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Tuesday, February 10, 2009


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Or you can do what George Santayana did - acquire a large inheritance. That seems the best way to be an independent humanities scholar.

The only way I can fathom to become an "independent scholar" in the humanities is to have such a good name that you can produce essays, books, etc, that people would pay money for. But I can't fathom how to do that save for acquiring that reputation at a professorship.

It is sad, though, to think that the oly way one cna make any living teaching humanities subjects is by teaching others the subject so that they can go on to teach others the subject, etc.

"But I can't fathom how to do that save for acquiring that reputation at a professorship." What about Ayn Rand, Peikoff, et al.? There are other examples as well.


I have your website, so why would I need a doctorate? :)

Blake Reas
Garner NC

"What about Ayn Rand, Peikoff, et al.? There are other examples as well."

Rand made her living as a novelist. Peikoff was extremely fortunate to be handed the pecuniary rights to her works and makes his (and his organizaiton's) living on controlling those.

I am not familiar with any otehr examples, save for David Kelley, who "stuck out" with Peikoff and started his own small magazine.

Who ense is there, and how are they making their money?

Most people have more than one passion. Find something you can be passionate about while young that will, as Bill said, put enough money in your bank account that when older you can engage in your other loves. Plus, frankly you can study a lot of philosophy part time. Will it be as good as being able to dedicate days on end? Of course not. But simply cut out a lot of the TV, find interlocutors via blogs or mailing lists, buy books via Amazon, and convince a nearby library to give you access to JSTOR. That's what I do.

For instance I started up Amano Cocolate and love making gourmet chocolate (and we were actually featured on Unwrapped on the Food Network Monday night) but I still manage to keep up on a lot of areas of philosophy. Finding kind professors willing to be a sounding board helps (and keeping in touch with fellow students from college does as well). My dream is to get my company to the point where I can still run it but also return to studying more rigorously philosophy and physics. (Especially the latter where the highly mathematical nature means it's harder to do part time) Anyway, it works better than you might imagine. And with the internet there are an amazing number of resources out there (like this blog).


Good to hear from you again. Excellent advice, but you messed up the link. Go here: http://www.amanochocolate.com/.

People like you will keep the humanities alive while the universities degenerate into political correctness and get taken over by business-model barbarians. ( See Stanley Fish.) Bravo! I hope the current recession doesn't hurt you too much.

I've struggle with this problem for years. I'm currently working on a MA in philosophy, part time. My undergrad, however, was in Biblical Studies. My solution is to follow in the footsteps of George Berkeley. Become a pastor of a small church, spend time studying for the weekly sermon use every opportunity to study philosophical issues on the side. There are a great many issues of philosophy and theology that relate and give great insight to religious issues. Of course, this may or may not work depending on your religious affiliations and views.

On a side note, Bill, I've been reading your blog for over a year now. You have given me great things to think about and challenged me as often or more than my own schooling.

D A,

Thanks for the kind words. I'm happy to hear that you have derived some benfit from my scribbling.

Yes indeed, there is the example of the good bishop. Another path is to become a monk.

The idea you seem to be touching on here, is that Academia is a subjective field, where ones success is largely random. Like any field, certainly, there is a certain amount of subjectivity. There are friends who help each other up, networks of buddies, people who write papers that just happen to impress the right people, and those get the government grants that impressed someone high up.
David Mamet offers the following advice on the world of acting. The world of theatre and cinema is far more competitive and subjective than academia, you should keep in mind. His point is that, in the long run, hard work does pay off. My opinion is that Academia is the same - one must work hard and make oneself a good philosopher. Eventually someone will recognise the fact:

"I don't know what talent is, and frankly, I don't care. An actor's concern with talent is like a gambler's concern with luck. Luck, if there is such a thing, is either going to favour everyone equally, or going to exhibit a preference for the prepared. When I was young, I had a teacher who said that everyone, in the course of a twenty year career, was going to get the same breaks - some at the beginning, some at the end. I second and endorse this observation as true. Luck, in one's businesses dealings, a talent, its equivalent on the stage, seem to reward those with an active and practicable philosophy."

I think you offer good advice, that one should be prepared to live within ones means. However, I think your questioner should understand that if he truely loves Philosophy, it is no sacrifice to do so. What is more exhilarating, than to spend hours upon hours working on what you love?

It's funny that Ayn Rand should be mentioned. As a Philosopher, she still made her living as a writer. She considered her primary goal to concretise her philosophy in the literary form. However, it was that love of expressing what she believed to be true that kept her going forward, in whatever form it took. She did live in poverty during the early 1900s in America, as an immigrant, before any social-welfare programs, living off of very little.
When one is talented and makes an effort to get oneself out there, and to make oneself known, one is rewarded.

So, I agree with you, there is a good deal of arbitrary selection in Academia, as in any profession (which is only exacerbated with the dependence on Government grants, which proliferate the need to live up to an arbitrary standard, rather than to produce anything valuable in a socially objective sense). However, I think you present a somewhat... dim vision of the future for your young friend!
Life just ain't that bad. :)

I puzzled over this for a long time. Growing up, there were three things I was passionate about - philosophy, writing and working with children. The first two of these are difficult to make a living in, at least at first, and the third will not earn you a fortune - I am never going to be rich! I am happy though - in an odd kind of way I've managed to keep all three of these passions in my life.

I graduated with my Philosophy BA (Hons) in 2003 from Leeds at the age of twenty-one, and went straight to King's College London to train as a paediatric nurse on a fast-track programme, finishing six months ago.

I now work full time as a neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurse in a beautiful English seaside city, am a member of the ethical research board for the hospital and write in my free time. In a few years I want to start my Masters, which will tie my two degrees together and will investigate the ethics base in neonatal nursing - the extent to which we value quality of life over the preservation of life at any cost, and whether medical advances leading to earlier survival can be justified.

My life is not that of an academic and it never will be - that is not the life I wanted. But I would say that it is possible to have a great love for a subject, study it exclusively for several years, and then continue to find ways to integrate it into your life without it being either your primary profession or merely a 'hobby'.

I love the life I've chosen and I hope, Bill, that your young correspondent will too, whatever path he or she takes :)

This post is a little old now, but, as such an itinerant philosopher, I feel inclined to opine:

One possibility is to look into overseas teaching jobs. If you don't mind living far away from the land of your birth, you can make a fairly good living doing part-time work. I've known a number of artists and philosophers who support themselves this way (including, for the moment, myself). Demand is still very high in China, Taiwan, and South Korea, among other places (the latter two pay especially well).

I'd also recommend Tim Ferriss's book, "The Four Hour Workweek", for plenty of inspiration on how to make a good living without being stuck in a 9-5 gig. Small import/export companies, freelance consulting work, and teaching all offer possible ways to support one's self; living in a pleasant country with a low cost of living (Costa Rica, Argentina, many places in Southeast Asia and Southern China) is often a possibility for the unattached philosopher as well.

The disadvantage, of course, is that this can be a very solitary path; you'll probably find more companionship and like minds in, say, Boston or San Francisco than you will in Bangkok or Xiamen (not to mention a more difficult time procuring good reading and research material; again, if you speak and read the local language, this may not apply).


Thanks for the suggestions. The Ferriss book looks interesting. There is also the old book Your Money or Your Life by Robin & Dominguez.

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