Can an In-House Philosopher Be a Free Thinker?

In the recently released Jurassic World: Dominion, Jeff Goldblum plays Ian Malcolm, the “in-house” philosopher of the biotech multinational Biosyn. He delivers edifying speeches to the employees, which may reinforce the ideology of the company while being slightly critical on a metalevel. The CEO calls him a bit of a contrarian, but can a contrarian that is very well paid and likes to be admired really shake the politics of the firm that employs him? In the movie, the answer is eventually yes, as Malcolm chooses to help to expose the corporation’s abuses and turns against its CEO (when it becomes obvious that Biosyn is evil).

In reality, I am not sure. I will take a personal example. While I practice philosophical counselling for the multinational Vattenfall, I do it as a freelancer. I do get paid for my interventions, whether they are individual or collective, but my fees remain symbolically low compared to the usual fees of consultants. In general, philosophical counselling is a marginal part of my income. If Vattenfall or any other company having in-house philosophers (Google, Apple, etc.) were to ask me to work as a full-time employee, I would say no. There is a serious risk that the philosophical counsellor whose income depends on clients, and even more so on a single client, loses his or her intellectual autonomy.

A caveat here is needed: I am mostly – if recently since I have for a long time avoided academia precisely to protect my creative independence – an academic researcher. I believe academia should protect the intellectual freedom to think for oneself. I now feel that Swedish academia, governed by the Swedish state, can allow that to a certaine extent, but I am not sure yet, since there are some taboo topics in Swedish academia, as in all corps. Groupthink is a problem everywhere, and philosophical health is about combatting it, as I have explained in my book Ensemblance.

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