In 2015, Marco Rubio decisively alienated the philosopher voting base by suggesting that philosophers would be better off as welders.
“Welders make more money than philosophers,” the Florida senator claimed during a Republican presidential debate. “We need more welders and less philosophers.”
Philosophers briefly became the mildly disgruntled subjects of political scrutiny, as various publications rushed to fact check Rubio’s claim on earnings and the New York Times asked philosophers, welders, and one philosopher-turned-welder to weigh in.
Now, it seems, Rubio has flip-flopped on his assessment. He is in favor of philosophical thinking, he announced to Twitter.
Rubio credits Stoicism with showing him the value of philosophy. This school, which emphasizes using reason as a tool to avoid being controlled by both emotions and external circumstances, is hugely popular at the moment—though it does have a tendency to be packaged as a life hack.
The senator’s critique and re-assessment of philosophy is not simply a matter of subjective opinion. Rubio’s initial criticism reflected his broader point that vocational training is more useful than abstract academic study. He is not the only one to dismiss the value of philosophical thinking, and political pressures have led to universities across the country with tight budget restraints to severely cutting back on humanities departments.
Proposals to make comparable cuts at the University of Wisconsin, eradicating 13 majors within the humanities and social sciences, prompted Rubio to speak out about his revised view.
Philosophers and other academics need this support, as funding cuts eat away at their potential to hire professors and conduct research. Those outside academia might not notice a sharp drop in philosophers as they would a decline in welders, but society would suffer without philosophy. The field has many uses—from developing artificial intelligence to solving complex ethical dilemmas. At its core, philosophy teaches careful thinking.
Certainly many in Rubio’s own field would benefit from a few lessons.