[lit-ideas] Re: Wittgenstein's Punch Line

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2014 10:36:24 -0500 (EST)

McEvoy amusingly rephrases the conversation as being:

Russell: Are  you tormented by your logic or your sins.
Witters: Both.
McEvoy comments:
"The Russell story about whether W was tormented in thought by "logic" or  
his "sins" - "Both" replied W - might easily be thought that of a humourless 
For the record, as quoted by C. B .:

In a message dated 2/13/2014 7:54:11 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
cblists@xxxxxxxx writes:

"Once I [Russell] said to him [Witters]: 'Are you thinking about  logic, or 
about your sins?' 'Both', he replied."
In propositional logic:
ψw(p, q)
where "p" is logic
and "q" is 'my sins'.
There may be an implicature that logic IS a sin. As the Queen reminds to  
"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
"Can't you?" the Queen said in  a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long 
breath, and shut your  eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't  believe 
impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice,"  said the Queen. "When I was 
your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.  Why, sometimes I've believed 
as many as six impossible things before  breakfast."
i.e. the Queen believes.
She believes that p1, p2, p3, p4, p5, and p6
-- the fact that each proposition is impossible should concern Witters --  
NOT the Queen.
Now, it may be argued that thinking is mono-propositional. Suppose I think  
that the cat is black and that the cat is on the mat. This may be 
summarised as  me thinking that the black cat is on the mat.
If I think that London is the capital of the United Kingdom and that  
Picasso is a great painter, a cognitive psychologist may wonder if these  
thoughts are thought IN SUCCESSION.

Back to Russell:
Russell: Are you thinking about logic, or about your sins?
Witters: Both.
Russell is assuming a monopropositional account of thinking. 
Are you thinking p OR q?
Answer: I'm thinking p AND q.
The problem is that 'my sins' and 'logic' do not really allow for a  
propositional format -- in terms of 'that'-clause.
Witters was thinking that he was a sinful person and that logic is  
These two thoughts look indeed so disparate that Witters's curt reply, as  
McEvoy suggests, cannot but be understood as a 'punch line' (keyword:  
Or not.
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