Whether to Weld or Philosophize?

In a story which no doubt hit very close to home for our own Sam Jimison, Senator Marco Rubio offered this at the recent Republican debate:

For the life of me I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.

Setting aside his disheartening grammar, Rubio's assertions have set off an interesting discussion of the (decidedly non-exclusive) pursuits of techne (τέχνη) and theoria (θεωρία):

From Salmon's article,

There are lots of reasons to like philosophy. For one thing, it’s cost-efficient. A welder needs a large infrastructure of metal and heat to do her job, while philosophers are cheap even by academic standards. (As the old joke has it, a mathematician is the second-cheapest professor at any college: All she needs is a pencil and an eraser. But the cheapest is the philosopher, who only needs the pencil.)

But that’s not why we need more philosophers. The real reason for philosophers is that they are truly the people who will shape the future. Rubio himself, just seconds before his paean to welders, admitted that “if you raise the minimum wage, you make people more expensive than machines”. But the fact is, of course, that people are already more expensive than machines, and the cost of machines, which has been steadily declining for the past 200 years, is going to continue to fall well below even today’s minimum wage. Humans haven’t been able to compete with machines since the days of John Henry, and it’s folly to think they could effectively do so today.

A philosopher, on the other hand, is, at heart, anybody who thinks clearly and rigorously about difficult problems. Sometimes, the issues are directly philosophical – how self-driving cars should be programmed, for instance, or how science should approach technologies like Crispr. But philosophical skills are much more broadly applicable. Hedge fund legend George Soros studied philosophy, for instance. So did PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Stewart Butterfield, the founder and CEO of Slack, has two philosophy degrees. And while I don’t think there were any welders on the panel Tuesday night, there was at least one person with a philosophy degree: Carly Fiorina.

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