As one of what is likely a small minority of contemporary philosophers who have ever used an acetylene torch or arc welder, this question is particularly interesting for me. Marco Rubio’s claim that we need more welders than philosophers during the last Republican presidential debate is of course the impetus for asking this unusual question.
Unsurprisingly, reactions were varied. Some welders appreciated the attention to their profession, a field which has many openings to fill at the moment. Most philosophers thought that Rubio missed the mark. And fact-checkers were quick to check his claim that welders make more money then philosophers. On this point, he was simply incorrect.
I agree with him that we need more welders than philosophers, despite the fact that I have a separate blog specifically dedicated to philosophy, and despite the fact that I spend a great deal of time reading the works of philosophers. But only to the extent that those are mutually exclusive endeavors.
I recognize that as a society, we have placed an excessive value on being an intellectual, and that as a result many folks waste a lot of time bantering about vaguely philosophical notions, spinning in circles around these ideas because they don’t have the training and discipline to really benefit from the practice of philosophy. I would not discourage them from gaining that training and discipline, but I would suggest that it would be just as legitimate a path to go become a welder and stop worrying about whether or not they have solved the debate between advocates of determinism, compatibilism, and libertarian free will.
It might even be true that they would be happier as a result of ceasing their efforts to be a philosopher. I just don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that as a technology professional working in the IT field, my life has been made inestimably better by the practice of philosophical discipline. My search for the true, the good, and the beautiful by way of the study of epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics has been quite fruitful. I would hope that this would be the case for members of other professions as well.
In general, I think it’s quite valuable to any nation to have citizens who are people actively engaged with the seeking of wisdom, because it is our best chance of improving our nation in a country of, by, and for the people, and it is the people who determine our nation’s course. It also seems fairly obvious that an increase in the love of wisdom on the part of our elected leaders could be beneficial.
So I would suggest that we need more philosopher-welders, people who make things that provide for our material needs and at the same time seek the wisdom that provides for our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs. All in all, we need more philosopher-welders and more politicians with philosophical discipline so that wisdom is distributed just as widely as our money.