Joshua Nomen-Mutatio's Reviews > Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers

Wittgenstein's Poker by David Edmonds
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's review
Sep 07, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: history, philosophy, biography-and-or-autobiography, sometimes-people-clash

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.
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Reading Progress

September 7, 2008 – Shelved
September 15, 2008 – Shelved as: history
September 15, 2008 – Shelved as: philosophy
November 9, 2008 – Shelved as: biography-and-or-autobiography
Started Reading
January 20, 2009 – Finished Reading
January 23, 2009 –
page 106
28.8% "Mostly pretty fascinating so far, at least in its historical content."
January 24, 2009 –
page 173
January 26, 2009 –
page 210
January 28, 2009 –
page 270
March 10, 2009 – Shelved as: sometimes-people-clash

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by Jesse (new)

Jesse is this as fascinating as it looks?

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It's pretty good so far. I just started it last night. If you're into what I tend to call "nerd wars" you may like it. There's just something that will always be funny to me about really heated debates and rivalries between philosophers and scientists. Or I guess any sort of "battle of ideas" that reaches certain heights (like people waving fire pokers around and yelling, for example). I love these kinds of things, but I also see how funny they look, and probably especially to those who think philosophy (or "intellectual stuff" generally) is a waste of time to begin with.

message 3: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 20, 2009 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio And hey, it's better than people bringing out the missiles and guns to solve their disputes. Rather they write papers and insult one another's ideas and that's it. Oh, we've evolved somethin' fierce, here.

message 4: by Troy (new) - rated it 1 star

Troy Hey, sorry to jump in, saw Jesse's question and thought I'd throw in my uncollected thoughts.

I thought the book was incredibly vapid and fluffy. It didn't spend any real time with either man's thoughts and what it did say was worse then anything I've read in those "Philosophers for Beginners" books. I don't know Popper as well as I should, but the authors' characterization of Wittgenstein was either simplified to a ridiculous level or flat out wrong. (I felt the authors not only mis-characterized Wittgenstein's work, but disliked his philosophy without showing how Popper's philosophy worked as a counter, and without showing how either man's philosophy changed philosophy (and the world) as we know it.).

The larger background was nice, as was the history, but the whole book slid into that recent category of thin-slice history, which often degenerates into taking too thin of a slice- such a thin slice that nothing about history is really learned, as in this case, where we find two "Great Men" acting like assholes, but learn next to nothing about why history considers them great.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I can't say I was going into this book with great expectations. I'm going to keep going with it, as so far it's just been hilarious to me...the (overly)dramatic retelling from various perspectives of two philosophers getting huffy with one another (plus I'm like only 20 pages in).

Also, I'm rather uninitiated when it comes to both figures so this seems like it might end up being a decent primer (though your review suggests otherwise). If not, I'm planning on reading both of their works on their own anyway. There's a somewhat similar book which is much shorter, to the point, and more focused on the philosophical ideas rather than the historical ones called Kuhn v. Popper: The Struggle For The Soul of Science, which you may want to check out.

I appreciate the input, no apologies necessary.

message 6: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 21, 2009 07:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Also, I'm familiar with the schism both Wittgenstein and Popper represent and just trying to get a better handle on it. But the best way to do this will be to actually read more of what these men wrote. I'm all over the place lately with what I'm reading, even philosophy-wise, as I'm mostly preoccupied with philosophy of mind and ethics and philosophy of science which are related of course, but hard to juggle in the short term, if that makes sense.

I digress.

message 7: by Jesse (new)

Jesse thanks for the input guys, i really am a complete beginner when it comes to philosophy, i mean i haven't even read plato (although i plan on it); so these sort of pop-history/philosophy books are usually what i need to get a general understanding of different philosopher's ideas, especially 20th cent. philosophy. any books that you would recommend for beginners; i probably won't have time to read them right now, but maybe in the next few months. thanks.

message 8: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 21, 2009 09:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It does really depend on what you're interested in reading about as "philosophy" covers a huge amount of ground. I've heard that Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy is a good overview but it's also pretty old now and doesn't cover the last half century plus of development throughout the field. But I'll look around for some good intros and overviews and let you know what I find. One thing I would recommend understanding initially, which I didn't figure out until having already finished my liberal arts education, is that there's a huge rift between the analytic and continental traditions in philosophy. This may sound lame but wikipedia is a good place to start getting some basic ideas as well. Also the online Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a really good resource, though much of the entries assume a level of knowledge on the subjects that might be out of your range. I mean, some of the articles throw me for a loop as well. But philosophy, I think, isn't much different from other subjects in the sense that it's really all a matter of learning the terminology and then connecting the dots between ideas, etc. When I don't know what a philosopher is talking about I find it's almost always a matter of being unclear on certain terms, but the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and wikipedia (which draws much info from the SEP) are good remedies to these obstacles.

But I know that there are plenty of overviews of the history of philosophy out there for the choosing so you'd probably find most of them useful, that's my guess at least. I'll give a look around though and drop you message with some specific titles later.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio And I'd also suggest reading about the Pre-Socratic philosophers before getting into Plato, at least for the sake of historical continuity.

This was the book I read about them in college which I liked, there may be better ones out there but this is the one I know of:

message 10: by Jesse (new)

Jesse thanks alot for all the input. i have read a few wiki articles on philisophical concepts as well as some biographical info and i agree that it is a good source for basic info. anyway thanks again for the help.

message 11: by Troy (new) - rated it 1 star

Troy Yeah, Russell's History of Western Philosophy is a pretty good place to start. He definitely doesn't try to remain "fair and unbalanced" (unless you consider Fox fair and unbalanced) and his take on a lot of my favorite philosophers is straight up bullshit (esp. the section on Nietzsche which is full of mistakes, mis-readings, lies and half-truths). And the book doesn't cover anything recent. A lot has happened since then (I don't remember if he even gets to Heidegger, who has had an immense impact).

And as important as Popper is, he pales next to the importance of Wittgenstein. What the book doesn't cover is that Wittgenstein (for the most part) created the analytic school with his Tractus, and he completely repudiated it later on with his book Philosophical Investigations. A lot of contemporary philosophy (esp. from the "continental school" but also from analytical philosophers like Quine) attack the supposed formal and logical foundations of the analytic school (successfully, I think).

Anyway, the "Wittgenstein for Beginners" or "Introducing Wittgenstein" comic books are ok, as are a few other quick introductory books. But I think everyone should read Philosophical Investigations, which changed philosophy as we know it (and had a massive impact on philosophy of mind, and NOT in the simplistic way that this book suggests at one point).

message 12: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 22, 2009 08:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I'm a huge fan of Nietzsche and agree completely that Russell's take seemed like he didn't actually read much of the man's work at all. Very inaccurate to say the least.

I don't know that it's accurate to say that Wittgenstein created the analytic tradition though. Most accounts I've seen give Kant that position. I mean, Frege predates Wittgenstein and it doesn't get more classically analytic than Frege. Russell would also be a more likely contender for such a position. This is not a slight against Wittgenstein at all, and he's the philosopher I'm most excited to get to know better right now. But I just think it's historically inaccurate to call him the originator of the analytic tradition.

message 13: by Troy (new) - rated it 1 star

Troy True, but Russell and Whitehead are considered the true founders, even though Frege (who I haven't read) completely influenced them, but as I understand it, Wittgenstein's Tractus created analytic philosophy as we know it, specifically the logical positivists. I know his Tractus shook up Frege, Whitehead and Russell.

As I understand it, Sellars and Quine both come out of Wittgenstein and they are arguably the most important of the analytic school, post war.

Then again, the analytic school never really interested me, so I'm really going on hearsay from my few philosopher friends (one who wrote his dissertation on some boring aspect of analytical philosophy). I did like Quine, tho' - he's a good writer and occasionally funny, and Sellars' Empiricism has sat on my shelf, unread, for too many years.

message 14: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 22, 2009 10:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I'm just getting into the whole analytic tradition now. I did the typical "history of western philosophy" thing throughout college while reading a lot of 19th and 20th century continentals. I'm really enjoying much of the contemporary analytic stuff, especially when it comes to philosophy of mind, ethics and philosophy of science (my favorite philsophical subjects right now).

I've had Sellar's Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind on my "shelf" for a few months now as well. I hear it's really good but really difficult.

I'm actually listening to Quine speak as I type this. You may want to check this out:

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Wittgenstein's Tractatus is considered one of the most influential books within the analytic tradition, that's for sure. Quine seemed to move the tradition away from focusing purely on language and into a more scientific, empirical approach towards all matter of problems, and also admitted that there really are philosophical problems and not merely word puzzles as Wittgenstein seems to have maintained at least at some point in his career. But I'm just getting my feet wet with this stuff so I could be terribly misinformed as well.

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