Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Only a Philosopher...

While reading Flew’s book, There is (no) a God, I read this anecdote about a lecture by Wittgenstein on the Oxford campus. Wittgenstein is a very influential, if not difficult to understand, philosopher in 20th century thought. This story buttresses my theory that philosophers can be some of the funniest people around.

I personally witnessed Wittgenstein in action at least once….His announced subject was “Cogito ergo sum,” derived, of course, from the French philosopher Rene Descartes’s famous statement “I think therefore I am.” The room was packed. The audience hung on to every one of the great man’s words. But the only thing I can now remember about his comments is that they had absolutely no discernible connection with the announced topic. So when Wittgenstein had finished, Emeritus Professor H. A. Prichard got up. With evident exasperation, he asked what “Herr Wittgenstein”—the Cambridge Ph.D. [Wittgenstein has earned] was apparently not recognized at Oxford!—“thought about Cogito ergo sum.” Wittgenstein responded by pointing at his forehead with the index finger of his right hand and saying only, “Cogito ergo sum. That’s a very peculiar sentence.”

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