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Wittgenstein's Poker Paperback – 3 Feb 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (3 Feb. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057122735X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571227358
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 140,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Wittgenstein's Poker is a mini biography of the lives of Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein leading up to their one and only meeting at the Cambridge moral science club in October 1946 where their loud and aggressive confrontation became the stuff of legend. What happened? Why did the two great philosophers behave as they did? What did Popper have against Wittgenstein? At stake was the meaning and direction of the analytic revolution--which had been led by Bertrand Russell --and, ultimately, the purpose of philosophy itself.

Edmonds and Eidinow's treatment is a very clever and interesting way to introduce the history of philosophy in the first third of the 20th century. The 10 minute argument provides an effective and fascinating organising focus for the whole book--not only because one is curious to find out who said what and why--but because to understand what really happened involves finding out what kind of men these great philosophers were, and how they stood to the philosophic tradition. Popper's opposition to Wittgenstein however, was more than just a difference in philosophic views; on a deeper level Wittgenstein represented the Vienna that had been out of reach even to the son of a respected and socially responsible lawyer: "In Wittgenstein he saw the imperial city where riches and status commanded respect and opened doors, the separate territory where inflation-wrought poverty had no place and the Nazis could be bought off."

It is the social and political background of the story, the class differences, as well as the philosophic differences between the two great philosophers which makes this book so unusual and interesting. Part biography, part social history, part history of philosophy Wittgenstein's Poker is informative, entertaining and accessible. --Larry Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Those 10 minutes shook the world of Western philosophy literally to its foundations... Edmonds and Eidinow have a very good story to tell, and they tell it wonderfully well.' John Banville, Irish Times 'A brilliant idea. The authors seem to me to have an extremely good grasp of the philosophical ideas, and a tremendous ability to explain them.' Michael Frayn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
ON THE EVENING OF FRIDAY, 25 October 1946 the Cam Moral Science Club-a weekly discussion group for the university's philosophers and philosophy students-held one of its regular meetings. Read the first page
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Toby Joyce on 3 Oct. 2001
Format: Hardcover
Compare it to the famous debate on evolution at the British Association meeting in Oxford in 1860 between Darwinists and their opponents like the palaeontologist Robert Owen and Bishop 'Soapy Sam' Wilberforce. There, T.H.Huxley ('Darwin's Bulldog') baldly stated that he would rather be descended from an ape than from a Bishop who made specious and rediculous arguments. This literally brought the house down, and established Huxley as the hero who had vanquished the foe and established the hegemony of Darwinism, agnosticism and science over intellectual life. Except that more recent investigation has found the truth to be a little different. Huxley's speech, besides the 'ape/ Bishop' riposte, was not particularly convincing, and at least one Darwinist was heard to say afterwards 'The Bishop got the best of it'. The really forceful speaker who established the Evolution argument at Oxford was Darwin's friend, the botanist Thomas Hooker.
What does this tell us about the subject of this book? That myth is established in memory of what we wish had happened. Because of Huxley's smart retort, then he had to be the hero, and Hooker was forgotten. According to Edmonds and Eidenow, Popper in his memoirs cast himself in the Huxley role, witty riposte and all. But for the memory of one man (Peter Geach, who wrote to the TLS on the matter), we might still live with this particular myth.
The intellectual road to Room H3 is well explored in this book, managing to take in the key philosophical threads of the early part of the century - mainly the shift from epistemology to logic, and the focus on language established by Wittgenstein. Both men are well portrayed as forceful, agressive and (it has to be said) unpleasant debaters.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 4 May 2006
Format: Paperback
I picked this up more or less by accident. The text quickly engaged me and I read the book rather quickly. But why? I had almost no knowledge about Ludwig Wittgenstein the logical positivist philosopher, and only a little more about Karl Popper one of the leading philosophers of science. Philosophy since Hume has mostly left me uninterested. While some people think (famously) that all philosophy consists merely of footnotes to Plato, I've always believed that the great empiricists, especially David Hume put to rest most of the important questions.

The focus is a meeting of the Moral Science Club at Cambridge on October 25, 1946 in which it is alleged that Ludwig Wittgenstein in exasperation at his inability to shut Karl Popper up (or perhaps because of his inability to successfully counter Popper's arguments) picked up a red hot poker from the fireplace and waved it menacingly at Popper, and then departed the room.

What actually happened is a matter of some curious and lengthy debate according to the various accounts from those present. Edmonds and Eidinow go to some length to establish the various points of view and to explain why what happened happened. They take a thorough look at the background and personalities of Wittgenstein and Popper. This is the strength of the book: the fascinating detail about the lives and ideas of the two protagonists set against the horrific history of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Both Wittgenstein and Popper came from Vienna to England, both were Jewish and both had disciples and followers who considered them giants in philosophy. Significantly, Wittgenstein was born into a very wealthy family while Popper's roots are more middle class.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By technoguy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 29 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
Wittgenstein's Poker is a clever,amusing,anecdotalist account of Western philosophy in the early part of the 20th century and the divergence of it's two main practitioners. Giving the whole background,politics,class,sociology of pre-war Vienna leading up to the 2nd World War,the effect upon the Jews of the new German laws,the assimilationof these two men's families into Viennese society,one into Catholicism,the other into Protestantism.Wittgenstein born into unimagined wealth and privilege, his influence on the Vienna Circle and its creation of logical positivism. Popper's devastating critique demolishing the verificationist principle.His dislike of the aura surrounding Wittgenstein.Popper's outsider status.Also the amount of hard work he had getting `placed' in an academic position outside of Austria;then losing much of his family to anti-semitsm,not having the same wealth.He did not get to England until he was in his late 40s,30 years later than Wittgenstein.Both men had been teachers in their earlier years to schoolchildren between the wars.An intense,compelling personality, Wittgenstein, demanding, dramatic and forceful.Leaving his stamp on all his students,putting some off philosophy.Work with their hands!

The book is good at situating each man to Russell,the dominant English philosopher of the West,who was also very popular and readable,placing logical analysis at the centre of philosophical endeavour,placing it closer to science and logic.He had supported Wittgenstein in his early attempts at philosophy and with the Tractatus,had sensed the passing on of the torch to this genius.Wittgenstein had grown to see Russell as glib,though quick-witted.Russell saw Wittgenstein's later philosophy as mistaken.
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