Thursday, December 24, 2015

Welding and Philosophy

Lawrence Hall Hall, HSG

Welding and Philosophy

Recently a candidate for public office stated that America needs fewer philosophers and more welders.

Someone countered this allegation, and then someone else counter-countered, and then I turned the page and read the funnies.

One concludes that those promoting this artificial quarrel are neither welders nor philosophers, for while not all philosophers are welders, all welders are philosophers.

“Philosophy” (I’m told the word is Greek; I don’t know any Greek beyond “Kyrie Eleison.”) means, quite simply, love of wisdom. By extension, philosophy applies to rational thought.

Roget’s International Thesaurus, 3rd Edition, 1962 lists 68 elementary metals, 101 alloy metals, and eight leaf metals. This fifty-year-old book, an ordinary desk reference for any reader, mentions 177 different metals. A welder would respond with “Only 177? What a quaint old book. This must be for children, for there are many more metals than that.” The welder knows this because he is a philosopher, a lover of wisdom.

Welding is the science of applied metallurgy. A welder accomplishes a lifetime of study and a whole lot of rational thinking in order to cut, bend, blend, and shape those 177+ metals or any combination thereof in the ways he (or she) wants. The welder does not cut, bend, blend, or shape those metals without a plan. He cannot plan to cut, bend, blend, or shape metals without a deep knowledge of metallurgy, electricity, chemistry, physics, geometry, gasses, health, safety, and goodness knows what else. A welder might cut, bend, blend, and shape metals on a high building on a high mountain, where the changing air means he must adjust his chemistry, or far beneath the waves, where he must adjust his chemistry, know all about deep-water diving, and watch out for sharks.

A welder must also ask himself if he may with good conscience cut, bend, blend, and shape metals for specific purposes. If he is part of a team maintaining an oil field his conscience is clear, for despite the facile opinions – hardly rational thoughts - of the shallow-minded, drilling for oil is a very good thing. Without oil we don’t exist. If, however, a welder is asked to help construct a gallows, a bomb, a warship, or some other engine for the destruction of his fellow humans he will want to search his soul in the matter. Sergeant Kalashnikov may have developed his rifle with only the safety of the Soviet state in mind, but in the end neither he nor the Soviet State could control his invention, which has since been used against the Soviet State, its successor state, and lots of other folks.

To infer, then, that a welder is not a philosopher is a failure in philosophy, a failure to think, a failure to love wisdom. One might as well (or unwell) say that a woman cannot be a mother because she is also a daughter and a doctor, that a pilot cannot also be a cowboy and a merchant, or that Saint Paul could not be an Apostle because he was also a tentmaker and a Roman citizen. All humans, as Plato is said to have said (I’ll ask him the next time I see him), by nature want to know things. Knowledge does not come packaged in discrete categories. Thus, a farmer is by nature a biologist, chemist, geologist, and lots of other things, and to put all this knowledge together, that is, to synthesize it, he must also be a philosopher. Dreams and wishes and hopes and ideologies do not make the corn grow.

A politician who makes a public statement suggesting that philosophers and welders are discrete categories of being is either not thinking or is thinking malevolently. Perhaps the politician does not want philosophers – that is, ordinary thinkers – because they might examine his finances, his writings and speeches, his ideologies, and his actions with and against others, and determine for themselves whether or not he is worthy to represent them.

Roman legend speaks of Cincinnatus, a farmer and a wise man (for they are the same thing), who was plowing his field when a deputation of citizens came to ask him to lead Rome and save the City from invaders and from its factions. So Cincinnatus left his plow, took his cloak from the fence post where he had laid it, and went to rule Rome for a year. When the year was over, and Rome was saved, Cincinnatus returned to his farm, flung his old cloak over the same fence post, and continued his plowing.

That’s the stuff – not a philosopher-king, but a philosopher-worker.

Tyrannies cannot exist if there are philosophers; republics cannot exist without them.


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