I can’t believe I feel compelled to write this, but here we go. I have been writing and speaking for the general public about science and philosophy for decades now, since I was still in Italy and wrote for a magazine called “Sapere” (To Know), back in the ’80s. Ever since, I’ve published seven non-technical books in the English language and two in Italian (without counting translations); I have written thousands of blog posts on a variety of platforms; and I have either produced or been a guest on thousands of podcasts.
The overwhelming majority of this output is freely available on the internet. But some of it isn’t. The books, of course, are published by printing presses that will not give them out for free; my Patreon site asks for a monthly donation amounting to less than the cost of a cup of coffee; and if people wish to attend some of my intensive workshops on Stoicism they are asked to contribute an amount that is far less than what organizers of similar events typically charge.
These occasional financial contributions are outweighed, in my view, by the fact that I have spent countless hours talking to people about science and philosophy for free, and that I have published enough freely available essays to arrive at a word count that currently stands at the equivalent of about 40 books.
Nevertheless, for the benefit of the “skeptics” out there, let me list my reasons for occasionally charging for my work:
(i) Philosophy is a profession, and philosophers have been paid for it since antiquity. Yes, yes, Socrates was an exception, but his living expenses in 4th century BCE Athens were pretty low. Besides, I don’t claim to be a Socrates.
(ii) Writing too is a profession, and we really need to move away from this insane notion that “information wants to be free.” Setting aside the metaphysical point that information cannot possibly “want” anything, this attitude is destroying professions from music to journalism. I’m sorry, but if you want good music you’ll have to pay the musician, and if you want good writing you’ll have to pay the writer.
(iii) The ratio of paid / free in my output for the public comes down to >99% of what I have published being available at no charge. That’s a lot of material (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other places) you can go through before ever considering shelling a drachma. (More free stuff here, here, and here. Oh, and here.)
(iv) People who complain about “having” to pay for a fraction of my professional services don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that they do pay for my books (unless they pirate them, of course). They also probably wouldn’t think of applying the same “it ought to be free” criterion to any other service they are getting, from their grocery shopping to their visits to the dentist. I wonder why they think writing ought to be an entirely charitable activity.
(v) Needless to say, but do allow me to point out the obvious, there is no compulsion whatsoever to contribute to my Patreon, to buy my books, or to sign up for my workshops. As Marcus Aurelius puts it (Meditations, VIII.50), if the cucumber is bitter, don’t eat it; why do you have to go on and endlessly complain that there are bitter cucumbers in the world?
Thanks for your indulgence. And for your occasional support.