The re-posting of my little Swiftian fantasy triggered a tsunami of comments -- well, three, but since I really do think of this blog as a conversation, that is a lot. So let me respond. First of all, to my friend Warren Goldfarb [who is, as perhaps a few of you may not know, a famous senior logician in the Philosophy Department at Harvard], what on earth is "der shmekel hack"? Google fails me on this one, but it sounds like something I ought to know about.
To James Camion McGuiggan:
What you say strikes a responsive chord in me. There is something extremely odd about making one's living as a philosopher. This is a rather recent development, of course, as philosophy goes -- really only in the 18th century did people start to earn their bread as philosophers. By the way, recall that until Kant was elevated to a professorship at Königsberg, he was a privat docent, which meant that he was paid by the student. For those of us who considered the transition from a 2-2 to a 3-3 teaching load the end of an era, it is chastening to recall that the greatest philosopher since Aristotle lectured fourteen hours a week or more on every conceivable subject.
It is even odder that in the United States there are perhaps eight thousand people whose job description is "Professor of Philosophy." I have not been to a convention of philosophers in a number of decades, but the last time I attended the annual meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, I recall standing in the crowded lobby of the hotel where the meeting was taking place and thinking to myself, "This could be a meeting of the sales force of United Porta-Toilet Corporation, except that they would be better dressed." What on earth would Socrates think of eight thousand philosophers? Did Plato charge Aristotle tuition in the Groves of Academe? I hope not.
By the way, I don't know about where you are, but in the United States, although the manifest function of higher education is to introduce students to the life of the mind, the latent function [to employ Robert Merton's useful distinction] is to sort too many young people into too few high paying jobs. We are gatekeepers, essentially.
Your comment reminds me of the hierarchy of characters in the great comic strip Peanuts. Charlie Brown talks to his dog, Snoopy. Snoopy talks to his little bird friend, Woodstock, in language that is printed in very small letters. Woodstock talks to his even littler bird friends, but Woodstock is so small that what he says is represented simply as a series of tiny exclamation marks, which presumably are comprehensible to the tiny birds. Well, when I was young, Quine talked to people like Charles Parsons and Hao Wang and Burton Dreben and Hartley Rogers [or, later on Warren Goldfarb], who in turn talked to folks like me, but in characters too small to be read by the likes of Quine, and all of us little birds talked to one another in equally small characters, understandable by ourselves but probably heard only as high-pitched squeaks by Quine.
Still and all, life was fun among us baby birds. I still recall all of us going out for a collective Chinese meal, whose cost we shared equally, and trying to eat faster than Hubert Dreyfus, who, thin though he was, wielded chopsticks with deadly speed and accuracy.