Postmodern Conservative


Welders Who Read Wittgenstein

So our Forfare Davis (aka Pseudoplotnius) shared in the thread the best response to Rubio’s preferential option for the vocation of welders over philosophers.

It was tweeted by Jon Lovett: “Somewhere there’s a welder reading Wittgenstein and wondering why he has to choose.”

How poetic is that! It’s deserves to be the message of a classic country song.

Just as Jefferson said that the greatness of America was farmers who read Homer, we might be bragging today about both the percentage of our welders who thoughtfully appreciate Wittgenstein and the percentage of our Wittgenstein lovers who can make their livings as welders or mechanics or plumbers or electricians and so forth. Those “outcomes” or “complementary competencies” could be easily measured!

So what’s great about welders and such? They can make their living outside our dominant system that features a nerdy and self-satisfied cognitive elite on one hand and the increasingly scripted or proletarianized work of most ordinary people on the other. They don’t have to degrade themselves with the workplace virtues of being compliant and collaborative. Our heroes used to be cowboys, now they are the men and women who can secure their independence through skills that are both manually and intellectual demanding. Let’s hope their destiny is not to all be replaced by robots. (It almost surely isn’t.)

Being a welder is surely better than making your living as an adjunct or temporary faculty member (increasingly the fate of philosophy PhDs) or even as a tenure-track faculty member stuck with conducting highly specialized research that produces publishable breakthroughs by knowing more and more about less and less and having your teaching increasingly scripted by the intrusive and leveling requirements of accreditation. How many of those “philosophers” really have the leisure to savor what Wittgenstein or Plato or Thomas Aquinas have to say?

Well, enough with idealizing welders. The bigger point, as Pseudo says, is that when it comes to higher education, our goal should be both to prepare students for the 21st-century competitive marketplace and to read Wittgenstein and other real books. There are, after all, two kinds of lifelong learning, and the first is pretty impoverished without the second.

Nobody really has choose between a vocational education and a philosophical one.

It’s not true that we’re all called to be philosophers in some narrow or precise sense. But, as St. Augustine says, none of us is too good to be exempt from having to work, from having to support oneself and one’s own and practicing the virtue of charity. And all of us are called in some sense to contemplate, to reflect on who we are as persons given the singular privilege of being born to know, love, and die — and who have unique and irreplaceable personal destinies that take each of us beyond the limits of our biological being.

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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