All of us, I take it, are familiar with printed warnings, especially on milk and other dairy items, that a quart of milk or tub of cottage cheese is to be removed from the shelves after some specified date. This is usually referred to as the “sell-by date.”
Yesterday, I traveled once again to New York to teach at Columbia University. The trip began uneventfully, at six a.m. when I pulled out of my parking slot and headed for Raleigh Durham Airport, but it quickly deteriorated into a classic air travel sad story. We pulled back from the gate on time at 8:10 a.m. and headed for the active runway, in light rain, but as we waited our turn to take off, the pilot announced that LaGuardia had just announced a one hour ground halt, so we sat. After an hour, the pilot announced another one hour delay, so we continued to sit, but just as he was revving up the engines for our much delayed takeoff, he announced that there was a mechanical problem that had to be fixed, so he returned to Gate D5, from which we had departed, full of hope, two hours earlier, and were told we could deplane but should remain in the area of the Gate as we might be leaving at short notice. Half an hour later, we pulled back once again. The mechanical problem? A lack of appropriate differential pressure in the toilets meant that they would not flush until we reached 18,000 feet. [I am not making this up.] Finally, seven hours and fifty-five minutes after leaving home, I sat down at the seminar table, five minutes before the class was scheduled to begin.
That was when I got the real shock of the day. One of the graduate students in the seminar told me that he had gone to see Professor Akeel Bilgrami about some philosophical issues. Bilgrami is a quite senior member of the Philosophy Department who currently holds the Sidney Morgenbesser Professorship of Philosophy. When Bilgrami suggested that the student consult some of the writings of Robert Paul Wolff [very flattering], my student replied that he was currently taking a course with Wolff. Bilgrami replied, “But that is not possible. He died ten years ago.”
Now, I freely admit that it has been thirty years since I have attended a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, and almost that long since I last published anything at all in a Philosophy journal, but, I mean, really!
Pretty clearly, I have passed my sell-by date and should be removed from the shelf before I give some unsuspecting consumer the intellectual version of food poisoning.