One of the things that seems the most bizarre about philosophy as discipline is its horrible record at producing an income. As people deeply knowledgable and interested in the big problems surrounding ethics, how humans ought to behave, and the meaning of life and the universe, you would think there would be a monetary value attached to that knowledge! Especially with a populace who is deeply uniformed, and does seem to be (at least tangentially) curious about the results yielded by modern disciplined philosophical discussion.

So it got me thinking. Is it possible to produce an economically viable philosophy company? What would such a company look like? And what kind of business model could it use?

Potential business models:

  • Call Centers | something like a pay per minute phone line that connects you to an informed individual with the worldview of your choice. (I would pay)
  • Churches | non-profit weekly secular meet-ups where those who do not follow philosophy as a discipline can sit and here a pragmatic lecture on how they ought to behave.
  • Books | While the idea of individual philosophers having financial success through selling books is nothing new, the idea of a company employing teams of philosophers to produce practical ethics manuals has not happened.
  • Subscription Service | Similar model as books, but as a paid subscription service online. This would have the benefit of regular updates.
  • Consultancy | This already exists to an extent with corporations higher experts in ethics to improve their image after some calamity.
  • Cooperative | Something of a non-profit collective of less serious but interested individuals paying to a service in which all can participate, but with a core committee of philosophers and employees keeping the system and discussion running.

What do you think? What kind of model do you feel is appropriate and feasible? Or is my whole concept seriously flawed? -

  • If you think there's no monetary value attached to philosophy you just have to look at the church, all the gurus etc. You just have to package yourself well if you want to make money as a philosopher.
    – apoorv020
    Jun 18 '12 at 8:38
  • Or business gurus. Jun 18 '12 at 11:29
  • While definitely an interesting concern, I'm a little worried about the way this is framed. Can you tell us a little bit more about your context and motivations? What might you be reading or studying that has made this an important concern?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jun 18 '12 at 18:07
  • @JosephWeissman 1. It doesn't makes sense to me that philosophy is not a well paying gig in modern society. 2. How can we use the myriad benefits of modern economic success for philosophy? Jun 18 '12 at 18:33
  • Neither of these strike me really as practical questions or challenges you're encountering in your study of a particular philosophical work or theory. Again I think it would be much more constructive if you could tell us a little more about the context and motivations behind the concern -- what you might be reading or studying that has made this question an urgent one for you; what you might have found out so far; what sort of answer you might be expecting; etc. I'm closing for the time being pending some clarification
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jun 18 '12 at 18:39

Your core supposition is wrong, look at its historical record: Universities are a large part of any modern economy. It's where people go to pursue philosophy in its widest sense. A PhD=Doctorate in Philosophy which reveals its historical roots. Would universities have been even envisaged without the marvel that was Platos Academy? Also consider how much Science is implicated in the economy, again this is an off-shoot of understanding the world empirically - a philosophical enterprise. That Science has become an autonomous activity and splintered into vast number of self-motivated disciplines is only a reflection of the success of the enterprise.

But you are also right: Philosophers pursuing Philosophy professionally are not rich, and at least here in the UK, it has something of an image problem. The problem runs deeper, as at some universities Philosophy departments are being run down, as they are seen to have no direct short-term economic benefit.

One can argue that the business model is not appropriate to the pursuit of Philosophy, that to squeeze it in serves only to cheapen it; and that it does vastly benefit society both socially and economically in subtle and sophisticated ways; and that business is myopic in looking only to the short-term future for profits, and the short term past for placing due credit.

  • Hmmm... While universities are a large part of the modern economy, I would hardly consider a profession that can principally only survive inside university, and even then suffers from low demand and poor image, a record of economic success. Jun 17 '12 at 23:07
  • Furthermore the idea the economic success cheapens something, or detracts from its value, is very odd to me, and needs to be further supported. The primary benefit would be that more people could devote more time to philosophy, as they would not need to supplement/produce their income with other activities. If you feel that having more people, having more time to devote to philosophy is not worth while and somehow a detraction, then I question your engagement to the discipline at all. Or do you feel philosophy really has no value? Jun 17 '12 at 23:11
  • One last thing. You cannot lay the success of all empirical enterprises at the feet of philosophy. Philosophy is under the empirical umbrella, not the other way around. Jun 17 '12 at 23:15
  • So you don't consider the invention of the microchip which has powered the last quarter century of explosive growth in IT in all its multifarious ramifications, and which goes back to the discovery of the electron an economic success? or to take another, how about bio-tech which traces it work back to the discovery of DNA? Jun 17 '12 at 23:23
  • Tell that to Leucipus & Democritus who in hypothesised atoms in 400BC. Or to the whole rationalist/empirical turn from mytho-poetic in Greek thought at around that time. Jun 17 '12 at 23:26

Your statement can be inverted: One of the things that seems the most bizarre about economy based on income as is its horrible record at producing the philosophical ideas.

In my opinion, economy based on income is something temporary, that will eventually perish, and the philosophy will stay, because it asks the most important questions about who we are and where we are going. This questions will always stay on topic.

The philosophy need not to produce income. The greatest philosophers haven't written their prominent works for profit, they asked the big questions because of this questions itself. If someone just wants money, he/she won't be the great philosopher, because great philosopher is someone who loves wisdom, so he/she dont' need the financial encouragement to be philosopher.

  • The inversion is really interesting. I agree that philosophy will be here long after the income based economy. But in the temporary, do you see an means of changing the paradigm? Jun 18 '12 at 17:20

Some philosophers seem to be doing a kind of "applied philosophy", some sort of service similar to psychoanalytic work... i'm not sure how it goes, but it does exist. It is known as philosophical clinic, as far as I'm concerned


This reminds me of the movie "I heart Huckabees", in which there are "existential detectives", who perform investigations to solve people's crisis.

  • Can you send a link? Jun 18 '12 at 17:20
  • @Fresheyeball: here ttp://www.thephilosophyclinic.com/FAQ.html
    – Tames
    Jun 19 '12 at 0:42

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