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Wittgenstein's Poker

Wittgenstein's Poker

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Published by cory_ruda
A breakdown of Wittgenstein's Poker by David Edmonds, and John Eidinow.
A breakdown of Wittgenstein's Poker by David Edmonds, and John Eidinow.

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Published by: cory_ruda on Dec 05, 2011
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09/14/2012

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Cory RudaTo Pose the Question From Wittgenstein’s Poker October 25
th
, 1946: A battle of epic proportions would take place that night. Thebattlefield chosen was room H3 in King’s college, Cambridge. The weapon of choicewould not be guns, or swords, or even a fireplace poker, though one would bebrandished. The weapons instead would be words. The question at stake is no less thanthis: Is philosophy nothing more than a series of confounding words, or are there realphilosophical problems that could be solved to benefit mankind? Two esteemedphilosophers would take stance at either side, their fiery personalities and unwaveringdeterminations clashing.The story presented within the covers of “
Wittgenstein’s Poker: The Story of aTen-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers” 
is that of the true nature of philosophy. One combatant behind it is the Austrian eccentric Ludwig Wittgenstein, aprofessor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge. His opponent that night wouldbe Karl Popper, another Austrian who taught at the London School of Economics. Theywould be meeting in room H3 in King’s college, Cambridge, the room of esteemedphilosopher Richard Braithwaite, so that Popper could present his paper, “Are TherePhilosophical Problems?” during a meeting of 
Cambridge’s Moral Science Club
.Wittgenstein was long known for his stance that philosophical problems are caused onlyby the misuse, misunderstanding, and distortion of the vernacular by those presentingthese philosophical problems, or “Ordinary Language Philosophy.” Popper took theopposing stance. He believed, over anything else, that philosophical problems mattered just as much as the sciences in which he worked.
 
Wittgenstein matured intellectually with a deep concern for logic. His mindworked in a very mathematical way, with a large interest in the engineering. By the ageof twenty he had already designed full plans for planes, and had designed early, fully-functional jet engines which influenced greatly the future and development of modern jetplanes. It is then no surprise that he stepped into the logics of language. He viewed allphilosophical problems as mere puzzles or games, supposing that they exist only due tothe nature of communication. Wittgenstein’s real concern in philosophy was logic, andits attempt to work communication into its basics, so that abstractions and vagueexplanations could be fully removed from communication.Popper, on the other hand, was much more interested in finding how philosophycould relate better to man’s work in the sciences. He worked to prove that philosophy isa necessary part of scientific growth, and that, to do so, society must work to forgetabout its seeming obsessive trust in empiricism, and to move closer to proof of scientifictheory indirectly. He argued that abstract concepts, such as the scientific method andmany philosophical problems, could easily step out of their empirical boundaries andcould advance and evolve through indirect proofs. In addition to this radical approach tophilosophical proofs, he also worked to redefine what is and what is not scientific.Popper tried to do this by setting up that falsifiability need be a requisite for what isscientific; That is, if a theory is scientific, and if it is false, then it could be proven falseby experimentation and observation.The two combined that fateful night in room H3, and the results were bothexplosive, and mysterious. Unfortunately, the actual events of their meeting are verylittle more than vague. What is agreed is that Popper opened up his paper with very little
 
introduction. He presented the question, “Are there philosophical problems?” then readhis paper. Wittgenstein posed the question at some point of, “ What is a moral rule?”while emphasizing his points with a fireplace poker, and, at some point, the response of,“Not to threaten visiting lecturers with a fireplace poker,” was given by Popper. Also, it istrue that at some point, Wittgenstein loudly left the room. This could be interpretedeither in saying that Wittgenstein was upset, or that he simply was being himself, by allaccounts given, in that he never left a room quietly. He would also frequently leave themeetings early, in that he would have complaints against him that he would often speakso much that no one else in these meetings would have the chance to address anyissues. Popper took this, however, as Wittgenstein being “defeated,” conceding his sideof the argument. That is, at least, what he said in his future recollection of the night.Perhaps, however, Popper only saw what he wished to see. He admits previousknowledge of Wittgenstein’s theories and ideas, having read his
Tractatus Logico.
Clearly, Popper knew that Wittgenstein would find much to object with in Popper’s paper and arguments. He also, undoubtedly, had heard of Wittgenstein’s fiery, passionatedisposition. Was Popper, perhaps, waiting for a pivotal confrontation with the fellowAustrian thinker? It isn’t very hard to believe, especially with his most esteemed heroBertrand Russell, a long well-known and influential British philosopher in the room withthem.Popper had long hoped to gain the admiration of Russell, often asking him for critical reviews of his work, as well as general advice on different topics. He evendedicated a book to Russell, and Russell was mentioned multiple times in his biography.Russell, though, never seemed to notice the young man. He had, however, noticed

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