nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,

Philosophical jokes

Sydney Morgenbesser's wiseass:
* During a lecture the Oxford linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin made the claim that although a double negative in English implies a positive meaning, there is no language in which a double positive implies a negative. To which Morgenbesser responded in a dismissive tone, "Yeah, yeah." (Some have it quoted as "Yeah, right." See litotes for the actual linguistic status of this hypothesis.)

* Morgenbesser was leaving a subway station in New York City and put his pipe in his mouth as he was ascending the steps. A police officer told him that there was no smoking on the subway. Morgenbesser pointed out that he was leaving the subway, not entering it, and hadn't lit up yet anyway. The cop repeated his injunction. Morgenbesser repeated his observation. After a few such exchanges, the cop saw he was beaten and fell back on the oldest standby of enfeebled authority: "If I let you do it, I'd have to let everyone do it." To this the old professor replied, "Who do you think you are, Kant?" The word "Kant" was mistaken for a vulgar epithet and Morgenbesser had to explain the situation at the police station.

* On the independence of irrelevant alternatives: After finishing dinner, Sidney Morgenbesser decides to order dessert. The waitress tells him he has two choices: apple pie and blueberry pie. Sidney orders the apple pie. After a few minutes the waitress returns and says that they also have cherry pie at which point Morgenbesser says "In that case I'll have the blueberry pie."

* Morgenbesser said the following of George Santayana: “There’s a guy who asserted both p and not-p, and then drew out all the consequences…”

* Interrogated by a student whether he agreed with Chairman Mao’s view that a statement can be both true and false at the same time, Morgenbesser replied “Well, I do and I don’t.”

* During campus protests of the 1960s Sidney Morgenbesser was hit on the head by police. When asked whether he had been treated unfairly or unjustly, he responded that it was "unfair, but not unjust. It was unfair because they hit me over the head, but not unjust because they hit everyone else over the head.”Some of his students then argued that it may have been unjust, in that no guilt had been proved against him, but it was by no means unfair as all his fellow demonstrators got the same treatment. This alternative version is sometimes attributed to Morgenbesser himself.

* To B.F. Skinner, "Let me see if I understand your thesis. You think we shouldn’t anthropomorphize people?"

* Morgenbesser described Gentile ethics as entailing “ought implies can” while in Jewish ethics “can implies don’t.”

* Morgenbesser once set this as an exam question: “It is often said that Marx and Freud went too far. How far would you go?”

* When challenged why he had written so little, he fired back: "Moses wrote one book. Then what did he do?"

* On Jewish logic: "If P, so why not Q?"

* "The only problem with pragmatism is that it's completely useless."

* When asked his opinion of pragmatism, Morgenbesser replied "It's all very well in theory but it doesn't work in practice."

* In response to Heidegger's ontological query "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Morgenbesser answered "If there were nothing you'd still be complaining!"

* At a conference on cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind, one scholar was presenting what was at the time a popular line on how "madness" had no real referent and was merely a product of power-laden "othering." His response: "You mean to tell me that it's all in my head?"

* A few weeks before his death, he asked another Columbia philosopher, David Albert, about God. "Why is God making me suffer so much?" he asked. "Just because I don't believe in him?"

* Asked to prove a questioner's existence, Morgenbesser shot back, "Who's asking?"

* A student once interrupted him and said, "I just don't understand." "Why should you have the advantage over me?" he responded.

The above is the complete joke and story section from the Wikipedia article. If you want citations, go there-- I didn't want to do the html for footnotes. And I wish I knew whether Morgenbesser really thought pragmatism was useless, and if so, why.

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