The last of these Congresses took place five years ago in Athens and now Tokyo and Melbourne are hotly competing to host the next one in 2023. An Australian team is handing out cuddly koala bears to garner votes in the coming selection. There must be something to these events. Countries and cities must consider it a matter of prestige to host this event. And aren’t there also more tangible benefits to be derived from it?
This is the first World Congress I am attending and I can’t say that I am enamored with mass meetings of philosophers. My feelings are similar to those of Ludwig Wittgenstein. When the British philosophers arrived one year for their annual meeting in Cambridge, they found one lonely passenger on the station platform waiting to leave town — none other than L.W.
But I am less fastidious and curious to see this congress in action. Besides, I have an invitation to speak and thus an opportunity to present some of my current work. A number of friends will be attending the conference and it will surely be pleasant to see them. Things, however, turn out to be more complex than that. Some of the listed participants never show up; some are there but you never find them. At the same time I run unexpectedly into some old acquaintances. And I meet all kinds of new people. It turns out that the formal conference sessions prove often less interesting than the spontaneous encounters in the corridors.
Such conferences are a thoroughly modern invention. They depend on the fact that we are living far from each other and the possibility, at the same time, of traveling great distances. They allow us to huddle together as a group with shared interests and also to get to unusual places and see new parts of the world. We would, probably, all be better off, if we had stayed at home doing quietly our work. But the incessant churning of the modern world drives us around like the entire rest of the world.