Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened in the Coffee Shop...

I have talked about Ludwig Wittgenstein before on this blog. As I may have mentioned, I have some background in philosophy that goes way back to my undergraduate years when I took an introductory course in philosophy followed by ones on the philosophy of history and the philosophy of mind. So I have had a long acquaintance (if not actual understanding) with Wittgenstein. A few years ago I picked up a first edition of G. E. M. Anscombe's "Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus" in a library book sale which may be the hardest book I have ever tried to read! The reference is to the famous book by Wittgenstein, the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" which is one of the most important books in 20th century philosophy. I lost my copy years ago.

Anyway, something I was reading on the Web yesterday reminded me of it and, since I just got a Kindle, I thought I would see if there were an inexpensive Kindle edition, which there was. So last night I downloaded it. I didn't get a chance to look it over until today.

This afternoon I dropped into my favorite coffee shop for a double expresso. They were really busy so I looked around and grabbed a chair on one side of a little table on the other side of which was a matching chair, occupied by an older gentleman. It might seem as if I were intruding in his space, but the way it was set up, I wasn't really. They were separate chairs that just shared a little side table.

Then I got my expresso and sat down. I opened up my Kindle and decided to have a look at the Wittgenstein. There is a long, long introduction by Bertrand Russell that I decided to breeze through. I think I prefer my Wittgenstein without a side of Russell! Anyway, I read my way into the first part of the Tractatus. It is in the form of a series of propositions, the first couple of which are:
1 The world is everything that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
And so on. After a while I had finished my coffee and I closed up my Kindle, preparing to leave. The gentleman across the side-table said something about getting my work done--I guess he thought I had a tablet. So I said, "just reading in my Kindle". We chatted about Kindles for a couple of minutes and then came The Question: "what are you reading?"

I really didn't want to say. Oh sure, when I was in my 20s and 30s I loved for people to ask me what I was reading. But now? I said, "are you sure you want to know?" He said sure, so I had to tell him:

The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

He paused a beat and replied, "oh, sure, I saw the movie."

I think that the next time I may just lie and say "Tom Clancy".

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