About Those Philosophers ...

Nov 18, 2015

It has been a week since presidential candidate Marco Rubio launched his tirade against higher education in general and the humanities and social sciences in particular.

“Welders make more money than philosophers,” he claimed. “We need more welders and less philosophers.”

We have now had a week to digest this statement and check the facts … and, big surprise, the facts simply do not add up. Not only do philosophy majors make more money over the lifetime of their careers but -- more importantly -- we might actually need more philosophers.

Many of the careers that Rubio would have us impart to the next generation of students might not exist in a decade. Not only have manufacturing jobs been outsourced to robots, but a significant component of intellectual and creative work can now be accomplished by algorithm: stocks trading, technical writing, transportation services, and even lawyers -- Rubio’s own career path.

In 2014, researchers at Oxford University conservatively estimated that 45% of all U.S. jobs could be automated out of existence within a decade. And guess who is thinking about and working to resolve the social, political, and cultural problems caused by this massive transformation in what used to be called the labor market: philosophers.

Today philosophers are not calculating “the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.” Today philosophers are calculating the costs and benefits of our technology and the impact it will have on our lives.

It is, then, the philosopher who might be our best defense against the impending robot invasion.

I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my perspective