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W i t t g e n s t e i n

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"Wittgenstein est né en Autriche, dans une famille de la grande bourgeoisie. Après des études d'ingénieur, il étudie la philosophie auprès de Bertrand Russell. Engagé volontaire dans l'armée autrichienne pendant la Priemière Guerre mondiale, il écrit alors le seul ouvrage publié de son vivant, le Tractatus logico-philosophicus. Après avoir été instituteur et jardinier, il renoue avec la philosophie en 1939. Il finit sa vie dans une hutte de la côte irlandaise." - La philosophie de A à Z, Hatier, Paris, 2000, p. 476

David Edmonds, John Eidinow,
Wittgenstein's Poker
London: Faber and Faber, 2001. p. 267
Compte-rendu par Paddy Salmon

Did Wittgenstein really threaten Popper with a red-hot poker on the only occasion they ever met to discuss their conflicting visions of philosophy? This odd question forms the basis of a fascinating survey of the ideas and background of two of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (who incidentally attended the same school in Vienna as Adolf Hitler) and Karl Popper both came from Austria, but from very different backgrounds. Wittgenstein was born into one of the wealthiest families in Europe and from an early age showed a deep interest in mathematics and engineering. He gave up his fortune and became a humble village schoolmaster, living a life that was austere and free of luxuries. He became interested in philosophy and came to Cambridge in England to study under Bertrand Russell, one of the leading thinkers on the philosophy of mathematics and logic. He became fascinated with language: for him the problems of philosophy were not metaphysical or ethical so much as linguistic puzzles.

Karl Popper, younger and from a more modest background, was far more concerned with the political and historical problems of his age and thought that concepts like freedom and justice were at the heart of philosophy, as he saw it, and were not just linguistic puzzles. He too was a friend of Bertrand Russell.

The scene is set for their meeting on the 25th October 1946 at the invitation of the Moral Sciences Club of Cambridge. Whose ideas would prevail, those of Popper, invited to speak that evening, or those of Wittgenstein, the difficult logician and darling of his student disciples (who all copied his open shirts with no tie – unheard of in England in those days - and his often rude outbursts against those who did not immediately appreciate his ideas)?

And the poker? Was it red-hot? Was it even picked up by Wittgenstein? Did it actually exist? You will have to read the book to find out. Borrow it from Paddy Salmon (Sections Inter) but leave your poker behind!

Paddy Salmon
Head of English, English International Section, Lycée de Sèvres
Autres publications de Paddy Salmon sur notre site :
Proposal for a Project for Distance Educational Exchanges (translation)
The Project Europe Education School (Translation)
Qui sommes-nous? (Translation)