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Reviews for Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers:

4

Jan 11, 2015

Wittgenstein's poker: the story of a ten minute argument between two great philosophers, David Edmonds, John Eidinow
Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers is a 2001 book by BBC journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow about events in the history of philosophy involving Sir Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, leading to a confrontation at the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club in 1946.
On 25 October 1946, Popper (then at the London School Wittgenstein's poker: the story of a ten minute argument between ‭‭‭two great philosophers‬‏‬, David Edmonds, John Eidinow
Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers is a 2001 book by BBC journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow about events in the history of philosophy involving Sir Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, leading to a confrontation at the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club in 1946.
On 25 October 1946, Popper (then at the London School of Economics), was invited to present a paper entitled "Are There Philosophical Problems?" at a meeting of the Moral Sciences Club, which was chaired by Wittgenstein. The two started arguing vehemently over whether there existed substantial problems in philosophy, or merely linguistic puzzles—the position taken by Wittgenstein. In Popper's, and the popular account, Wittgenstein used a fireplace poker to emphasize his points, gesturing with it as the argument grew more heated. When challenged by Wittgenstein to state an example of a moral rule, Popper (later) claimed to have replied "Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers", upon which (according to Popper) Wittgenstein threw down the poker and stormed out. Wittgenstein's Poker collects and characterizes the accounts of the argument, as well as establishing the context of the careers of Popper, Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, also present at the meeting.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دوازدهم ماه ژانویه سال 2005 میلادی
عنوان: ویتگنشتاین - پوپر و ماجرای سیخ بخاری: ده دقیقه جدال میان دو فیلسوف بزرگ؛ اثر: دیوید ادموندز؛ جان آدینو؛ مترجم: حسن کامشاد؛ مشخصات نشر: تهران، نشر نی، 1383، در 358 ص، مصور، جدول، عکس، شابک: 9643127230 و 9789643127237، کتابنامه ص 333 تا 341 و به صورت زیرنویس، نمایه دارد، چاپ سوم 1386؛ چاپ پنجم 1392؛ موضوع: لودویگ ویتگنشتاین و کارل ریموند پوپر، فلسفه آلمانی - سده 20 م
در شامگاه روز بیست و پنجم ماه اکتبر سال 1946 مبلادی، در اتاقی شلوغ و پرهیاهو در کیمبریج، لودویگ ویتگنشتاین و کارل پوپر برای نخستین و آخرین بار با هم روبرو شدند و تقریباً بلافاصله شایعه در اکناف جهان پیچید که این دو، مجهز به سیخ‌های آختهٔ بخاری، به جان هم افتادند... «آن ده دقیقه بنیاد جهان فلسفه ی غرب را حسابی تکان داد... نویسندگان این کتاب نیز برهان بسیار خوبی پیدا کرده‌ و ماجرا را به طرزی دلپذیر بازگو کرده اند». مجله تایم نیز: دیدار پوپر و ویتگنشتاین را، بسان برخورد تایتانیک و کوه یخ گریزناپذیر می‌پندارد. ا. شربیانی ...more
5

Mar 24, 2007

Karl Popper's a sad case. One of the greatest geniuses of the last century, he was an analytical philosopher par excellence at the exact moment when everyone started to ignore analytical philosophy. But at least he got to survive to see himself become extinct.

Wittgenstein and Popper were from opposite sides of the tracks in Vienna, both had taught school for a little while, both Jews who escaped the Anschluss (Wittgenstein with a bit more dignity than Popper), but beyond some superficial Karl Popper's a sad case. One of the greatest geniuses of the last century, he was an analytical philosopher par excellence at the exact moment when everyone started to ignore analytical philosophy. But at least he got to survive to see himself become extinct.

Wittgenstein and Popper were from opposite sides of the tracks in Vienna, both had taught school for a little while, both Jews who escaped the Anschluss (Wittgenstein with a bit more dignity than Popper), but beyond some superficial biographical similarities they couldn't have been more different. Wittgenstein was cerebral, a charismatic child prodigy with a religious bent; Popper was practical, a cranky tyrant, a social animal. Popper had readers; Wittgenstein had followers (many of whom undoubtedly had no idea what he was talking about.) Wittgenstein said (unhelpfully) of morality that whereof we cannot speak, thereover we must pass in silence; Popper ruefully exclaimed that belief in reality is the ultimate moral imperative.

Naturally, someone decided to stage a showdown, and gave it a name: "Are There Philosophical Problems?" This book tells the story of what may or may not have happened, who may have threatened the other with a poker and with what purpose in mind, but it's also a panoramic survey of prewar Viennese philosophy, as fertile a bunch of intellects as have ever found themselves in one place. The philosophy is a little watered down, but not so much as to be meaningless. This book's worth reading if you're curious about either Wittgenstein or Popper, though I think Popper comes off a little poorly... but unfortunately, I wasn't there. ...more
4

May 09, 2017

I have been meaning to read this for a very long time Ive always been interested in both Wittgenstein and Popper, although never at the same time. Which pretty well explains much of the point of this book, I think. And then Ive recently seen Amadeus again and so Ive a feeling some of the themes from having that play fresh in my mind have had a part in my reading of this too.

Lets start with the blindingly obvious neither of these guys are the sort of people I would choose to be stuck beside on I have been meaning to read this for a very long time – I’ve always been interested in both Wittgenstein and Popper, although never at the same time. Which pretty well explains much of the point of this book, I think. And then I’ve recently seen Amadeus again and so I’ve a feeling some of the themes from having that play fresh in my mind have had a part in my reading of this too.

Let’s start with the blindingly obvious – neither of these guys are the sort of people I would choose to be stuck beside on a plane. Although what is interesting here is that the discomfort I would feel beside either of them would be different in each case. I’m not going to claim to be an expert on either’s work. Positivism has always seemed simpleminded to me – so Popper running around saying, ‘it’s falsification, guys, can you falsify it?’ pretty well sums up my problem with him. And to think that all problems in philosophy are merely word games seems to have the stick by the end you shouldn’t be grasping by in the first place. That is, like Marx and Bourdieu, I think a lot of philosophical problems are answered more in practice than by abstract thought.

But it isn’t so much philosophical objections that would make me choose the window seat and spend the flight watching clouds – it is that these guys are egocentric arseholes. One with endless followers (acolytes) aping him (god, can you imagine anything worse?) and the other the eternal outsider (a role that is just as self-centred, when you think about it for even a second) determined everyone will see he was right in the end – no, look, I’ll take the train, thanks.

This book is less a book of the ten-minute confrontation, somehow involving a low-burnt fire (a stranger?) and an overly aggressive poker, than it is a history of three philosophers strutting and fretting upon a stage that I’m not sure even exists any longer. The third philosopher being Russell who was the problematic (maybe bastard) father to the two Austrians.

I think my problem is the aggression that is the underlying theme of this book – the bullshit masculinity that probably explains why so few women end up in philosophy as any other reason I can think of. What is clear, and what isn’t even contested (not even by Popper himself), is that Popper went to the meeting with the express aim of total victory over his arch-nemesis, Wittgenstein. Unfortunately for him, it seems Wittgenstein had hardly thought of him at all prior to the meeting, probably didn’t leave the meeting due to any of Popper’s arguments (which I suspect were put in ways Wittgenstein was least likely to be able to hear) and other than a few weeks later Wittgenstein ‘setting the record straight’ probably didn’t really think of Popper all that much ever again. Something that even on a good day Popper wouldn’t be able to say in return.

If you want to be Mozart, you have to be lost in your own genius, not running around like Salieri constantly obsessed with someone else’s genius and the desire to destroy that genius. I guess Popper will always be associated with Wittgenstein in ways Wittgenstein simply won’t be with Popper.

This book never goes maddeningly over your head – despite needing to discuss some complex and intricate philosophical problems. These are invariably presented in ways a lay audience have no problem at all in understanding. There are Poppists and Witt-wits that will object endlessly to oversimplifications here – but that is unavoidable. The ability to make clear to a lay audience such complex ideas is a real skill and it is even more impressive because the differences between philosophers are too often obvious to them (and worth going to war over) and totally obscure to everyone else. We are left in no doubt at all that the differences between these guys are consequential and we see what these differences are.

My suggestion would be to not take sides when reading this book. Not just because both philosophers are wrong – but also because they are possibly both right too. ...more
3

Nov 18, 2013

Ludwig Wittgenstein is regarded as one of the great philosophers of the 20th Century. His big idea was that a philosopher's job is to clarify the use of language to help us think more clearly. Early in his philosophical career, he believed that clarification could be achieved by making language more logical. He suggested ways to accomplish this.

Later, he changed his mind. He abandoned the notion that language could be made more logical. He concluded instead that natural language could not be Ludwig Wittgenstein is regarded as one of the great philosophers of the 20th Century. His big idea was that a philosopher's job is to clarify the use of language to help us think more clearly. Early in his philosophical career, he believed that clarification could be achieved by making language more logical. He suggested ways to accomplish this.

Later, he changed his mind. He abandoned the notion that language could be made more logical. He concluded instead that natural language could not be improved upon. A philosophers' job, therefore, is to accept natural language for what it is and to show others how to avoid using language to attempt things beyond what language can do.

[Permit me to insert a parenthetical here. This last point about the limits of natural language has real world consequences. Not long ago, a very smart judge asked me a hypothetical question. In her question, business people were hypothesized to act in a way that business people in the real world do not act. Her inquiry was whether this conduct in the hypothetical world would constitute "an offer". I told her that the question is unanswerable. I could not answer because no one knows what "offer" would mean in a world where people acted in the way that she described. We have no experience with such a world and our natural language meaning of "offer" likely would not fit in the world that she hypothesized. I don't think I made my point as well as I might have because the concept I was trying to communicate is a departure from the way we commonly, but wrongly, assume that language works. That inaccurate assumption is part of what Wittgenstein was trying to fix.]

These big ideas of Wittgenstein, in different ways, were good ideas. But were hardly as interesting as the problems that interested Plato, Descartes or the great thinkers before the 20th century.

Karl Popper was a philosopher of monumental importance too. His big contributions included his refutation of the Logical Positivists' verification theory. (A proposition has meaning only if it makes a statement that is capable of verification. Statements that are not verifiable have no meaning.) Popper offered instead his falsification theory. (A proposition that is not capable of being falsified is not a statement of scientific discourse.) Falsification eliminated certain flaws in the verification theory. Popper also was an eloquent critic of the scourges of the 20th century: fascism, bolshevism and authoritarianism.

Wittgenstein and Popper met only once. When they did, they had a violent argument. WITTGENSTEIN'S POKER describes the background to that argument and tries to resolve the different accounts of what happened on that momentous occasion. The authors seem to conclude that, yes, Wittgenstein did threaten Popper with a poker. And no, Popper's claim to have made a famous wisecrack to Wittgenstein is not true. Popper likely made the crack, but only after Wittgenstein had left the room, which is not quite the heroic thing that Popper made it out to be.

This book is a lot of fun. It might have been a little shorter. I did not need to know quite so much about the Hapsburg Vienna, where both Wittgenstein and Popper grew up. But that is a small complaint.

One remarkable thing, however, is that in 2001, the authors could write the following about Popper:

“But in Britain and America, Popper is slowly being dropped from university syllabuses; his name is fading, if not yet forgotten. This, admittedly, is the price of success rather than the price of failure. Many of the ideas which in 1946 seemed so radical and were so important have become received wisdom. The attacks on authoritarianism, dogma and historical inevitability, the stress on tolerance, transparency and debate, the embracing of trial-and-error, the distrust of certainty and the espousal of humility—these today are beyond challenge and so beyond debate. 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.”

I fear that resurgence has come. Let's dust off our old copies of Popper's THE OPEN SOCIETY and relearn his arguments. They no longer seem to be "received wisdom". And that is a pity. ...more
5

Jul 01, 2016

One of my favorite reads this year, it's delightful.

Apparently it's a legendary anecdote: Karl Popper triumphantly debunking the whole foundation of Wittgenstein's philosophy so brutally that the latter, in impotent rage, threatened him with an iron poker and stormed out.

The main reason it's legendary is because Popper himself wouldn't let it die. He was certain he single-handedly overthrew logical positivism and its conviction that there are no real philosophical problems, merely linguistic One of my favorite reads this year, it's delightful.

Apparently it's a legendary anecdote: Karl Popper triumphantly debunking the whole foundation of Wittgenstein's philosophy so brutally that the latter, in impotent rage, threatened him with an iron poker and stormed out.

The main reason it's legendary is because Popper himself wouldn't let it die. He was certain he single-handedly overthrew logical positivism and its conviction that there are no real philosophical problems, merely linguistic riddles.

But that anecdote, and investigating various accounts of witnesses to nail down the true version of events - is just this book's excuse to portray the world of Western philosophy in the first half of 20th century.

It's full of hilarious gossip about great and less than great intellectuals of the time. It paints a vivid picture of Vienna in the years of Hitler's rise to power. It shows the escalating anti-Semitism in this city once famous for its liberalism and the substantial population of assimilated Jews. It talks about Popper's complicated relationship with his own Jewishness and the Jewish diaspora. As well as Wittgenstein's legendary disdain for social problems, and most things related to mere mortals.

While it definitely picks sides in the conflict, the book does a great job of giving quite in-depth and sympathetic biographical portrait of both Popper and Wittgenstein, who were practically neighbors, but lived in completely different worlds and never met in Vienna despite shared academic interests.

Popper was a self-made man who had to drop out of school when his family lost their money in the post-WWI inflation. Wittgenstein's family was one of the very richest in Vienna, it went down in history as one of the few rich enough to bribe their way out of being sent to a death camp. Popper made his name in history as the prominent thinker of anti-totalitarianism, proponent of the idea of open society. Wittgenstein was a genius who spent his life arguing about linguistic riddles, against the utility of philosophy and for the pointlessness of ethical judgement.

All in all, it's a riveting and educational read and I wish it upon anyone who wants to learn a bit about one of the most interesting and influential thinkers of the 20th century, and to get acquainted with his philosophy without having to study it. ...more
1

Jan 20, 2009

This book was incredibly vapid.

The book is a fluffy soap opera that doesn't attempt to seriously describe either man's thoughts, and what it did describe was subpar to any "Philosophers for Beginners" comic books. The authors' characterization of Wittgenstein vacillated between gross simplification to flat out wrong, yet not only did the authors mis-characterize Wittgenstein's work, but they failed to show how either Wittgenstein or Popper's philosophy changed philosophy (and the world) as we This book was incredibly vapid.

The book is a fluffy soap opera that doesn't attempt to seriously describe either man's thoughts, and what it did describe was subpar to any "Philosophers for Beginners" comic books. The authors' characterization of Wittgenstein vacillated between gross simplification to flat out wrong, yet not only did the authors mis-characterize Wittgenstein's work, but they failed to show how either Wittgenstein or Popper's philosophy changed philosophy (and the world) as we know it. The argument the book revolves around is an unimportant non-event and isn't enough to rest an entire book on.

The larger cultural and historical background was great, but the whole book slid into that recent category of "thin-slice history," which often degenerates into meaningless trivia. This book is the perfect example of thin-history done wrong. The book takes on a paltry gossip-magazine event, and attempts to tell us about the larger time and space that surrounds the event. In this case, we find two "Great Men" acting like assholes, but learn next to nothing about what they actually wrote, what they actually accomplished, and why they made a great impact on their fields.

This book would be little changed if the authors substituted two contemporaneous and warring dilettantes/generals/actresses/peasants/clerks/whatever, instead of two historically important philosophers. ...more
4

Dec 26, 2008

Recently (re)discovering a keen interest in Wittgenstein and his work, I found myself once again lacking when I tried to confront the material head-on, as it were. I poured over the same books I'd studied in classes (now more than a decade ago) only to find myself asking the same questions. Am I really understanding any of this the way it was intended to be understood?

Then recommendations came from a family member on a more helpful approach to Wittgenstein - that is, approaching from the side. Recently (re)discovering a keen interest in Wittgenstein and his work, I found myself once again lacking when I tried to confront the material head-on, as it were. I poured over the same books I'd studied in classes (now more than a decade ago) only to find myself asking the same questions. Am I really understanding any of this the way it was intended to be understood?

Then recommendations came from a family member on a more helpful approach to Wittgenstein - that is, approaching from the side. She recommended three books to me that would serve as sort of "side doors" that might make the material, especially those aspects that appeared contradictory, more accessible. "Wittgenstein's Poker" is one of the three books. The other two are Michael Nedo's "Ludwig Wittgenstein: There Where You Are Not" and Fergus Kerr's "Work on Oneself." (See these reviews separately.) None of these books stand alone as a good reference to Wittgenstein's work, they do, however, lend insight to several aspects of his life.

This particular book not only sheds light on one particularly controversial incident between two great philosophers - but more importantly delves into the road(s) and people that led them there. The background on the Vienna Circle, Vienna's coffeehouse culture, and their Jewish heritage (as assimilated Jews in Vienna) they both shared, are given great attention. How each man chose and later viewed their great professional battles (including the subject of the book) is also well treated. Students, disciples, detractors, and early mentors all play into the total story - so that by the time (late in the book) you actually get the account of the incident, it is almost anti-climactic.



...more
3

Jul 31, 2008

In 1946 philosopher Karl Popper gave a short lecture addressing the central questions of philosophy to a small audience at Cambridge University. When attendee and legendary philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein stormed off in just ten minutes, apparently bristled by Popper's remarks, the meeting became the stuff of legend.

In this slim volume Edmonds and Edinow, a pair of journalists, attempt to reconstruct the fateful meeting, proceeding in detective-like fashion to uncover the details. They really In 1946 philosopher Karl Popper gave a short lecture addressing the central questions of philosophy to a small audience at Cambridge University. When attendee and legendary philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein stormed off in just ten minutes, apparently bristled by Popper's remarks, the meeting became the stuff of legend.

In this slim volume Edmonds and Edinow, a pair of journalists, attempt to reconstruct the fateful meeting, proceeding in detective-like fashion to uncover the details. They really hit a stride when dissecting the fin-de-siecle Vienna that produced the charismatic protagonists. But in the end they fail where it counts the most: philosophy. The authors flub Popper's views a bit and barely deal with Wittgenstein's. There are plenty of volumes that deal with the thinkers' ideas if that's what you are out for. And quite a few biographies accomplish what Edmonds and Edinow attempt, but with less effort and more insight. ...more
4

Dec 25, 2016

I really enjoyed this. And I mean - really really enjoyed it! All the details, all the turns and of course - the adventurous dive into the minds of brilliance and intelligence: Popper and Wittgenstein.

One thing I did not like was the continuous fixation with the looks of women, well almost all the writing regarding women in the book actually. I don't really see the use of it. This intriguing storyline does not need that extra spicing up, because it already has a handful. Sexualising women in I really enjoyed this. And I mean - really really enjoyed it! All the details, all the turns and of course - the adventurous dive into the minds of brilliance and intelligence: Popper and Wittgenstein.

One thing I did not like was the continuous fixation with the looks of women, well almost all the writing regarding women in the book actually. I don't really see the use of it. This intriguing storyline does not need that extra spicing up, because it already has a handful. Sexualising women in that manner just don't cut it. However subtle, it still bugs me....

Believe me, this is as yummy as it gets in the world of modern philosophy with a poker and two stubborn gentlemen. ...more
4

Sep 07, 2008

I found the historical sketches which were basically book-ended with descriptions of "the poker incident" to be well worth the read. Very interesting little insights into the lesser known (or even thought of) effects of WWI and WWII. I learned some valuable things about European history, specifically the intellectual and political climate of Vienna leading up to and during WWII.

I also got some useful ideas through broad overviews of both Popper's and Wittgenstein's careers of their I found the historical sketches which were basically book-ended with descriptions of "the poker incident" to be well worth the read. Very interesting little insights into the lesser known (or even thought of) effects of WWI and WWII. I learned some valuable things about European history, specifically the intellectual and political climate of Vienna leading up to and during WWII.

I also got some useful ideas through broad overviews of both Popper's and Wittgenstein's careers of their philosophical positions and evolutions. I look forward to reading Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies and to a slightly lesser extent The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and diving into the strange (but hopefully and most likely fascinating) world of Wittgenstein's philosophy, both the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus era and the rest of his career in which he -- from what I've gathered from the man himself and other commentary -- essentially refutes everything he said in his most widely praised work. ...more
3

Sep 20, 2013

The authors take a brief moment in time (Wittgenstein's ten minute confrontation with Popper, his philosophical opponent, which involved a fire poker) as a platform to explain the philosophies, biographies and personalities of these two individuals, and the event's moderator, Russell. Here and there, the authors may engage in some journalistic license to add to the story (e.g., "physically small..., neither man was capable of compromise," which comes off as gratuitous prejudice), but generally The authors take a brief moment in time (Wittgenstein's ten minute confrontation with Popper, his philosophical opponent, which involved a fire poker) as a platform to explain the philosophies, biographies and personalities of these two individuals, and the event's moderator, Russell. Here and there, the authors may engage in some journalistic license to add to the story (e.g., "physically small..., neither man was capable of compromise," which comes off as gratuitous prejudice), but generally the authors do an excellent job at describing the philosophies of all three individuals. Despite their great intellects, animal natures were paramount - e.g., anger management issues, disloyalty, concern over rank and standing, sensitive to slight, easy to slight, arrogance. The authors also discuss the broader philosophical community associated with these philosophers - the tribalism and discipleship, the elitism (e.g., "the Apostles, the exclusive Cambridge secret society for the intellectually exalted."), the fashionable thinking, their sense of entitlement (Russell's four wives, multiple affairs, including, reportedly, with his son's wife), and their prejudices (against Jewishness). All in all, this is not a rousing endorsement of Plato's philosopher king concept.

...more
4

Jul 19, 2012

This is a stellar book about a legendary story in academic philosophy: the confrontation between Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, two of the twentieth century's biggest philosophers -- and two of the most different.

At a meeting of the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club in 1946, Karl Popper gave a lecture entitled "Are there philosophical problems?", in which he propounded a view which he knew would be directly opposed to Wittgenstein's, who believed that philosophical problems are merely a result This is a stellar book about a legendary story in academic philosophy: the confrontation between Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, two of the twentieth century's biggest philosophers -- and two of the most different.

At a meeting of the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club in 1946, Karl Popper gave a lecture entitled "Are there philosophical problems?", in which he propounded a view which he knew would be directly opposed to Wittgenstein's, who believed that philosophical problems are merely a result of confusions of language, and that all we must do is puzzle out these confusions and the problem will disappear. Allegedly, the discussion got so heated that Wittgenstein was gesticulating with a fire poker in his hand, ultimately throwing it down to the floor and storming out of the room in disgust. Bertrand Russell, another towering figure in philosophy at the time (and Wittgenstein's former mentor), was also in attendance and reportedly told Wittgenstein to "calm down". Amusingly, the minutes of the meeting understatedly record that the meeting was "charged to an unusual degree with a spirit of controversy".

Edmonds and Eidinow sift through the reports of the event (as told in memoirs and recollections of varying distance from the actual encounter) to try to determine what actually happened at that fateful meeting. Along the way they explore the lives and philosophies of the two men at the heart of the story, which charges the re-telling of the event with the personalities of those involved, making vivid what a moment it must have been.

This is also a great introduction, through a fascinating story, to some of the central debates of Anglo-American philosophy in the early twentieth century. ...more
4

Apr 28, 2011

While it purports to be about an emphatic argument between Wittgenstein and Popper, the book actually uses that incident as a way into exploring the cultural background of both authors, especially the way they were both shaped by Vienna and the rise o the Nazis. There is some philosophy there, but it's treated very lightly and simply. I probably would have gotten more out of the book if it wasn't retreading so much of what I already sorta knew, but it remains a breezy & easy-to-read While it purports to be about an emphatic argument between Wittgenstein and Popper, the book actually uses that incident as a way into exploring the cultural background of both authors, especially the way they were both shaped by Vienna and the rise o the Nazis. There is some philosophy there, but it's treated very lightly and simply. I probably would have gotten more out of the book if it wasn't retreading so much of what I already sorta knew, but it remains a breezy & easy-to-read exploration of the issue. The one unfortunate part was near the end where having covered all the ground and context, the author tries to lamely circle back to the original encounter and reenact it novelistically; it feels both poorly-written and hollow, since most of the vigor at that point has gone to the comparatively more interesting backgrounds of our two antagonists.

As far as literary relatives go, pre-anschluss Vienna is described extensively and exquisitely in Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, itself a series of essays and recollections on important figures of the last century. Errol Morris, in his essays for the NY Times, also will circle topics in the same sort of fashion—albeit with more gumshoe detective work and exploration into the ideological issues underlying the ambiguity. Both authors, James and Morris, are highly recommended above this book. But don't let that scare you off; it's a super-fast, surprisingly short read.

EDIT: Upped it to four stars retrospectively because I was leafing through the book and enjoying the hilarious Wittgenstein epigraphs. Really, the reason I (and most others) are so entranced with him is because he is hilarious to read about despite being an asshole in real life. He just said the funniest shit! ...more
3

Aug 14, 2017

To sufficiently explain the background of a 10 minute's vehement dispute between two most influential philosophers of twentieth century on 25th October 1946, his book includes a short biography of both philosophers, Wittgenstein and Popper, along with their cultural background, temperament and their influence on other philosophers. Wittgenstein(considered by many the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century) was an ascetic monk, almost spiritual in his essence, who believed there isn't any To sufficiently explain the background of a 10 minute's vehement dispute between two most influential philosophers of twentieth century on 25th October 1946, his book includes a short biography of both philosophers, Wittgenstein and Popper, along with their cultural background, temperament and their influence on other philosophers. Wittgenstein(considered by many the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century) was an ascetic monk, almost spiritual in his essence, who believed there isn't any philosophical problems, just linguistic puzzles arising from misuse of our language. Popper, who was seminal contribution in philosophy of science, might well have been the most influential philosopher of science in the last century, save Thomas Kuhn. Popper believed there was indeed REAL philosophical problems, not merely 'puzzles', and Wittgenstein is corrupting a generation of philosophers with his garbage ideas and his towering influence.

At some point of the debate, Wittgenstein took up a poker card from the hearth, and violently brandishing it to 'make his point'. Russell, the once mentor of Wittgenstein, was also present in the debate, and took Popper's side on this case. There followed a intense verbal confrontation between the two of them:


"You misunderstand me, Russell. You always misunderstand me."
"You're mixing things up, Wittgenstein. You always mix things up."


Then Wittgenstein abruptly left the room.

Who won the debate? That is still inconclusive.

Overall, this book is interesting, but would have been more fun to read if it contained less history and anecdotes on both sides and focused more than the philosophical issues in the debate itself. ...more
5

Feb 14, 2020

Read this around the time it came out, and I remember it as one of the highlights for that year. As a "lay person", I found it immensely fun and a great introduction to Popper and Wittgenstein, their work, the philosophical schools they represented and its impact on 20th century philosophy.
I finished it wanting to learn more about the work of Russell, Wittgenstein and Popper.

A random conversation with a stranger at a cafe reminded me of this book, and I now want to re-read (for the 3rd or 4th Read this around the time it came out, and I remember it as one of the highlights for that year. As a "lay person", I found it immensely fun and a great introduction to Popper and Wittgenstein, their work, the philosophical schools they represented and its impact on 20th century philosophy.
I finished it wanting to learn more about the work of Russell, Wittgenstein and Popper.

A random conversation with a stranger at a cafe reminded me of this book, and I now want to re-read (for the 3rd or 4th time). ...more
4

Aug 29, 2019

Great men are only human...An entretaining story of two philosophers from Vienna in the XXth century.
3

Oct 29, 2017

Informative, but I would really like to know more of these men's philosophies. They appear to be at odds about the nature of philosophy, but this book isn't deep enough to explain, nor is it intended to be.
5

Jun 23, 2012

A dual biography of two of the 20th century's most prominent philosophers, culminating in their infamous confrontation. Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein were equally brilliant opponents and when the two expatriate Austrians squared off at Cambridge's Moral Science Club in 1946, everyone piled into the room to watch the two toughest kids in school fight. Bertrand Russell held Popper's coat. GE Moore fanned Wittgenstein with a towel.

To Wittgenstein, the most revered philosopher of his A dual biography of two of the 20th century's most prominent philosophers, culminating in their infamous confrontation. Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein were equally brilliant opponents and when the two expatriate Austrians squared off at Cambridge's Moral Science Club in 1946, everyone piled into the room to watch the two toughest kids in school fight. Bertrand Russell held Popper's coat. GE Moore fanned Wittgenstein with a towel.

To Wittgenstein, the most revered philosopher of his generation, philosophy was a conceit. A parlor game for large-brained primates, the problems of which were no more important than solving a Rubik's cube. Wittgenstein believed that all philosophical paradoxes were ultimately linguistic in nature and since language wasn't built on any sort of rational basis (an epiphany which came to him after being flipped off by a woman on a bicycle), you could never hope to flatten out the kinks which lay underneath the carpet.

To Popper, philosophical problems were not only real, they were largely what determined whether you would live on as an overpaid political science professor or be taken out to the killing fields and strangled to death by an eight-year-old as an enemy of the people. For several tense minutes, Popper spoke on the subject of whether philosophical problems really exist, while Wittgenstein listened in agitation, nervously stirring the logs in the fireplace. When he could stand it no more, he lifted his poker and dared Popper to name a single moral principle, to which Popper replied, "One shouldn't threaten a guest lecturer with a poker." Flummoxed, Wittgenstein fled the room while Russell mocked him by flapping his arms and clucking like a chicken.

Whether Popper really landed a haymaker on Wittgenstein or whether this was a case of "I'm leavin' cuz bitchez be jealous" depends largely who you talk to. Wittgenstein's acolytes who were present at the meeting insist that Popper tried to win a philosophical point with a personal cheap shot, while Popper's defenders say that Wittgenstein ran away because Popper's thesis was unassailable and that if he's going to be a baby, maybe someone ought to change his diapers.

In the end, Wittgenstein's Poker is less concerned with declaring a winner than with deconstructing the mythology which has grown around this philosophical slap-fight and to recognize the unique lives and contributions of both men. I found this book thoroughly enthralling throughout. The fact that it involves philosophers menacing each other with fireplace accessories is a bonus. ...more
4

Jan 15, 2009

This is notable for its clear presentation of the ideas of both Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I discussed it with our Wednesday Study Group and we all found it insightful and entertaining. The book is very well researched having received praise from some of the foremost Wittgenstein scholars, including Ray Monk who wrote the critically acclaimed biography of Wittgenstein's life. However, it is aimed a general reader and those who are looking for detail discussions and defense of the This is notable for its clear presentation of the ideas of both Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I discussed it with our Wednesday Study Group and we all found it insightful and entertaining. The book is very well researched having received praise from some of the foremost Wittgenstein scholars, including Ray Monk who wrote the critically acclaimed biography of Wittgenstein's life. However, it is aimed a general reader and those who are looking for detail discussions and defense of the philosophy of Wittgenstein or Popper will be disappointed. However, for those non-professionals who find a discussion of twentieth century philosophers intellectually stimulating this is a good book. If the challenge is not sufficient for your taste there are always the original texts of these sometimes difficult thinkers.


...more
3

Jan 04, 2012

I found a paperback copy of this book among a random pile of $1 books in a small-town hardware store, of all places. I majored in philosophy (and English) in college, and I loved Wittgenstein, so I figured I'd give the book a read. It's a little bit all-over-the-place, and it's certainly heavier on history and sociology than philosophy, but it's an intriguing read if you've got an interest in the players, or in the history of philosophy at the time. Plus it's a quick read with a lot of fun I found a paperback copy of this book among a random pile of $1 books in a small-town hardware store, of all places. I majored in philosophy (and English) in college, and I loved Wittgenstein, so I figured I'd give the book a read. It's a little bit all-over-the-place, and it's certainly heavier on history and sociology than philosophy, but it's an intriguing read if you've got an interest in the players, or in the history of philosophy at the time. Plus it's a quick read with a lot of fun anecdotes sprinkled throughout. ...more
5

Sep 20, 2012

I very much enjoyed this book. The authors do a good job in contextualizing the meeting of Popper and Wittgenstein within the history of the continent, the story of their individual lives, and the philosophical projects they were each working on. Philosophy often seems so divorced from life - the authors show that philosophy is integeral in that it has an effect on the men and women who profess it and the organization of society and it's methods.
4

Aug 20, 2009

A good book, but you will be bored if you know anything about Wittgenstein and/or Popper's thought already. I enjoyed it because I'd love to know more about both but I am busy with the rest of my life and sadly cannot throw it all aside to study these men's works, no matter how much they deserve it. If you want a book that you can read on the bus but will still make you smarter, this is it.
5

Dec 10, 2015

How Nazi Germany and attitudes towards Jews, teaching, Vienna and the Vienna circle (Logical Empiricism) affected two of the greatest philosophers and their place in the 20th century. Cast list of Turing, Godel, Schoenberg, Freud.......
5

Sep 27, 2019

Calling Wittgenstein a great philosopher would appear to be a highly charitable view given his terrible sense and fondness for oracular statements.  It demonstrates the rather low bar that autocratic and possibly mentally unwell personalities have to meet in order to make a mark in the world of philosophy.  Indeed, one of the more puzzling aspects of this book is how it is possible that nearly 300 pages of material could be written (even on smallish pages) over an interaction that lasted ten Calling Wittgenstein a great philosopher would appear to be a highly charitable view given his terrible sense and fondness for oracular statements.  It demonstrates the rather low bar that autocratic and possibly mentally unwell personalities have to meet in order to make a mark in the world of philosophy.  Indeed, one of the more puzzling aspects of this book is how it is possible that nearly 300 pages of material could be written (even on smallish pages) over an interaction that lasted ten minutes long in a meeting room in Cambridge where two philosophers who traveled in similar circles as exiled and irreligious Viennese Jews met each other for the first and only time and things did not go particularly well.  The story is compelling enough, but making an entire book out of the incident might strike many people as being somewhat excessive in terms of what needs to be worked up to make the incident that serious and that worthwhile.  As someone who is used to seeing historically important people have books written of small and obscure incidents, though, this book is by no means the most insignificant moment that I have read a book about, so at least it has that going for it.

This particular book is divided into 23 chapters.  The author begins with a discussion of the noted poker itself (1) and then looks at the subject of memory and its deceptiveness (2).  There is a discussion about the way that both Popper and Wittgenstein bewitched others through charm (3), and the disciples that each of them had collected, especially Wittgenstein (4).  There is a look at the third man, Bertrand Russell, who brought Popper to the discussion in order to tweak Wittgenstein (5).  There is a discussion of the faculty of Cambridge (6) and its politics as well as a look at the Jewish context of the lives of both men, which takes several chapters (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12), including a chapter about the death of the head of the Vienna Circle, a man deeply hostile to Popper (13), and Popper's ambivalent relationship with that circle (14, 15, 16).  The author also examines Popper's rising success (17) and the question about puzzles and problems that divided the two (18, 19).  Finally, the author seeks to moderate the opinions of the incident by presenting an approach of seeking to harmonize accounts and give all of the people involved the benefit of the doubt, which leads to a detailed discussion of the accounts the authors received from eyewitnesses of the contretemps, included in an appendix.

What is fascinating about this book is the way that it blends so many aspects together of philosophy and culture.  No one reading this book with a remotely fair mind (if such a thing can be said about me as a reader) can leave without realizing that famous philosophers are as much human beings as the rest of us.  And that is not always a good thing.  We remember things wrong, remember ourselves as the heroes of our encounters even if we remember what we could have and should have said instead of what we did actually say, and get involved in decades-long drama over petty incidents with other people.  It just so happens that these people were noted figures in a very small world of 20th century philosophers.  As a reader I found myself being ultimately a fan of neither of the philosophers or their approaches, although I found more to like and appreciate about Popper than about Wittgenstein, but that is something would be fairly obvious given my own ideological perspectives and my own worldview.  This book is mainly for philosophically inclined readers, as many casual readers will not know what the fuss is about. ...more
5

Jul 24, 2019

Utterly fascinating--but why?

I picked this up more or less by accident. The text quickly engaged me and I read the book rather quickly. But why? I had almost no knowledge about Ludwig Wittgenstein the logical positivist philosopher, and only a little more about Karl Popper one of the leading philosophers of science. Philosophy since Hume has mostly left me uninterested. While some people think (famously) that all philosophy consists merely of footnotes to Plato, I've always believed that the Utterly fascinating--but why?

I picked this up more or less by accident. The text quickly engaged me and I read the book rather quickly. But why? I had almost no knowledge about Ludwig Wittgenstein the logical positivist philosopher, and only a little more about Karl Popper one of the leading philosophers of science. Philosophy since Hume has mostly left me uninterested. While some people think (famously) that all philosophy consists merely of footnotes to Plato, I've always believed that the great empiricists, especially David Hume put to rest most of the important questions.

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.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”
...more

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