August 05, 2004

If P, so why not Q?

Gary Shapiro has a nice obituary in the New York Sun for Sidney Morgenbesser. Morgenbesser is probably best known to linguists for his riposte to J. L. Austin's claim that two positives never make a negative: "yeah, yeah..." Shapiro's article gives a number of other quotes -- it would be nice to have a complete collection.

A sample from Shapiro...

Morgenbesser on Jewish logic: "If P, so why not Q?"

On scholarly publication: "If your grandmother knew it, don't publish it." And, “Moses published one book. What did he do after that?”

Questioned for jury duty as to whether the police had ever treated him unjustly or unfairly: “Unfairly yes, unjustly no. The police hit me unfairly, but since they hit everyone else unfairly, it was not unjust.”

Gentile ethics: “ought implies can” vs. Jewish ethics: “can implies don’t.”

Q: why there is something rather than nothing?
Morgenbesser: “Even if there were nothing, you’d still be complaining!”

Student: “I just don’t understand.”
Morgenbesser: “Why should you have the advantage over me?”

Morgenbesser on the three types of umpires: the realist who says,“I call them the way they are”; subjectivist who says, “I call them the way I see them,” and the conventionalist, who declares, “I call them and then they are.”

Some more from the comments at Crooked Timber:

Sidney Morgenbesser walks into a restaurant, has dinner, and then asks the waitress what they have for dessert. She says apple pie and blueberry pie. Sidney Morgenbesser says he’ll have the apple pie. She comes back in a moment and says that they also have cherry pie. So Sidney Morgenbesser says “In that case, I’ll have the blueberry pie.”

Morgenbesser on George Santayana: “There’s a guy who asserted both p and not-p, and then drew out all the consequences…”

From the New York Times obituary:

Morgenbesser a few weeks before his death: "Why is God making me suffer so much? Just because I don't believe in him?"

From normblog:

At a conference on cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind, one scholar was presenting what was at the time a popular line on how 'madness' had no real referent and was merely a product of power-laden 'othering'. Sidney chimes, "You mean to tell me that it's all in my head?"

Maoist student: "Professor Morgenbesser, do you mean to say that you disagree with Chairman Mao when he states that a proposition can be true and false at the same time?"
Morgenbesser: "I do and I don't."


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 5, 2004 09:07 AM