America’s Hands-On Hegelian

John Kaag in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Photo_76003_landscape_650x433When the Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said that his country needed more welders and fewer philosophers, most listeners took him to be taking an anti-intellectual jab at academe, at the cultural and economic viability of high theory. Many of my philosophy colleagues came to the defense of our discipline, supplying statistics that demonstrated the economic payoff from pursuing the love of wisdom.

That response, however, sidesteps what might be most disturbing about Rubio’s comment: the suggestion that welders cannot be philosophers and philosophers cannot be welders. Theoreticians have always been mocked for being only loosely tethered to the world of human affairs (think of Aristophanes’ characterization, in The Clouds, of Socrates as hopelessly detached, flying solo in his balloon). And many philosophers, like Plato, have returned the favor by dismissing the rest of the world as cave dwellers. The advent of philosophy as an academic discipline in the 20th century has done nothing to ease this tension, and we have returned, once again, to the disturbing point where statesmen call for the end of theorizing.

More here.