P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 22
30th December 2001
I. 'Philosophy Pathways' - Relaunch of Pathways Newsletter
II. 'Wittgenstein's Poker - a Moment of Destiny' by Colin Amery
III. 'The Examined Life' online philosophical journal - call for
I. 'PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS' - RELAUNCH OF PATHWAYS NEWSLETTER
It has been a remarkable first year for the Pathways newsletter. In total, 22
issues (including this one) were sent out to upwards of 500 recipients. The
feedback from regular readers has been very positive and encouraging. This
success is almost entirely due to the quality of the articles submitted. A
selection of articles published in the newsletter can be found on the
PhiloSophos site at http://philosophos.org/index.html#articles .
- A hearty thank you to all involved!
For 2002, we have decided on a new name and masthead: 'Philosophy Pathways', to
mark the transformation from an in-house newsletter to a viable electronic
philosophy journal. The URL http://www.philosophypathways.com will still take
you to the main Pathways launch page. The URL for the e-mail newsletter archive
remains the same as before: http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/ .
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All the best for 2002!
II. 'WITTGENSTEIN'S POKER - A MOMENT OF DESTINY' BY COLIN AMERY
"This alone is certain, namely that
there is no such thing as certainty."
- Pliny 'Natural History'
Of one thing, for the purposes of this article, we can be certain. On 26
October l946 Popper met Wittgenstein at the Cambridge Moral Science Club in
King's College. It was a Friday evening and Popper had travelled down on the
steam train from London to Cambridge where he was met on the station platform
by Bertrand Russell who was then the doyen of British philosophers. His protege
and former student, Wittgenstein, who would one day eclipse him as the century's
most important philosopher, waited in the wings to challenge Popper, like
himself, a native of Vienna. The two men had never met. Wittgenstein was on his
home ground to mount his challenge. He had a following of students at Trinity
who came to his seminars and took his words as gospel. The professor with the
piercing eyes normally chaired the Moral Science club meetings and tended to
take over as chairman. The poky little room in which they took place was cold
this particular winter's night and needed a fire to brighten the occasion.
Thus it was that Wittgenstein came to be brandishing the poker, whereupon
Popper made his now famous response to Chairman Russell's request for an
example of moral rule under the heading of ethics: "Not to threaten visiting
lecturers with pokers". It is then suggested, though accounts of the incident
vary according to the viewpoint of the perceiver, that an angry Wittgenstein
who up to this moment had brandished the offending weapon (nobody seems to
remember in which hand) threw it to the ground and charged out of the room,
slamming the door loudly behind him. Russell, who was up on the speaker's
platform smoking his pipe, had chided the enfant terrible for his behaviour
saying: "The trouble with you, Wittgenstein, is that you always get things
wrong". The man who walked out so unceremoniously might have responded to his
mentor, "I know that queer things happen in this world. It's one of the few
things I've really learned in my life."
Room H3 in King's College was thus the scene of high drama. The two Viennese
men had diametrically opposed views about philosophy and came from very
different backgrounds. Wittgenstein was of a rich aristocratic lineage and was
trained as an engineer. His family had made a fortune in munitions but he gave
his inheritance away after the First World War and took up teaching first in
Austria and later in Norway. Popper had a harder track to hoe. He was from a
bourgeois background with a legal family business. As a Jew he fled his own
country after the anschluss and got a job teaching philosophy in New Zealand.
There he made his particular war effort producing a seminal work 'The Open
Society and its Enemies' which Russell greatly admired. After the war he took
up a teaching post at the London School of Economics which is justly renowned
as one of Britain's pre-eminent institutions of higher learning. Indeed, he was
still a teacher there in l958 when Mick Jagger glided along its corridors,
shaping pop tunes in his mind, whilst I was attending lectures from Michael
Oakeshott on political philosophy. Twelve years earlier, Popper had caught the
steam train from Liverpool Street station to Cambridge, unaware of the storm
about to break. The two men were almost class enemies and, philosophically,
Popper came from the problem-solving school of philosophers whereas
Wittgenstein saw language as the key to dissolving all philosophical problems.
"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of
language", he once stated. Popper was not impressed by such pronouncements
describing the 'Tractatus' as "smelling of the coffee house". He had contempt
for such places since for him they represented a hang out for the affluent, He
went on to suggest that his enemy could not tell the difference between a
coffee house and a trench.. Popper got this badly wrong, for the First World
War saw Wittgenstein spending his time as an officer in the trenches on the
German side where he actually wrote most of 'Tractatus'. It seems that the most
intense and enjoyable years of the Austrian army officer were those spent in
close contact with daily doses of danger at the front. It is also noteworthy
that Hitler and Wittgenstein had been to the same school in Linz, before
serving in the same war, one as a corporal and the other as an officer.
Popper's father even contributed to the fund that kept struggling artists like
Adolf Hitler going, as did Jewish shopkeepers who bought his paintings.
A strange fate seemed to interweave the two men who finally clashed swords in
Room H3 at King's College. The connectedness of their two lives led them almost
inexorably to that moment. 'Wittgenstein's Poker' (Faber ISDN 057120547X) is
described on its dust jacket as "The story of a ten-minute argument between two
great philosophers". The authors are David Edmonds and John Eidinow who both
work at the BBC. It is their first book and makes rewarding reading. They trace
the history of each of the protagonists up to the moment of their one and only
encounter. A list of those present reads like a who's who in philosophy.
Russell chaired the meeting and ended up as referee for the final fight. Peter
Munz was there - a New Zealander whom Popper had taught in his home country -
later describing this incident as: " a watershed in twentieth century
philosophy." Stephen Toulmin who was also present later co-wrote
'Wittgenstein's Vienna' which chronicles the city's fin de siecle gaiety and
corrosive melancholy. The man who was a product of these times and waved a
poker in the air on the night the titans met was a quirky individual whose
homosexual leanings came to the fore in his undergraduate years. Never one to
take a back seat in any situation, Wittgenstein had a series of close
relationships with some of his students whom he liked to dominate and even
persuade to leave academia and take up jobs in factories. Colin Wilson suggests
in 'The Misfits' - a work on sexuality and outsiders - that Wittgenstein picked
up rough young men in Volksprater Park, the site of the famous Ferris wheel
featured in 'The Third Man', an ideal setting for that classic Graham Greene
Freud never met either of the two men squaring off in room H3. If he had seen
either of them on his shawl-draped couch in Vienna's Ringstrasse (where the
consulting rooms are now a museum) he might have recorded some rich material
for posterity. Popper poured scorn on Freud's theories as "pseudo-science",
whereas Wittgenstein, who regarded Freud as no fool, wrote an article on the
value of psycho-analysis. His sister had been on the famous couch in the
mid-1930s and helped Freud escape from the Nazis in 1938. Wittgenstein later
compared his own work to psychotherapy. There are four footnotes to Freud in
the index and interestingly ten to Hitler. 'Wittgenstein's Poker' is a
fascinating text to burrow into and find much buried treasure. For me, living
on the edge of the world, as I do in New Zealand, I liked Popper's reference to
my country as "nearest to the moon". Having recently written about Colin
Wilson's 'Outsider' for the Pathways newsletter, I found it interesting that
both men are described as outsiders in this book. The man holding the poker is
called "the ultimate modernist outsider" and his opponent with the ready quip
is described by a fellow music student in Vienna as "an outsider in the best
sense of the world".
In the end the book is a fascinating study of how different lives run on
parallel tracks and then finally intersect. It is rather like a detective
story, leading up to the raised poker, when the murderer might have been
exposed. But philosophers are far more gentlemanly than this. We have
accusations about a possible Third Man connection against Wittgenstein in a
book by Kimberley Cornish who was a former PhD scholar at Auckland University.
His way-out theory suggests that the KGB's man at Cambridge who persuaded
Philby, Blunt, Burgess and McLean all to spy for the Russians was Wittgenstein.
Popper might have used this theory as ammunition for further attacks on an enemy
of his "open society". Wittgenstein was keen to visit the Soviet Union but it
was most unlikely he ever spied for the Russians.
Both men were Jews, one rich, the other poor. Wittgenstein gave away his wealth
and took off to the snow-clad hills of Norway where he built his own house. Both
had to leave their native Vienna, driven out by the machinations of a dictator
with whom Wittgenstein had gone to school. Popper built his reputation on a
book dealing with the likes of Herr Hitler. Both men became teachers in
academia and tended to put their students on their mettle. Neither suffered
fools gladly. The lawyer's son was happily married but mean to visiting guests.
Wittgenstein was an unhappy and difficult individual who never fitted into
society, except perhaps when he was in the army. These two asteroids in the
firmament of philosophy were bound to collide holding such diametrically
opposed views. The clash of the titans when it finally came was as inevitable
as night following the day. The gloves were off at the meeting on 25 October
l946 when the very purposes of philosophy were at stake in the analytic
revolution that had just begun. Popper deserves the last word because his
opponent exited from the ring after round one: "The future is not reached on
steel tracks laid down from the past."
His words echo eerily down the years. Our present path to the future is forged
on tracks of steely uncertainty which Pliny might have done lip service to.
Both philosophers have died but their works live on. The infamous poker from
Room H3 has never been traced. Its story has now been finally told and all who
follow the history of philosophy with loving interest, as I do, should get this
modestly priced book about a ten-minute argument in the tracks of time.
(c) Colin Amery 2001
Web site http://www.amerylaw.co.nz
III. 'THE EXAMINED LIFE' ONLINE PHILOSOPHICAL JOURNAL
- CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
The Following message was forwarded by Daoud Khashaba
(http://www.back-to-socrates.com). The message is from Professor Herman
Pietersen, Associate Editor of the online philosophical journal 'The Examined
Life' URL http://examinedlifejournal.com:
"I was wondering if you could perhaps be of assistance in helping us get
additional submissions for the next 'The Examined Life' issue (No 9: Logic and
Philosophy, deadline: 15 January 2002).
"I would really appreciate it if you know of anyone that can send us
manuscripts (it need not be about the theme above.) It could also be existing
pieces which, of course, should not infringe on any current copyrights or some
other legal limitation."
* How to submit an article to 'The Examined Life'
(from the web site)
"The Examined Life is always looking for amateur, student, and professional
philosophers who are willing to submit their articles, reviews, ideas, links or
"Also, on a quarterly basis, the journal will issue a call for papers on
certain topics. To learn what those topics are, go here.
"If you want to submit an article, 'letter to the editor', or book review, then
please do as follows:
"Convert your text to either TXT, HTML, doc., or Wordperfect.(NOTE: DO NOT
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unneeded and extra code!) Write a brief bio which can accompany your work.
Include with your submission a statement by you authorizing The Examined Life
to publish your work. E-mail your submission to
'The Examined Life' provides useful guidelines for making a successful
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