ST. LOUIS, Mo. As the American Philosophical Association’s annual convention wound down after yesterday’s plenary session, professors from around the country took time off from the presentation of academic papers to focus their analytical skills on less weighty matters.
“The bus is leaving for the midget wrestling match in five minutes, people!” Anna Beth Turley, a coordinator at the convention shouts at a group of epistemologists, or specialists in how we know we know what we think we know. “I tell you,” she says as the philosophers mill about, questioning whether the bus is real, “It’s like herding cats, except cats are cute.”
The APA, the largest membership organization of professional philosophers, has traditionally been able to negotiate steep group discounts that fit its members’ impecunious lifestyles based on the premise that deep thinkers were quiet, introspective types who were less likely than other conventioneers to damage hotel rooms. That image is fading, however, and now hoteliers say philosophers are no better than proctologists or pipefitters in terms of the wear and tear they inflict on hotel staff, property and other guests.
“How do you know it was us? All you have to go on is the unreliable testimony of your senses.”
“I had to warn a couple of phenomenologists last year that they were not allowed to throw water balloons off their deck,” says Hyatt Regency manager Ted Lindemann. “They said they wouldn’t stop unless I could prove by symbolic logic that it was them that hit the family with the two toddlers.”
“So Wittgenstein walks into a bar with a duck and a rabbit . . .”
Competition between major cities for conventions is fierce, a fact that the philosophers have used to force concessions from exhibition hall operators who need a steady stream of business in order to turn a profit. “We added pole dancing last year at the request of the aesthetic philosophers,” says Reed Morton, manager of Cleveland’s Lake Erie Pavilion. “They kept the place open ’til two in the morning debating whether the presence of the pole caused the work of ‘Chakita’ to be less ‘real’ than that of a regular stripper.”
The only group in a position to curb philosophical excesses, according to Convention and Trade Show Monthly, is one that is nowhere to be found when the seekers after the true, the good and the beautiful are getting their crankcases oiled–their spouses. “I’ve put up with it for about as long as I can stand,” says Muriel Hill, whose husband is a tenured professor at the University of Chicago.
“Every year he comes back with a monstrous hangover and some cock-and-bull story about how he left his manuscript in the overhead compartment on the plane,” she notes. “Then he tries to buy me off with a bottle of cheap perfume and paperback edition of Descartes.”
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