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!


  1. I completely agree. All the Presidential hopefuls have certainly been mouthing more philosophy than doing any welding.

    You have very nicely articulated what I had been feeling for some time. Conservatism , as we would understand, is far away from the fire breathing radicals who seem to be taking over the GOP. A conservative, to my mind, would be uncomfortable with gay weddings maybe, and would not want reckless expansion of social security and welfare but would be horrified at buying an AK47 at the corner store, horrified at higher defense spending, horrified at waging wars ceaselessly overseas, horrified at tax cuts, horrified by the irresponsible behaviour and obstructionism at Congress, and certainly horrified by the thought of nominating Trump or Carson for President.

    So yes Rand Paul. We certainly have to decide what is conservative and what is not.

    Very nice post.

  2. All right, I earned big points from Ramesh!!!! ;)

    Yes, these revolutionaries are no conservatives. In fact, they are not even revolutionaries--they are mere opportunists. I bet the GOP folks can't figure out how Trump and Carson ended up on top of the polls--not for just one week but for quite a while now. Their ascendancy, even if neither becomes the candidate, is a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all of us. The Economist had a good line that Trump might be the bastard spawn but the GOP parentage is all evident--the years of encouraging Trump with his anti-Obama created this very monster.

    Barry Goldwater set out to define what it meant to be a conservative and that effort paid off later even though he himself was defeated. Rand Paul seems to be the only one who is trying to get his people to think about the question. Meanwhile, on the other side, a young girl who campaigned for Goldwater wants to become the candidate for the Dems. Ah, the irony is killing me ;)

  3. Why do we need professional philosophers? Can't we all be amateur philosophers and professional something elses that could be called more productive? I don't need someone else telling me what to think.

    Bravo Rand Paul.

  4. "I don't need someone else telling me what to think"
    Philosophers don't tell others what to think, but by raising questions compel others to think. And, if the others are students, then philosophers teach them how to think. We don't need philosophers if we do not want people to think, especially for themselves.


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