Ever since Sen. Marco Rubio’s comments about vocational training during last Tuesday’s Republican debate, I’ve been getting letters from friends, students, and former students who know my checkered past. Like this one:
Inquiring minds, or at least impish ones, want to know why you, with what may be unique expertise, haven't weighed in on the welders vs. philosophers controversy. Seems to me we have, in your very being, some pretty strong evidence that the two aren't mutually exclusive.
Here is what the Senator said: “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational training. Welders make more money than philosophers! We need more welders and less philosophers!”
Here is what I wish he had said: “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational training. People in the trades are employed in skillful and honorable work, and make a decent living for their families. It’s not for me to say how many welders and philosophers we need, but we need them both.”
The Senator’s line about welders making more money than philosophers has been flayed in the media because it happens to be false; over their lifetimes, people who have seriously studied philosophy do make more money. But that is just a distraction. Suppose philosophers really did have smaller incomes. Is money the only good reason for choosing what to do with one’s life? Perhaps we could find a philosopher to explain what is wrong with that way of thinking.
As to how we need to have fewer philosophers – I seem to recall that the Athenians said something like that before executing Socrates. No doubt we would be better off with fewer sophistical philosophers, the kind who have forgotten that “philosophy” means “love of wisdom.” But we won’t get rid of sophists by making fun of the philosophical life, and it would be wonderful if more people loved wisdom.
By the way, you can love wisdom without majoring in philosophy. You might even love wisdom and be a welder.
Or a carpenter.