Marco Rubio, Welding, and Philosophy

“Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” ~ Marco Rubio Rubio’s recent comments have had some traffic since the most recent (39th?!) Republican presidential debate. (The scrutiny you receive as a presidential candidate is only one of the perks of running for office). The response on social media was as you might expect. The omniscient fact-checker gods flew in with their pronouncements on the Truth of how much philosophers really make. We also saw a host of articles written in defense of the learning of philosophy at the university level. Again, nothing surprising there. What did surprise me was the either/or nature of the debate on vocational vs. academic training. Either you think we need more vocational training in the manual trades or you think that philosophy is a study worthy of time, effort, and money. I smell a false dichotomy.

I’m qualified to address this because I have enthusiastically worked in the manual trades while pursing the liberal arts education that I wish began for me in high school. I have aspirations for pursuing pastoral ministry (when I grow up), and I have come to think that my apprenticeship as a carpenter has broadened and enriched my life experience for the kind of work that I’ll be doing. Manual competence changes the way we see and act in our world.

Probably the most surprising component of the manifold responses to the debate was the use of Matthew Crawford to support the study of philosophy. Indeed, Crawford does encourage young people to consider studying philosophy at the university level. However, Crawford, a philosopher-turned-motorcycle-mechanic, wrote his first book taking a jab at the dichotomy of “brain jobs” vs “manual jobs”. I’m thinking Plato and Aristotle wouldn’t have bought the distinction either.

I’m making no arguments about which field offers more pay because -to be frank -I don’t really care. If you’ve got the money to spend on a philosophy degree, have at it. Philosophy is wonderful. It’s a way of life. I do wish that the philosophers would take more strides, like Crawford, to encourage people to pursue the manual trades as a meaningful way to learn the world and as a means of attaining wisdom. Philosophers would better serve themselves in working to erase the popular stigma against philosophy by creating widespread interest in the history of ideas and the life of the mind. As Gracy Olmstead helpfully suggested, how about philosopher-welders?