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Posts Tagged ‘Sidney Morgenbesser

“Why is God making me suffer so much? Just because I don’t believe in him?”*…

David Shatz on an important important– and surely the funniest– modern philosopher…

Many have heard the story about the British philosopher [Oxford linguisitic philosopher J. L. Austin] who asserted in a lecture that, whereas in many languages a double negative makes a positive, in no language does a double positive make a negative. Instantly, from the back of the room, a voice piped up, “Yeah, yeah.”

While the story is well-known—and true—many do not know that the “yeah, yeah” came from Sidney Morgenbesser (1921-2004), a professor at Columbia University who later became the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy, and whose 10th yahrzeit will be marked this summer. Those who did not experience Morgenbesser could not fully appreciate James Ryerson’s words in his superb portrait in the “The Lives They Lived” issue of The New York Times Magazine: “The episode was classic Morgenbesser: The levity, the lightning quickness, the impatience with formality in both thought and manners, the gift for the knockout punch.” (Ryerson has long been working on a book about Morgenbesser.) Nor could most people know that this comic genius was revered by philosophers and other literati, including people of eminence and fame, as one of the truly spectacular philosophical minds of his time—someone whom, reportedly, no less a figure than Bertrand Russell considered one of the cleverest (that’s British for “smartest”) young men in the United States…

A man who would surely have tickled Wittgenstein’s funny bone: “‘Yeah, Yeah’: Eulogy for Sidney Morgenbesser, Philosopher With a Yiddish Accent,” in @tabletmag.

A few other examples of Morgenbesser’s wit:

• Morgenbesser in response to B. F. Skinner: “Are you telling me it’s wrong to anthropomorphize people?”

• In response to Leibniz’s ontological query “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Morgenbesser answered “If there were nothing you’d still be complaining!”

• 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.”

* Morgenbesser, a few weeks before his death from complications of ALS, to his friend and Columbia philosophy colleague David Albert


As we laugh and learn, we might recall that on this date in 1979, “Ring My Bell” was atop the pop charts.

Written by Frederick Knight, the composition was originally intended for then eleven-year-old Stacy Lattisaw, as a teenybopper song about kids talking on the telephone.  But when Lattisaw signed with a different label, Anita Ward was asked to sing it instead.

“Ring My Bell” went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the Disco Top 80 chart, and the Soul Singles chart.  It also reached number one on the UK Singles Chart.  And it garnered Ward a nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 1980 Grammy Awards. It was her only hit.

See (and, of course, hear) Ward perform the song here.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 30, 2023 at 1:00 am