Marco Rubio, You Are Right. However...

"We need more welders and less philosophers"

Marco Rubio

We do need welders, but we need problem solvers even more.

Someday perhaps Marco Rubio will get a chance to meet David Spiegelhalter, as I did when Professor Sir Spiegelhalter spoke at a salon hosted by my friend Manolis Kellis in the latter’s home. His talk was a truly inspiring advocacy for a new academic discipline, which he calls “Problem Solving.”

Since then David and I have been corresponding about the importance of finding practical applications for the work of academia.

In preparation for this blog post I paraphrased something David had written earlier and asked whether I had gotten it right. In his reply he clarified it as:

"I don't believe that statistics exists as an independent academic discipline - it's an 'enabling technology' that is used to solve problems.

Good luck with this essay.”

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter

Later, I sent this:

Dear David,

A thought I'd like to share: Problem solving is to philosophy as engineering is to science.


To which David replied:



OK, enough bragging (for now :)).


We need welders, but we need problem solvers even more.

Here's an example of the kind of problem solving we need:

Open-carry activists have created a problem. They insist upon their right to carry loaded weapons into restaurants, and have intimidated restaurant owners who don't allow it. Meanwhile, diners are rightly alarmed when someone carrying a loaded assault rifle enters the restaurant. Is he just “exercising his right” or is he a mentally unstable person intent on committing mass murder?

On the website Philosophy Questions Every Day, University of North Dakota philosophy professor Jack Russell Weinstein tackles the question. Restaurant customers should “Just leave, unceremoniously, and fast.” and adds “But here is the key part: don’t pay. Stopping to pay in the presence of a person with a gun means risking your and your loved ones’ lives; money shouldn’t trump this. It doesn’t matter if you ate the meal.”

Professor Weinstein has used his understanding of philosophy to come up with a good, practical solution (leaving unstated the fact that the restaurant manager will have something to say, perhaps through lawyers, to the open carry folks.) That's the sort of thing that philosophers should be doing: applying philosophical principles to the solving of real problems of governance and behavior, just as engineers apply scientific principles to the solving of a different kind of problems.

Philosophers who just study and teach the five-to-eight branches of philosophy and never get around to putting that knowledge to practical use give philosophy the reputation it has earned for being an irrelevant, academic, ivory tower escape from the needs of real life. If they were to take the next step, analyze real world problems and boldly offer solutions crafted from their knowledge, people like Marco Rubio would lose their disdain for the profession and would learn to look to it for solutions to difficult problems.

In my work I endeavor to recruit people to build PKI-based businesses.

If you’re not familiar with PKI that’s good. If you are familiar with PKI then you’ve probably been taught to think of it as a technology, which is not good.

Yes, PKI puts some fascinating technologies to work solving problems – typically little problems because that’s all it’s good for if you think of PKI as just a technology.

If on the other hand when you think of PKI you step back to see the huge problems it can solve, that is, if you see PKI as it was originally conceived, then you realize that PKI is a whole lot bigger than technology.

So let's step back.

No, further.

Step waaaaay back.

And think.

PKI Done Right

Is More Philosophy Than Technology

Contemporary business-speak tends to toss around the word “philosophy” when “method” or “framework” is meant. This is not that. This is about philosophy; and particularly its components epistemology, logic, ontoloogy and ethics.

Philosophy asks questions. Here are a few useful philosophy-PKI questions:

Epistemology: How do we come to know something? How do we gather and use evidence of identity in such a way as to increase the reliability of what we perceive to be knowledge?

Logic: If a puzzle made with one number can only be solved with another mathematically-related number, how do we use such a “puzzle kit” to create secure and habitable information spaces?

Ontology: How does the disciplined use of concepts and words in building codes and zoning help to make buildings habitable? How has the lack of discipline in information technology hurt its effectiveness? How can we apply ontological discipline to digital facilities to help make them habitable?

Ethics: People behave more responsibly in an environment where they can be held accountable for their actions. How do we use PKI to build such environments?

Problem Solving is to Philosophy as Engineering is to Science.

Learn more about PKI, and particularly about PKI Done Right, at