The twentieth of May, 2011: all propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing

This month’s copy of History Today plopped on to my doormat today. Two of my favourite people were to be found within: David Hume, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Hume’s stripped-back rationalism has an obvious appeal. It’s faintly interesting that it’s hard to say just when this just-the-facts philosopher was born (in Hume’s case, this is because of some calendar-changing shenanigans; in the case of one of his Scottish Enlightenment contemporaries, the surgeon John Hunter, a similar uncertainty – whether he was born on February 7th, 8th or 9th, 1728 – arises, according to biographer Wendy Moore, because:

the exact time of birth of the tenth child in the middle of a cold night in a hushed room lit at best by candles simply went unremarked.

Hunter himself celebrated his birthday on the 14th. That’s all from Knife Man (Bantam, 2005)).

Wittgenstein was perhaps as stripped-back as a philosopher can be. I have spent several evenings peering at the numbered and sub-numbered propositions of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (to pick a phrase at random: [I]n fact all propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing) like a baboon seeking meaning in the Rosetta Stone. I can’t help thinking of Woody Allen on Kierkegaard: ‘The concept brought tears to my eyes. My word, I thought, to be that clever!… True, the passage was totally incomprehensible to me, but what of it as long as Kierkegaard was having fun?’

Turns out he left four million words unpublished.

Speaking of History Today, have I mentioned that the quiz crossword is really first-class?


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