Friday, August 06, 2004

Prof Sidney Morgenbesser

You know that feeling: when you open the cinema guide for the week and see that there's a Marx Brother's retrospective on.... but then you realise that Duck Soup was on last night? I felt like that today while reading this obituary.

I wish I'd known - or at least known of - Prof Morgenbesser. Professor of philosophy, teacher and wit. Once asked to prove a questioner’s existence, Morgenbesser retorted, “Who’s asking?”.

I wish I'd been at the lecture where Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin explained that, while many languages use the double negative to denote a positive, no languages use a double positive to denote a negative. Morgenbeser: "Yeah, yeah".

His ready wit sometimes got him into trouble it seems. Once while lighting up his pipe on the way out of a subway station, he was stopped by a police officer. Morgenbesser protested to the cop that the rules covered smoking in the station, not outside. The cop protested, “If I let you do it, I'd have to let everyone do it,” Morgenbesser replied, “Who do you think you are — Kant?” The officer took offence, and Morgenbesser's colleagues managed to have him released only by giving a tutorial on the Categorical Imperative down at the precinct.

Sidney Morgenbesser 1921-2004

Columbia Obit

Miles Kington's "Where are they now?" A special survey was also strangely cheery in a death related way:

"Paul Foot has arrived safely in heaven where he is scandalised by the employment conditions of the angels...Judas Iscariot...was set up for the role of a fall guy before his suspicious death in custody"

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