Thursday, 18 February 2010


Sidney Morgenbesser (September 22, 1921 – August 1, 2004) was a Columbia University philosopher.

Morgenbesser was known particularly for his sharp witticisms and humor, which often penetrated to the heart of the philosophical issue at hand.

  • During 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. To which Morgenbesser responded in a dismissive tone, "Yeah, yeah."
  • On the independence of irrelevant alternatives: After finishing dinner, Sidney Morgenbesser decides to order dessert. The waitress tells him he has two choices: apple pie and blueberry pie. Sidney orders the apple pie. After a few minutes the waitress returns and says that they also have cherry pie at which point Morgenbesser says "In that case I'll have the blueberry pie."
  • 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 once set this as an exam question: “It is often said that Marx and Freud went too far. How far would you go?”
  • When challenged why he had written so little, he fired back: "Moses wrote one book. Then what did he do?"
  • "The only problem with pragmatism is that it's completely useless." When asked his opinion of pragmatism, Morgenbesser replied "It's all very well in theory but it doesn't work in practice."
  • In response to Heidegger's ontological query "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Morgenbesser answered "If there were nothing you'd still be complaining!"[


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