Thursday, November 12, 2015

Philosophy talk at the GOP debate?

The email from the long-time (measured in blog-years) debating partner read:
"Welders make more money than philosophers.  We need more welders and less philosophers.”      
- Thus spake the junior Senator from the state of Florida at yesterday's GOP debates. Surely you have to post on that :)"
I stopped watching the debates a long time ago; it is all ackamarackus, as I blogged a while back.  So, of course, I had no idea about what went on during the debate, until I read about that much later.  But, this philosophy versus welding is too good to pass up.  However, I want to approach it from a perspective that might not be what the good emailer intended ;)

First, we will dispense with the basics: Marco Rubio is wrong.  The average welder does not make anywhere near the average earnings of philosophers.  Nor does the average welder earn higher than those who majored in philosophy.

A point that is a tad more than the basics: the job market suggests that there is a shortage of welders, and it does not seem like there is a shortage of philosophers.  In that case, a follow-up question might be this: why don't welders get paid a lot more if there is a shortage?  I will leave that as an exercise for the interested reader. ;)

Those two points aside, here is the real issue that I have with Rubio's comment: He seems to have conveniently overlooked that his comment and the debate itself are essentially philosophy.  It is all about philosophical issues over which people disagree--within the GOP, and among everybody else too.

In his commentary, John Dickerson parenthetically notes:
Indeed, one of the evening’s most interesting exchanges revolved around the philosophical question of what it means to be a conservative
Rand Paul apparently got some time to air out the philosophy:
We have to decide what is conservative and what isn’t conservative,
Hey, guess what?  That's philosophy!
The father of modern conservatism is Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century British political philosopher who was deeply suspicious of radicals of any stripe. Burke generally viewed prudence and stability as the guiding lights of conservatism. “A statesman, never losing sight of principles, is to be guided by circumstances,” he wrote, in an oft-quoted passage, “and judging contrary to the exigencies of the moment he may ruin his country for ever.”
To put it simply, Trump is no Burkean.  Nor is Rubio, or anybody else.  They might reflect a Burkean conservatism on an issue here or there, but never consistently.  (For that matter, one might even wonder what it meant for Burke to be Burkean.)
The Burkeans have been losing ground in the Republican Party for a while now. Too often their old conception of conservatism strikes others in the G.O.P. as a form of surrender or, at the very least, an acceptance of the liberal status quo.
Yes, we need welders and we need to train those who might be interested in welding.  But, it is stupid, to say the least, that we don't need to educate people in philosophy!  To a large extent, the mess that we find ourselves in is a result of politicians and the higher education industry pooh-poohing the old-fashioned ideas, which some of us cherish, that students need rigorous schooling in such important ideas.

What truly shocked me was this: Ted Cruz has made references to John Rawls. Cruz writes:
Republicans should conceptualize and articulate every domestic policy with a single-minded focus on easing the ascent up the economic ladder.
We should assess policy with a Rawlsian lens, asking how it affects those least well-off among us. We should champion the 47 percent.
Imagine an electorate educated and knowledgeable enough to take up Rand Paul's challenge on defining what it means to be conservative, and to know what "a Rawlsian lens" means and how Cruz would champion the 47 percent without going the liberal route.  If we can produce such an educated electorate who can think through the philosophical ideas, then we will truly be an exceptional country that will be a shining city on a hill--and I might even vote for a conservative then!

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