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Carl Maxim is the Bill Gates of philosophy.
Aphilosophy degree. About as much use as an old man’s mitten in a threshing machine. Prospects: (i) a life of neglect locked away in the attic of academia like some mad old granny or, (ii) if you’re lucky, a break in telesales. On graduation I saw my contemporaries as they stood proudly waving their certificates like an army of innocent Chamberlains. A living rebuke to Karl Popper’s poverty of historicism, these people had a history of poverty ahead of them and it was all too predictable. But as I watched them, I had a vision. A vision that maybe, just maybe, philosophy could be made to work for me. Philosophy as a business.
After conducting extensive market research it was clear that of the three people I spoke to, an amazing 67% had some interest in knowing what it’s all about. The remaining 33% were too busy with their scratch cards to talk. Clearly there was a demand. And I had the supply. I began by placing an advertisement in my local paper: “DISCOUNT PHILOSOPHY. ALL THE ANSWERS AT AFFORDABLE RATES. Call Hemel Hempstead 765327.” I had three calls. One man who wanted to know if I did odd jobs. I toyed with the idea of creosoting his fence in a post-ironic stab at Derrida but I didn’t have the overalls. Another regaled me with his own philosophy including such gems as “Life is like an onion. It has many layers and often ends in tears.” I had begun to give up hope when the phone rang once more.
“Hello” said a woman’s voice – “I was wondering if you could help me. I’m having problems with my categorical and hypothetical imperatives”. “Mmm” I said in my most thoughtful Mmm voice. “Yes” she continued “I think it’s my deontology”. My first case. I jumped into the car and was there in fifteen minutes. Two cups of Earl Grey tea and half a Jamaican Ginger Cake later, I had it sorted. It was her big end. I took out her old ontology, a clapped out utilitarian model, and replaced it with a simple but effective deontological device. But now I was faced with a dilemma. How much to charge for restoring someone’s moral integrity? Is it possible to put a value, let alone a price upon such matters? How could I even consider questions of money when there are deeper, more profound metaphysical issues at stake? I settled for £75.
The next day I had three call-outs. The first was an existential angst – a waiter who had read Sartre, recognised that he was playing a role but couldn’t see his motivation. I quickly installed a Platonic tripartite soul and he was right as rain. The second was a Schizoid Wittgenstinian who had become trapped within her own private language. Getting through was difficult and in the end I had to use some coloured building blocks. She later went on to become an international Lego champion.
Finally that day, I was called by a mother whose son had got dangerously mixed up with Schopenhauer and was threatening to kill himself. “Damn that Schopenhauer!” I thought to myself. Why can’t parents explain to their kids the dangers of playing around with the hard stuff? When I arrived the mother was in a state of hyper-neurotic mega tension (my own diagnosis). Her son, Kevin, had locked himself in his room for three days solid with a copy of The World as Will and Representation which a so-called friend had given to him
Schopenhauer was bad enough but Kevin was using a dirty copy – a copy that had already been well thumbed, underlined and, worse still, had arrows pointing to pertinent sentences. It’s just these kind of impurities that can kill. I spent three hours sitting outside Kevin’s door trying to placate him with Humean realism. Anything else would seem pitifully superficial. Eventually he conceded and confessed he had only done Schopenhauer for a dare and he would never touch the stuff again. The next day his mother rang to tell me that Kevin was fully cured and had developed an expensive but manageable heroin addiction. Another success.
At the end of my first month I made over £2000. It was too good to be true – but then again what is truth? I knew I had to expand. I placed adverts on university noticeboards, the Times Educational Supplement and Loot: “Wanted: Driver- Philosophers for work in and around the South East. Must have sound ethical knowledge and clean licence.” Before long I had over fifty philosophers on my payroll, mostly graduates, out of work lecturers and a handful of prostitutes trying to make ends meet.
Each philosopher had their own small but adequate library of key texts, and was fully trained in all aspects of philosophical breakdown ranging from mild acrasia to bad-arsed nihilism. We also had a new name – The EE or Ethical Emergency – “For our members we are the First, Second and Third Emergency Service all rolled into one holistic and integrated whole.” Membership was just £18 per year which entitled you to full cover, a “Zarathustra Says Relax” T- Shirt and a bumper sticker which read “If You Can Read This You Probably Don’t Exist.”
In the last two years Ethical Emergency has expanded exponentially, not to say existentially. We are already breaking into the global market with orders from a number of newly independent republics wanting to upgrade their traditional religion-based moralities with Ethics ’99 – the most up to date morality package available.
We are currently working behind the scenes in many of the most dangerous parts of the world. Have you ever wondered where all the humanitarian justifications for war come from? And in the Middle East we have a long term contract to resolve the religious conflicts through the tactical deployment of Professor Richard Dawkins who we are trying to persuade to be parachuted into the region to explain to all sides that there isn’t a god.
Next year Ethical Emergency plans to float on the Stock Exchange and is widely tipped to become one of the largest multinationals of the 21st century. The lesson? For too long philosophers have hidden away in their ivory towers – how many more elephants have to die for this privilege? In our dumbed down, drugged up society we have an information overload and an ethical deficit. There’s a gap in the market and it needs filling. Philosophers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains.
© Carl Maxim 1999
Carl Maxim is currently the world’s third richest man and was recently voted the person most world leaders would ring in a crisis. Despite his busy schedule he still finds time to study philosophy at Birkbeck College, London.