Make My Day
'HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR PHILOSOPHERS'
by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
SYRACU.S.E, Ind. -- We owe a lot to philosophy, whether we realize it or not.
Philosophy is the father of all sciences, and has lead to nearly every discovery or invention we've ever made. Philosophers ask questions that cause people to look for the answers, no matter where they lead. Science, human physiology, and even psychology were created to answer philosophical questions.
We have medicine because people wanted to know how the body worked. Astronomy exists because people wanted to know what was beyond our planet. Biology exists because people wanted to know where life comes from. We even have coffeehouses because philosophers needed a place to argue about these things.
And it was all started by a guy named Thales (THAY-lees), who created the first non-mystical explanation for the world, and said that water is the cause of all things.
I know all this because I received my Bachelor of Science degree in philosophy in 1989 from Ball State University (home of the Fighting David Lettermans).
I received a BS in BS, as I am fond of saying to anyone within earshot. And although I have forgotten nearly everything I learned 13 years ago, I can still regale people with stories at parties about how Thales thought water was the source of all life.
I never get invited to many parties nowadays.
Even though Ball State has never been a major player in philosophical circles, it was voted the 18th Best Partying School by Playboy magazine in the late '80s, which resulted in some interesting philosophical discussions on weekends.
Ball State Philosopher #1: "Dude, how many angels can dance on this beer can?"
Ball State Philosopher #2: "I don't know dude, but have you ever really looked at your hand? I mean, really looked at it?"
Many people are surprised when they find out I have a philosophy degree, considering my day job is in sales and marketing.
"That's easy," I tell them. "One is theoretical BS, the other is applied BS."
I hope none of my customers read this.
Needless to say, I was very interested to hear on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" that the American Philosophical Association is 102 years old! Never before in the history of American philosophers has anything so momentous, so wonderful, or so exciting happened! This is saying a lot, because as a group, philosophers are some of the least exciting people you'll meet.
The APA celebrated their 100 year anniversary last year, and although some may accuse me of being late in mentioning this, blame NPR for not airing the story until this past Wednesday.
The APA is a professional organization for philosophy professors and philosophers around the world. According to their Website, the group was founded, among other things, to "promote the exchange of ideas among philosophers." To become a Regular Member, you have to have done graduate work in the field of philosophy, or have distinguished yourself as a philosopher.
This means humor columnists who only have undergraduate degrees in philosophy from party schools cannot become members. Bummer.
To celebrate their anniversary, the APA released a CD of John Cleese (formerly of Monty Python) narrating 22 spots about the importance of philosophy in today's society. It's free to any radio station who wants to play the 30- to 60-second spots during station breaks.
As a fully-licensed philosopher (this means I can discuss the meaning of life in bars), I was extremely interested in the story. As I listened, I was struck by two thoughts:
1. It's great that an organization like this has existed for over 100 years.
2. There's a professional organization for philosophers?
After doing some research on the APA's Website (http://www.apa.udel.edu/apa/index.html), I realized they have something that very few professional academic organizations have: their own office.
I called the national office and introduced myself to Kathy Dettwyler, the assistant to the APA's Executive Director, Elizabeth Radcliffe.
Is there really an APA office? I asked Kathy.
"I'm sitting in it right now," she laughed. According to Kathy, the office is a "funky little house" on the University of Delaware's campus. The University has hosted the national office since 1975. Do people ever drop in? "No, people seldom just drop in," Kathy said. Unfortunately the national office will never become a Graceland to the hard-core philosophy fans. This is a shame, considering everything philosophers have done for all of us, including Elvis. Who do you think he was referring to when he sang "Wise men say only fools fall in love," house painters? No, philosophers! According to Kathy, who also holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Indiana University, there are 11 people in the APA office, including Elizabeth Radcliffe, Kathy Dettwyler, a receptionist, a computer expert to maintain the Website and databases, two membership people who handle the 11,000 member database, two people who work on the publications, and two finance people who process member dues, orders for publications, and even sales of APA T-shirts. What about the CD? I asked. Can anyone get it?
"Wait a minute, Elizabeth is sitting right here," Kathy said.
I heard some mumbling over the phone, and then she came back.
"Elizabeth said we're selling them for $4 for members, and $6 for non-members. Contact Sue Timko at the APA office for one."
Wow, I just heard Executive Director Elizabeth Radcliffe talking in the background!
Then I asked her about the American Philosophical Society, "an eminent scholarly society of international reputation" (translation: we're smart and snobby and the whole world knows it).
Any big rivalries?
Kathy assured me there weren't, which was disappointing, because I was hoping to hear some great stories about how some APA members got into a drunken brawl with some APS members at last year's softball game. Most people have never heard of the American Philosophical Association and can't name one of its members to save their life.
So people may be surprised to hear that Indiana University president Myles Brand is also the chair of the Status and Future of the Profession Committee.
But George Lucas, chair of the Career Opportunities Committee, isn't George Lucas the filmmaker? I asked Kathy.
"No, he's George Lucas the Philosopher."