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Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers Paperback – 8 Apr 2002
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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 FraynSee all Product description
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In 2001 the author wrote (p.230):
"If a resurgence of communism, fascism, aggressive nationalism or religious fundamentalism once again threatened the international order based on the open society, then Popper's works would have to be reopened and their arguments relearned."
Who would have thought it?
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. Popper was grateful to Russell,being deferentialand paying his respects to a man he considered the greatest philosopher in the West,corresponding with him before and after the meeting,thanking him for his intervention.Both men,Popper and Wittgenstein, had intellectual aggressiveness,a desire to win at all costs.The book makes clear the changes in Wittgenstein's philosophy,referring to it as I and II,which we are led to believe Popper is not aware of when he takes him to task.Wittgenstein was the Chairman of the Club.He often argued at the meetings,often walking out.
Popper's desire is to `provoke' Wittgenstein,by stating that there are philosophical problems,which are notpuzzles. Wittgenstein had set the intellectual fashion.Popper was always outside of fashion.But with time his influence and greatness will show.His works have taken many years to come to light.The setting for this peculiar event was a meeting of the Cambridge Moral Science Club in 25 October 1946.There are different accounts of what precisely took place,but the general gist of it is that in the midst of a heated discussion about the validity of moral rules, Wittgenstein picked up a poker,gesticulated to make a point,and then abruptly departed the scene.Popper is said to have subsequently given as an example of a moral rule that one should not threaten visiting lecturers withpokers. Was Wittgenstein talking about himself,Popper thought,talking about the fly trapped in the fly-bottle?To theformer, philosophy is `a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.'Who had won is left open to the reader.Muddle?In Unended Quest Popper has the last word:he had slain the dragon of the Magus.
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.
Wittgenstein believed that the questions of philosophy were linguistic "puzzles," a belief that offended Popper who believed that there were genuine "problems" yet to be solved in philosophy; and furthermore, to relegate the problems of philosophy to mere "puzzles" was to demean philosophy itself and its practitioners.
I have no idea who is right. In fact, even after reading this book, I am still in a fog about the difference between a "puzzle" and a "problem" except to note that puzzles should be relatively trivial compared to problems. My inclination is to lean toward Popper, author of the famous and highly influential books, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) and The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959) and other works. Wittgenstein's published works are not as celebrated, but according to Edmonds and Eidinow he is regarded among professional philosophers as one of the greatest of all time, to rank ahead of Hume and Descartes, behind Aristotle, Plato, Kant and Nietzsche. (p. 292)
Consequently in addition to providing the reader with a most interesting tale of intellectual warfare, this book has inspired me to read more about the philosophy of Wittgenstein and Popper. In particular I want to compare Popper's ideas about the philosophy of science with those of Thomas Kuhn.
Bottom line: this is the only book I know of about the lives and works of philosophers that is in any way a threat to become a Hollywood movie.
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