Who Studies Philosophy?

A propos of Sen. Marco Rubio’s ungrammatical comment that “we need more welders and less (sic) philosophers,” the American Philosophical Association has posted an intriguing list of prominent figures in government and politics, activism, academia, business, religion, writing, news and journalism, arts and entertainment, and sports who either majored in or otherwise studied (sometimes at the postgraduate level) philosophy.  It’s a fascinating list, worth reading through, but I was struck by a number of individuals whose political positions generally resemble those of Rubio and his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls.  Among them are:  William Bennett, Patrick Buchanan, Rudolf Giuliani, George Will, Carly Fiorina, Pope John Paul II, Ayn Rand, and Fox News commentator Juan Williams.  I wonder if any of them ever considered welding? 

My own favorite philosophy majors on the list are rather different: martial artist Bruce Lee, NBA coach Phil Jackson, Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, George Soros, Raisa Gorbachev, and, of course, comedians Steve Martin and Stephen Colbert, the most prodoundly philosophical pair of the lot.

7 thoughts on “Who Studies Philosophy?

  1. I’m no great follower of Rubio and pretty much concur in your comment above, but I cannot let the “ungrammatical” crack pass. While so far as I am aware, no English speaker uses fewer with mass nouns (e.g. *fewer butter), it is common in English and has been since Anglo-Saxon times to use less as well as fewer with count nouns. King Alfed himself did in the following passage:

    c888 K. ÆLFRED Boeth. xxxv. §5 [6]

    Swa mid læs worda swa mid ma, swæðer we hit ȝereccan maȝon.
    ‘Whether we may prove it with less words or with more.”

    So far as we are aware, the rigid “less with mass nouns; fewer with count nouns” stuff was concocted in 1770 by Robert Baker in his “Reflections on the English Language” He was commenting about less, and made it clear that it was his personal preference. But it got turned by the prescriptive grammarians into a “rule” – one of their many “rules” that turn out to be made up, fabricated, bogus, and not currently or ever reflected in the actual use of English speakers and writers.

    Here are two of many discussions by linguists of this:

    Language Log
    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/myl/languagelog/archives/003775.html

    The linguist Jonathan Owen
    http://www.arrantpedantry.com/2008/12/23/less-and-fewer/

  2. Certainly, the less/fewer distinction comes from the 18th-century attempt to codify and regularize English, but history, in this particular instance, is not the point. Rubio’s usage shows a carelessness with language that should make the rest of us cautious. It arises again when, in discussing the Paris terrorist attacks, he uses the phrase ‘clash of civilizations.’ I don’t think he has thought about the meaning of “civilization” any more than he ever considered the difference between less and fewer.

      • Please don’t deliberately misconstrue, which you are doing in both of your comments.
        Alfred, after all, was writing in a different language. His usages conform to his time, not ours. The point Hank is making has to do with contemporary English and contemporary usage. You know that.
        Your point is certainly legitimate but, for any but those with an interest in Anglo-Saxon, irrelevant. You know that, too.
        My point above hasn’t to do with conformity but with attention to language. You know that, as well.
        There’s a time and a place for contrariness, but it also can devolve into trolling. You know that.
        Please don’t be a troll.

  3. I want to thank Mr. Foster for providing evidence that Rubio’s comments may be less reflective of grammatical incoherence than of his and his party’s apparent desire to return in all respects to the world before liberty, equality, and enlightenment began to undermine ancient and traditional privilege and faith. Surely a politician eager to return to the world before 1789 will be eager as well to take up that era’s notions of language too.

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