I’ve been asked by at least one potential contributor about the magazine’s use of the Medium.com paywall.
Most of what I write does go behind the paywall. My reasoning? I need to make money from my writing. I spent over $200,000 in money I didn’t have learning the structures and facts and authors and readings that I contribute here, and now I have a tough time making ends meet, so any chance at a paying audience is a chance I’m likely to take.
You may be in a similar situation as you weigh your possible contribution to Serious Philosophy, or, you may be in the same boat as me. In either case, the writer owns the rights to all works and the writer takes home any payment for views. So in some sense, this magazine is the best of all worlds — we can be academic if we want to, we can be approachable if that seems best. We can write for pay, or we can write for fun.
It is my belief that Serious Philosophy is the first in a series of answers to some of the issues that have been plaguing the discipline since I got my first degree in it, back in 2008, and even before that. After all, it was Thoreau who said “there are nowadays professors of philosophy, but no philosophers.” Let’s get back to just being philosophers, shall we?
Traditional Philosophy Publications
I’ve published in the realm of the philosophical discipline for free a handful of times by now. Generally I try to write relatable content because my goal is to build a following of people who will then buy my books.
I’m different from the average philosophy writer in that regard.
Most philosophers put their work out for free because they want to influence other philosophers and develop security for themselves in their paid university posts.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but I’d argue that it has diminished the conversational aspect of the discipline. There are two drivers at work, here: prestige (journals prefer better-known writers, and that’s fine) and perfectionism (new ideas which have not been thoroughly vetted via peer review can be very difficult to introduce into the discussion).
The drive to perfection is responsible for some of the dryness for which academic philosophy publications are famous, and the edifice of prestige erodes quickly, the further one retreats from the university.
The Origin Story: Serious Philosophy
The idea for serious philosophy started when I realized that my ideas and style; though able to pass peer review, seemed more interesting to post-philosophers (people who had a degree in philosophy but weren’t philosophy teachers or academics) than to the academic sort. I realized a PhD in philosophy would strip away my creativity and confine my breadth of interest to a single thread of the practice, so I didn’t go that route. I’m not sure I could have made it. Instead, I’m working to make a career out of the research side of philosophy without the classroom.
Now, the classroom is an important part of true discipline mastery and I do not deny that. However, my time teaching was agony. The departmental politics were always a drag, administrators always wanted to cut funding or control the curriculum, and the money was terrible. I compared it to being in a band: all the kids like you but you don’t make any money unless you have a side gig or a day job.
But people love doing philosophical research. We, as a species, are philosophical. So there was a gap there, between the economics of the discipline and the narrowly paved path to success. Human interest in philosophical thought is immutable; utterly real.
I started my first philosophy reading group way back in 2014 or 2015. It was toward the end of grad school, and a number of my class mates realized they hadn’t been exposed to some of the core texts in the discipline. So we got together and read and wrote about them. Everyone learned a lot, and this was when most of the groundwork for Formal Dialectics was laid. Despite all the gains, nothing permanent really emerged, outside of the book and the thought that it would be worth doing this again.
I longed for a structured environment in which to explore the great works — mounds of which, I still haven’t gotten to — but I needed to make the economics work. Books are hard to sell, and the publications which would pay for your work are probably beyond your reach. Instead, I needed a way to put my stuff out there and get paid for it. It’s good stuff. It just happens to be sufficiently different from what the rest of the academic world is up to that it doesn’t quite get rolling in those circles. And that’s why Medium’s paywall is my best friend as a professional philosopher.
In fact, the independence that will eventually come from writing these articles and earning money that way will free me up to pursue greater projects as time goes on. The connections I’ll make will be a core part of that. And I have no intention of waiting, on that. You’re invited, if you’re reading this, to be a part of this community. You can read and share articles to support your favorite writer or the publication as a whole; you can post responses to the articles people will be submitting, or you can write your own article.
The goal here is to make it possible for philosophically inclined people to do their best work and to earn a living by so doing. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen real evidence that it is possible for this to take place, and I promise to treat Serious Philosophy like a tech company — seek out angles for growth, promote everything, and focus on highlighting the best quality of work we can attract.
If you’re thinking about writing, please, drop me a line. Remember to focus on your passions and your interests. Hold yourself to a rigorous standard. Submit your work to others for review and feedback. And let’s build a community together that will generate public interest in our field, while compensating us fairly for high quality work.
Contact the Author:
Thomas Dylan Daniel is an existentialist philosopher, professional ethicist, author, and biophysicist. He has written four books and started a Medium publication called Serious Philosophy.