Via Stefan Heßbrüggen on Facebook, an open letter from the UBC mathematician Greg Martin tells of his resignation from the editorial board of the Elsevier production, Journal of Number Theory. In the letter Martin tells of "Elsevier’s new policy that editors would receive $60 for every article they process" for the journal. Commenters react with hilarity, knowing the kind of lagniappe (Louisiana term for "kickback") that this would motivate.
But Martin's reaction to the apparent "bribery" this looks like brings us to the discussion below between Eric and Catarina on philosophical origin myths: are we priests or are we "knowledge-workers"?
To me, this policy demonstrates a true inability (or unwillingness) to understand the key part of our observation that “all the work is done for free by volunteers, but access to that work is exorbitantly expensive”. We want access to be less expensive; we’re not looking for extra dough in our pockets. The most generous interpretation of this new policy’s effect is that it continues to take money away from the research community at large, but now puts some of it in the personal pockets of a small subset of mathematicians who don’t need it. (My personal reaction, to be honest, was to view this as too close to bribery not to be somewhat insulting.) But this policy uncontroversially shows, at least, the extent of Elsevier’s robust profits on its research journals.
This is the key point: it seems to me that direct payment for professional service would filter out those motivated by the priestly (or if you prefer a dead metaphor, the "vocational") origin story I noted here in discussion with Mohan:
Hence when all such inventions were already established, the sciences which do not aim at giving pleasure or at the necessities of life were discovered, and first in places where men first began to have leisure [escholasan]. This is why the mathematical arts were founded in Egypt; for there the priestly cast was allowed to be at leisure [ekei gar apheithē scholazein to tōn iereōn ethnos]. 981b22-25
This seems to be the key: we need leisure (or "given time") to do our work of pursuing the non-useful; those of us working for public institutions want to be public priests, in other words, paid by taxpayers to pursue non-useful goals. And we get enough from our institutions to live on, so Elsevier's incentives only mix up the pursuit of private gain with our public service.
Now the non-utility of philosophy is a hard sell today, so we often find ourselves working the other side of the street:
So if we are going to stay with the useful / non-useful distinction, we can either make the case that we academics should be like the Egyptian priests -- a supported class whose work aims precisely at the non-useful -- or we can try to convince our masters that philosophy really is useful. If the latter, we can appeal to our university administrators that our research can pay off in grants and / or our teaching can pay off in student credit hours, and we can appeal to our legislators that public money supporting philosophy instruction in public institutions is money well spent, an investment in human capital whose payoff comes in unpredictable and untraceable ways as our students invent things that can be sold at a profit.
So Martin's post seems to bring into sharp contrast two roles for philosophers: the "priest" or the "knowledge worker" at Science Mart.