[lit-ideas] Wittgenstein's Kite

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 13 May 2014 18:16:34 -0400 (EDT)

My last post today!
In a message dated 5/13/2014 3:00:24 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
rpaul@xxxxxxxx writes:
Wittgenstein had no degree of any kind from  Manchester. He got his PhD 
from Cambridge, in 1929. He submitted the Tractatus  as his dissertation. His 
examiners were Russell and G.E.Moore. The story of the  proceedings is 
well-known, and Moore's report to the Cambridge authorities is a  classic...


Apparently, though, he did intend to pursue a  doctorate earlier in 
Manchester on ... kites. Or rather, he behaved in such a  way that he gave 
Wikipedia a reason to report, years later, at:

"[Witters] arrived at the Victoria University of Manchester in the 
spring of 1908 to do his doctorate,"
-- full of plans for aeronautical projects, including designing and flying  
his own plane. 

Witters goes on to conduct (some sort of (as Wikipedia  thinks, 
erroneously, PhD-related) research into the behaviour of kites in the  upper 
atmosphere, experimenting at the Kite Flying Upper Atmosphere Station, not  far 

While a student at the Victoria University (named,  incidentally, after 
Queen Victoria), Witters also works on the design of a  propeller with small 
jet engines on the end of its blades. This he will  later patent in 1911 and 
will earn him a research  studentship from the Victoria University in the 
autumn of 1908.

While  working at the Kite Flying Upper Atmosphere Station, Witters lived 
at "The  Grouse [not Grice] Inn", a pub on the Derbyshire moors, which 
impressed him --  the Derbyshire moors.

The name of the Inn, 'Grouse' is said to be  derived, like, incidentally, 
he surname 'Grice', from the Anglo-Norman "griais",  and is thus cognate with 
"grey" -- and ultimately, according to Brunetto Latini,  with 'Greece': 
Latini's reason: "porce que ele fu premiers trovee en Grece." On  top of that, 
it is entertaining to find that the Oxford Dictionary spends some  time 
evaluating the hypothesis that "grouse" was thought for a time to  be the 
singular form of the alleged plural, "grice". 

In May 17  1908, Witters wrote to his sister from the Grouse [not Grice] 
Inn, exulting the  glorious isolation. He added in a ps: "Yesterday, I began 
to build my own kite."  He failed to specify (alla Grice, "be as informative 
as is required") what  colour it was.

The Wikipedia reference to the doctorate may be indeed vague and  
erroneous. Apparently, no formal course of study was organised, nor was a  
privoded to oversee the research, which looks like a blessing to some  
students, who then feel 'entitled'. 
It was not expected, apparently, that Witters would work for a degree --  
and so Russell's later reference to 'the Austrian engineer' should best be  
regarded as a hyperbole (as a figure of speech).

It was understood,  rather, that Witters would pursue his own line of 
research. Witters  designed (with the ulterior intention of later constructing) 
full aircraft  engine Plans of his proposed engine survive, and show that 
Witters's idea was to  rotate the propeller by means of high-speed gases 
rushing from a combustion  chamber. The idea was perhaps flawed, or rather, 
impractical -- On the other  hand, all  his later philosophical ideas were, by 
contrast, _practical_.  

Witters's idea was however, indepedently and successfully  adopted, during 
the Second World War, in the design of some helicopters (which  fly 'like 
kites'*, or using the same principle that 'kites' use when flying.  Here 
Witters is referring to the _bird_ 'kite'.
(Elanus caeruleus, Desfontaines, 1789).

Surprising the faculty and students at Victoria, Witters had a  combustion 
chamber built especially for him by a local firm. He was so happy  when he 
received it that he immediately sent a telegram to his sister ("I  received 
the combustion chamber today." -- all his correspondence with his  sister 
survives in German. G. E. M. Anscombe was going to translate it to  English, 
but Geach saw that 'perhaps it [wasn't] philosophical enough",  implicating, 
"for you to waste your time _there_"). 

While in Manchester,  Witters would often attend the concerts given by the 
Hallé orchestra, which  amused him.

During his second year at 'the Victoria'' (as he referred to the  
institution), Witters concentrated on the DESIGN of a propeller. His work  on 
was taken sufficiently seriously by the university for him to be elected  to a 
research studentship, and he went on to patent the thing as "Improvements  
on Propellers applicable to Aerial Machines" (Nov. 22 1910). On June 21  
1911 Witters indeed left a complete specification, and the patent was  accepted 
on Aug. 17 1911.
Now, while natural kites (Elanus caeruleus) allegedly evolve to display an  
ability to fly, natural men (homo sapiens) haven't. The reason is  

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