As Marinoff puts it, “What are the first words a philosophy graduate utters? ‘Would you like fries with that, sir?’
“See, the fries joke, that’s exactly what we are trying to change,” Marinoff said. “The Greeks had ancient philosophers at every street corner. Today, our society is more like Rome with our circus culture. It’s all very entertaining. But we have to change the public perception of a philosopher as some useless academic relic.”
Anne Barnhill, 35, was among those taking part in Marinoff’s certification program. Barnhill, who lives in the District, recently completed her postdoctorate studies in bioethics and health at Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University. She already has a PhD in philosophy from New York University.
“You can go on the Internet and find 100 people who are giving you advice,” Barnhill said. “But there are thinkers who are recognized for their knowledge, and ignoring them in our generation just seems like such a loss.”
Sean Holland, 37, is a self-described “philosopher in pinstripes” who has a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now works for a corporation based in New York. His focus is on ethical issues for companies. He also hopes to one day be a philosophical counselor.
“I was trying to find a decent job in this economy, and I found that philosophy is actually back as a respected profession,” Holland said. “We are trained problem-solvers and, in a way, we can launch a return to an old set of skills that are very much needed today.”
The more popular Marinoff’s program becomes, the more it may invite skeptics. But clients say they don’t mind.
“Hey, whatever helps,” said a 36-year-old Maryland client of a philosophical counselor who asked not to be named. He sought help after his spouse died of cancer.
The client, who works at an Internet company, said philosophical counseling helped process his grief and shock — largely because he was so distracted by heavy reading assignments that included works by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Blaise Pascal.
“I felt like I was back in college. But I did learn one thing: Epicurus once said, ‘If a little is not enough for you, nothing is.’ That’s probably true of any kind of therapy.”