philosophy. People who are all about philosophy probably need to get less careerist about it.

So the ideal should be the philosopher welder – the welder who philosophizes. But nothing in our system of higher education is about training that all-round guy. Both welding and philosophizing excellence might suffer some from not devoting one’s whole life to a single endeavor. But Socrates really was kind of a jerk; we should all practice the virtues of charity and generosity and be good citizens and dutiful creatures and responsible family men and women. Maybe higher education should address all the pleasures and responsibilities of free and relational beings living in light of the truth.

And welding — like motorcycle repair (Matt Crawford) — is much more of a high-I.Q pursuit than people think. There’s room for philosophizing, and especially for reading real books written by philosophers, in the life of the welder who also has time for his family, his friends, his country, and his church.

One of Berry College’s most erudite and profound graduates in philosophy ever makes his living as Berry’s most valuable IT guy, deploying skills he first picked up on his campus job as part of Berry’s premier work program. Maybe more colleges should develop work programs that teach students genuinely marketable skills — by actually working for money and not faking it for college credit. The brand should be work for cash and philosophy (and literature etc.) for credit; that’s what goes on on our campus.

We’d be about preparing the welders, IT guys, artisans, the creative technologists with their 3D printing, and so forth for the soul-enhancing lifelong learning they can responsibly enjoy in their abundant leisure time. The young man I just referred to is still studying lots of philosophy, maybe more than he would if he were stuck in the soul-sucking regimen of a PhD program or as an instructor in “competency-based” higher education.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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