Tuesday, 13 May 2008

A couple of swells

Two people I admire enormously these days are Montaigne and Wittgenstein. Two people as different as one could imagine. I have no idea what they would have thought of one another, but have no doubt that they each have realised each other´s genius.

People have often asked me what it is about Wittgenstein that I find so compelling. The following little story will not help or give more than a vague clue, but it´s better than nothing.

One of his students, a remarkable woman in her own right, named Anscombe, once remarked to him that it was easy to see why people in the past had thought the sun went round the earth.
´Oh, yes, Why?´asked Wittgenstein. ´Because that´s how it looks,´ said Anscombe.
´But how would it look if the earth went round the sun?´asked Wittgenstein.

It is not easy to extract nuggets like this from either Wittgenstein or Montaigne, as it is from Wilde, or Voltaire or Mencken or Shakespeare.

But these words from his Essay on Experience might, I would like to hope, send people heading to the bookshop to grab Montaigne´s complete works.

´We are great fools. ¨He has spent his life in idleness,¨ we say, and ¨Ï have done nothing today.¨
What! Have you not lived? That is not only the fundamental, but the most noble of your occupations.´

Must get back to earth and the dogs, tomorrow.

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