Author’s Note: The following post was mainly written in 2013. In trying to live that philosophy I learned quite a few lessons as well as realizing there is an omission in its core metaphor. Both the lessons and the omission made me reconsider and change my mind with respect to certain of its claims. Hence, I do not embody certain aspects of the philosophy stated below in my current life. You can read about the lessons and changes in my philosophy here.
“A new breed of philosophers is coming up: I venture to baptize them with a name that is not free of danger. From what I can guess about them, from what they allow to be guessed (since it is typical of them to want to remain riddles in some respect), these philosophers of the future might require in justice, perhaps also in injustice, to be described as those who attempt [Versucher]. The name itself is in the end a mere attempt and, if you will, a temptation [Versuchung].” – Friedrich Nietzsche, BGE, ‘The Free Spirit’, section 42.
It is ironic that a formal education in philosophy today ends like an early Platonic dialogue: in aporia.
It’s not just your wondering about how to find or create a job for yourself but the awkward fact that you paid an academic institution to have a professor of philosophy teach you with a straight face that the quintessential philosopher, Socrates, never required fees for teaching and that his brilliant student, Plato, who founded the Academy from which we derive the word “academic” from, didn’t charge any tuition fees either. In fact, the original philosophers were engaged in a fierce debate with the people that did: the sophists.
Philosophers did not charge for teaching because they were different from the sophists not so much in choice of subjects or methodology but in moral character and purpose.1
Philosophers were in love with wisdom. That’s what the word philosophy literally means: the love of wisdom. It is not the kind of love you have for ice-cream or a dispassionate academic interest but an eros2 for knowledge, beauty and the good. It was a calling – not an occupation; a destiny – not a choice.
Just like it is not up to you as to who you’re going to fall in love with, doing philosophy was an act of love that you couldn’t do with everyone. Others could enjoy the works of love but the benefits that the activity itself conferred were reserved for lovers, those whom the gods and daimones favored with that divine state. That is why we find Socrates in a dialogue telling Demodocus that it is not up to him whether Theages will benefit from becoming his pupil. To the philosophers the love they had for wisdom was something sacred. To subordinate truth to worldly success, to require money for an activity of love and teach anyone indiscriminately as long as they had enough money to pay for it, prostituting3 wisdom instead of loving her, was to be a sophist, not a philosopher.
Philosophers were not people who just theorized in the abstract but people who actively tried to live the conclusions and ideals they had discovered in the course of philosophical activity. In contrast, Pierre Hadot reminds us that “traditionally people who developed an apparently philosophical discourse without trying to live their lives in accordance with their discourse, and without their discourse emanating from their life experience, were called sophists.”4
By the time I finished my BA and MA in Philosophy I realized universities prepare you for becoming a professor of philosophy, in other words a sophist at worst, a scholar at best, but not a philosopher. Doing a PhD and the prospect of an academic career lost their appeal – but I was still in love with wisdom. I found myself knowing what to live for but not knowing how to make a living doing it.
So at some point I made a fateful decision: To keep philosophy as pure as it was sacred and attempt to return to it once I achieved financial independence by some other means. I could predict the danger of getting stuck in a vain rat race, so I made a promise to myself. I would give myself about as much time as it took me to get my BA, approximately five years. If I didn’t achieve financial independence by then, I would quit everything and return to philosophy regardless.
Like Odysseus leaving his Penelope behind, I journeyed for many years overseas. I ended up becoming an entrepreneur (see Linkedin profile), living in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where I met extraordinary people and made good friends while learning invaluable lessons on what it really takes for an idea to become reality, whether that was by organizing events, co-founding a startup, or building a community.
However, even though the activities I was engaged in could earn me a living, I never felt as alive as when I was doing philosophy. Instead of being financially independent I was actually captive to activities I did not do for their own sake. I even started doubting whether I was still in love with my Penelope. I had failed. So I quit everything and returned to the place where both philosophy and I were born and raised: Greece. I kept my promise.
I realized that in trying to avoid betraying philosophy I committed an even bigger betrayal: to live without working on what I love. That was my biggest mistake. When we don’t love our work, it might give us some freedom without ever freeing us. For no work makes free but the work of love.
So now I am back to the drawing board but I’m not the same man. My experiences in San Francisco and Silicon Valley have given me new skills and tools. My journeys to monasteries in Nepal and Japan have completed some of the pieces of the puzzle that I felt were missing. The final piece was reading Pierre Hadot’s What is Ancient Philosophy?
The Greek word for truth is aletheia (αλήθεια). Etymologically it means “not to forget”. Philosophy in antiquity was idealism in practice. But over the centuries most people calling themselves philosophers slowly forgot what philosophy is and have been living a lie that eventually turned philosophy into a shadow of itself and sometimes even into its opposite: sophistry. So it’s time to dare to be wise so that philosophy can be reborn.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the way I am publishing my works. If philosophy is idealism in practice, then any action should be in conformity to your ideals: that includes both the decision and the way you publish.
I want to live in a world where work is done out of love and freedom is achieved because of it. A world where creators are not afraid to declare their works as Free Cultural Works because they know they will be acknowledged, celebrated and rewarded out of gratitude, faith and trust rather than forgotten poor in obscurity. This might not be a world without money or private property, but a world where money and property are given and enjoyed in novel ways and for better reasons.
But such a world will not be born unless we start living it. With each other. Today. Right now.
Some have already started experimenting with it like the open-source and free software communities or brave musicians like Amanda Palmer.
I follow in their footsteps. I give you my work the same way I love it: freely, without complexity, vanity or forced requital. All my works, unless otherwise stated, are licensed under a Creative Commons License that establishes them as Free Cultural Works using version 1.1 of the definition as found in FreedomDefined.org. It makes the most sense given that after having worked in the intellectual property field for a few years I’ve come to the realization that many of the rules and regulations around intellectual property, though some originally intended to protect creators and budding entrepreneurs, are currently used to hinder innovation and the spreading of ideas while providing unfair advantage to companies and individuals who have the knowledge and resources to use the system to their advantage sometimes at the detriment of creators and society at large. Coming up with a better system for everyone is critical to global progress and while I’m not saying publishing under Creative Commons works for everyone, I believe it is a step in the right direction.
I find it ironic that a lot of people who claim they have a message to spread and want to help others, life-coaches, motivational speakers, self-help gurus etc. nevertheless make money a precondition for accessing that message. A monetary exchange by its very nature excludes those who have no money to exchange. While making money is not necessarily a bad thing, when someone puts money as the necessary condition for receiving their message they implicitly signify that it is less important than the money they require in order to give it, for if you have none, you won’t be getting the message. Irrespective of what they may say in theory, in practice they are saying that getting your money is more important than delivering their message.
This is a fundamental distinction between the professional and amateur mindset. Between the sophist and the philosopher. Between doing things for the sake of the things themselves rather than as a means to something else. Between doing something in the spirit of love and doing something for the money. In light of this line of reasoning and in accordance to my ideals, there is no monetary requirement to enjoy access to my works.
Finally, there is also an epistemological reason why it makes little sense to assign a binding value to your own works.
The ancient Greeks believed that “The proper judge of the expert is not another expert, but the user : the warrior and not the blacksmith for the sword”5 the reader and not the writer for the work, the citizen and not the politician for the policies. By assigning a specific value to my works that is binding to all I am depriving the proper judges, the users, the freedom to assign one themselves.
I trust that, if you find my work valuable and want to support the way of life that creates it, you will assign it its due and consider becoming a paid subscriber.
See ibid. and Xenophon’s Memorabilia: Recollections of Socrates, Book 1:
“Returning to the charge at another time, this same Antiphon engaged Socrates in conversation thus:
Antiphon: Socrates, for my part, I believe you to be a good and upright man; but for your wisdom I cannot say much. I fancy you would hardly dispute the verdict yourself, since, as I remark, you do not ask a money payment for your society; and yet if it were your cloak now, or your house, or any other of your possessions, you would set some value upon it, and never dream, I will not say of parting with it gratis, but of exchanging it for less than its worth. A plain proof, to my mind, that if you thought your society worth anything, you would ask for it not less than its equivalent in gold. Hence the conclusion to which I have come, as already stated: good and upright you may be, since you do not cheat people from pure selfishness; but wise you cannot be, since your knowledge is not worth a cent.
Socrates: Antiphon, it is a tenet which we cling to that beauty and wisdom have this in common, that there is a fair way and a foul way in which to dispose of them. The vendor of beauty purchases an evil name, but supposing the same person have discerned a soul of beauty in his lover and makes that man his friend, we regard his choice as sensible. So is it with wisdom; he who sells it for money to the first bidder we name a sophist, as though one should say a man who prostitutes his wisdom; but if the same man, discerning the noble nature of another, shall teach that other every good thing, and make him his friend, of such a one we say he does that which it is the duty of every good citizen of gentle soul to do. In accordance with this theory, I too, Antiphon, having my tastes, even as another finds pleasure in his horse and his hounds, and another in his fighting cocks, so I too take my pleasure in good friends; and if I have any good thing myself I teach it them, or I commend them to others by whom I think they will be helped forwards on the path of virtue. The treasures also of the wise of old, written and bequeathed in their books, I unfold and peruse in common with my friends. If our eye light upon any good thing we cull it eagerly, and regard it as great gain if we may but grow in friendship with one another.”
From “The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy”, by Cornelius Castoriadis, in Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy, Kindle Locations 1447-1448, Kindle Edition, Oxford University Press, USA, 1991.