How the President of Trinity University Philosophical Society Rectified an Error

On 14 July 2018, I was informed by Sorcha Ryder, President of the Trinity University Philosophical Society (Dublin), that I was “chosen to receive the Honorary Patronage of the University Philosophical Society” and that I had “topped the lists of elected Patrons voted on by Fellows, Staff and Students of the College.”

The “Phil”—to quote Ms. Ryder’s letter—is “the world’s oldest student society and with over 333 years of history ha[s] recorded the presence of many remarkable members, including Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and Samuel Beckett,” while “In recent years many notable figures such [as] Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Vice President Joe Biden, Martin Scorsese, Whoopi Goldberg, Kristin Chenoweth, Conan O’Brien, Dame Helen Mirren, Al Pacino, Sir Christopher Lee and Amy Poehler have also had this honor,” not to mention Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Nancy Pelosi, and Angela Merkel.

It was naturally cause for wonder how I managed to slip in under the radar.  In any event, I immediately replied expressing deep gratitude at this recognition of my life’s work. Ms. Ryder and I then proceeded to plan the itinerary of my Honorary Patron’s Day, which was scheduled for a mutually convenient date between September 2018 and March 2019.

But then, something strange happened on the way to the Society. Ms. Ryder disappeared herself.  I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, but her only response was the sound of silence. A Danish student group that invited me to speak wrote Ms. Ryder in December proposing that they coordinate the two events so as to split airline costs. Ms. Ryder, however, stayed mute.

Suspecting that, not for the first time, things had gone awry, I started making private inquiries at Trinity that got back to Ms. Ryder and jogged her out of her somnolence.  This past week she informed me that the Society had suddenly discovered it was financially strapped and consequently couldn’t allocate the necessary funds (about $450 by my reckoning) to host my visit. Ms. Ryder didn’t recall this ever having happened before.

Lest the reader lose sleep that this venerable institution might be poised on the brink of bankruptcy, the good news is, according to its website, “the Phil is thriving, evident from our trips abroad, snooker rooms, receptions, club nights, and mystery tours.” It also managed this past month to host a former prime minister of Australia, who received the selfsame award but did not “top the lists of elected Patrons,” at a cost that Ms. Ryder won’t divulge.

It is of course a disappointment that I won’t be able to thank in person the Phil’s constituency. But having traveled down this road many times before, I can’t pretend to be shocked that craven cynicism and careerist calculation, it would appear, won out.

Ms. Ryder, who received a draft of this Statement in advance, did not dispute any of the facts contained herein.