Monday, January 28, 2008

The Secret Lives of Philosophers

Matthew Yglesias has this wonderful story about philosopher A.J. Ayer on his blog today:

One of the last of the many legendary contests won by the British philosopher A. J. Ayer was his encounter with Mike Tyson in 1987. As related by Ben Rogers in ''A. J. Ayer: A Life,'' Ayer -- small, frail, slight as a sparrow and then 77 years old -- was entertaining a group of models at a New York party when a girl ran in screaming that her friend was being assaulted in a bedroom. The parties involved turned out to be Tyson and Naomi Campbell. ''Do you know who . . . I am?'' Tyson asked in disbelief when Ayer urged him to desist: ''I'm the heavyweight champion of the world.'' ''And I am the former Wykeham professor of logic,'' Ayer answered politely. ''We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men.''

How, exactly, does an elderly philosopher go about "entertaining a group of models," or were the '80s actually that crazy?

But just as interesting is this curious note from the life of John Maynard Keynes:

Keynes was never a closeted homosexual, although his colleagues at Bretton Woods in 1945 didn't always realise it, perhaps because at those conferences he was accompanied by the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, his wife of twenty years. By then he was the eminent economist and statesman, and possibly no longer on the prowl.

In earlier days, though, from 1901 to 1915 when he was mostly a twenty-something, he cruised constantly and kept two sex diaries of his success. Luckily Keynes was a pack-rat, so we have both of these documents, among a mass of J.M. Keynes memorabilia housed in the modern archives at King's College, Cambridge, (They are reproduced in "Maynard Keynes: An Economist's Biography", by D. E. Moggridge, albeit in an appendix labelled "A Key for the Prurient.")

Keynes obsessively counted and tabulated almost everything; it was a life-long habit. As a child, he counted the number of front steps of every house on his street. Later he kept a running record (not surprisingly) of his expenses and his golf scores. He also counted and tabulated his sex life.

Keynes kept two books, or lists really, describing his various encounters. One is rather straightforward, while the other is written in code that could possibly detail what kind of sexual acts were performed and even grades for their performance. The journals are fascinating, not necessarily for their inherent salaciousness (although Keynes appears to have gotten around a bit), but because it's a side of great thinkers that is rarely, if ever, seen and especially in such detail.

MORE: For an amusing (but more philosophy geek-orientated) anecdote about Ayer, see here.

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