Sidney Morgenbesser’s paradoxical words as he was dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) are not the only ones he’s known for. Here, from Wikiquote, are some of his less bitter remarks. (Remember, he was a professor of philosophy.)
During a lecture, the Oxford linguistic philosopher J.L. Austin made the claim that although a double negative in English implies a positive meaning, there is no language in which a double positive implies a negative. To which Morgenbesser derisively called out from the audience, “Yeah, yeah.”
Asked by a student whether he agreed with Chairman Mao’s view that a statement can be both true and false at the same time, Morgenbesser replied, “Well, I do and I don’t.”
During campus protests of the 1960s, Morgenbesser was hit on the head by police. When asked whether he had been treated unfairly or unjustly, he responded that it was “unfair, but not unjust. It was unfair because they hit me over the head, but not unjust because they hit everyone else over the head.”
When challenged why he had written so little, Morgenbesser fired back: “Moses wrote one book. Then what did he do?”
Morgenbesser described Gentile ethics as entailing “ought implies can,” while in Jewish ethics, “can implies don’t.”
When asked his opinion of pragmatism, Morgenbesser replied, “It’s all very well in theory but it doesn’t work in practice.”
Asked to prove a questioner’s existence, Morgenbesser shot back, “Who’s asking?”
A student once interrupted him to complain, “I just don’t understand!” He responded, “Why should you have the advantage over me?”
What I take away from all this is that I think I wish I’d known Morgenbesser, but maybe it’s better that I didn’t. I’d be afraid of what he’d say to me. I’m no philosopher, and I already don’t understand anything.
Is there anything more than anything for me not to understand? If there is, I’m sure Morgenbesser would have found it. And then where would I be?