Posts Tagged ‘jokes’
John Dewey Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Sidney Morgenbesser was a celebrated scholar: and expert on the philosophy of social science, political philosophy, epistemology, and the history of American Pragmatism, and a mentor to the likes of Jerry Fodor, Raymond Geuss, Robert Nozick, and Derek Parfit.
But Morgenbesser was every equally well-known for his pointedly-relevant witticisms; for instance…
- In 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. From the audience, Morgenbesser waved his arms and responded in a dismissive tone, “Yeah, yeah.”
- When asked his opinion of pragmatism, Morgenbesser replied “It’s all very well in theory but it doesn’t work in practice.”
- Asked to prove a questioner’s existence, Morgenbesser shot back, “Who’s asking?”
- 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.”
- Dissecting the difference between Christianity and Judaism, Morgenbesser described Gentile ethics as entailing “ought implies can” while in Jewish ethics “can implies don’t.”
More Morgenbesser mots here.
[Photo via Columbia University.]
*”Philosophy is common sense with big words.” - James Madison
As we reckon that Wittgenstein was probably right when we suggested that “a serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes,” we might send fantastic birthday greetings to Terence Hanbury “T.H.” White; he was born on this date in 1906. While he wrote over two dozen books, he is best known for his sequence of (four) Arthurian novels, The Once and Future King, first published together in 1958. A best-seller in its own right, it was the basis of the musical Camelot and of the animated feature The Sword on the Stone, and an inspiration to other writers, from J.K. Rowling to Gregory Maguire.
Writing of the first of White’s Arthurian novels, The Sword in the Stone, in 1939, Time opined: “The book as a whole might be described as a shake-up of British rectory humor, Evelyn Waugh, Laurel & Hardy, John Erskine, and the Marquis de Sade, quite well enough blended to please the palate of Sword-in-the-Stone partisans, to assure its author definite standing among such cult men as A. P. Herbert, P. G. Wodehouse, Lewis Carroll.”
The good folks at Diotima (part of the Stoa Consortium) have published John Quinn’s translation of Philogelos (The Laughter Lover), a collection of 265 jokes, likely made in the fourth or fifth century CE. Some manuscripts give the names of the compilers as the otherwise-unknown Hierocles and Philagrios; others drop the name of one or other or both.
Although The Laugher Lover is the oldest surviving example, joke-books already had a long pedigree. For example, according to Athenaeus, Philip the Great of Macedon had paid handsomely for a social club in Athens to write down its members’ witticisms. And at the dawn of the second century BCE, Plautus twice has a character refer to joke-books.
Still this set of zingers is historically interesting, and contains such rib-ticklers as:
#70. An intellectual came to check in on a friend who was seriously ill. When the man’s wife said that he had ‘departed’, the intellectual replied: “When he arrives back, will you tell him that I stopped by?”
#115. An Abderite saw a eunuch talking with a woman and asked him if she was his wife. When he replied that eunuchs can’t have wives, the Abderite asked: “So is she your daughter?” (Abdera was a city in Thrace, whose inhabitants bore the brunt of dumb-ethnic jokes dating back at least to the days of Cicero in the first century BCE.)
#187. A rude astrologer cast a sick boy’s horoscope. After promising the mother that the child had many years ahead of him, he demanded payment. When she said, “Come tomorrow and I’ll pay you,” he objected: “But what if the boy dies during the night and I lose my fee?”
As we mourn what’s lost in translation, we might toss some hard-boiled birthday greetings in the direction of Raymond Chandler, novelist (The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, et al.) and screenwriter (Double Indemnity, with Billy Wilder, e.g.), whose Philip Marlowe was (with Hammett’s Sam Spade) synonymous with “private detective,” whose style (with Hammett’s) defined a genre, and who was (unlike Hammett) born on this date in 1888.
Love interest nearly always weakens a mystery because it introduces a type of suspense that is antagonistic to the detective’s struggle to solve the problem. It stacks the cards, and in nine cases out of ten, it eliminates at least two useful suspects. The only effective love interest is that which creates a personal hazard for the detective – but which, at the same time, you instinctively feel to be a mere episode. A really good detective never gets married.
- Raymond Chandler, “Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel” (essay, 1949)