Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The greatest Greek philosopher turns out to have anticipated Marco Rubio's concern about tension between welding and philosophy

"We need more welders and less philosophers."

     -- Marco Rubio in Republican candidates' debate, Nov. 10, 2015
Sen. Rubio didn't realize welding and philosophy are not in contention

Why ask for more or less (or fewer) of either specialty when you can have both? Consider the following lost Platonic dialogue:

Socrates: Why, good morning, Welton. Where have you come from? I haven't seen you around Athens recently.

Welton the Welder: I've been in Ephesus, checking on some of my recent work there.

Socrates: And what did you find?  Do your welds in Ephesus hold?

Socrates attempted to resolve the matter.
Welton the Welder: Couldn't be firmer. Each one is still as certain as a sophist's fee.

Socrates: That's a sure thing, all right. So, good for you. But, Welton, have you still found time to search after wisdom?

Welton the Welder: Indeed I have, Socrates. But the more I work at welding, the more I seem preoccupied by the search after true knowledge. And the questions become all the greater. So I'm glad the gods have brought you into my path this morning.

Socrates: I'm happy for that, too. What in particular is troubling you?  Maybe I can help.

Welton the Welder: I'm wondering about the essence of the metals that are subject to forge welding, the only technique known to us in the ancient world. Here's the question: Does the application of heat create a new entity out of two forged metals? Or is their individual essence retained?

Socrates: That depends on how you consider the nature of heat.

Welton the Welder: Indeed. So, does the application of heat introduce a third essence through the welding process?

Socrates: That could only be true if heat, like the metals, were itself a substance. Do you think it is?

Welton the Welder: No, indeed, Socrates. Heat is a quality of heated bodies, but is not a part of their essence.

Socrates: You are right. But does the fusion of the two metals through forge welding create a third substance, with a separate essence?

Welton the Welder: I don't see how it could, though it's true you have a new thing in whatever you welded that you didn't have before.

Socrates: True enough, Welton. But the essence of the metals remains. Now, with the eventual introduction of arc welding, especially the use of a non-consumable tungsten electrode producing the weld, for example, you have to consider the degree to which a new substance comes into play, not just the application of heat from the forge. And that's a long way off.

Welton the Welder: To be sure, Socrates. But I must ask you about soldering. That definitely introduces a third substance, but at a lower heat than welding.

Socrates: In the case of soldering, then, there is no question that the essence of three substances is involved, and heat most assuredly does not disturb their integrity.

Welton the Welder: That's what I think, too, Socrates. But don't the ever-advancing techniques you alluded to open up the likelihood that the accomplished weld may be something quite different from the metals one is welding? Isn't technique itself something with an essence as substantial as the materials to which it is applied?

Socrates: You are thinking quite well on this subject, Welton, which is wearying me somewhat. I hold that heat, no matter how generated, does not change real essences, any more than cold does. The qualities of a substance may change, but the substance itself is permanent and inviolable. (He looks far off, sees someone he recognizes approaching, and frowns.) Besides, here comes Hume, who will cast doubt on the causal link between the metals unwelded, the heat applied to them, and the metals welded, so let's go off in opposite directions, shall we? Berkeley is having a dinner party tonight; perhaps he will have something to say on this matter. See you there, I hope.