During a weekly discussion group at Cambridge University, two men suddenly found themselves in a debate so heated that one turned to a red-hot fireplace poker to make his point. The fact that these angry individuals were two great 20th Century philosophers, Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein (who were in the same meeting as yet another great philosopher, Bertrand Russell), may explain why 50 years later the argument is still under scrutiny.
David Edmonds and John Eidinow, a pair of BBC journalists, became interested in the controversy when historical questions arose over the exact nature of the argument in reference to Popper”s autobiography. Claiming his single confrontation with Wittgenstein as his own victory, Popper allegedly provoked the brilliant man to leave the room, throwing down the red-hot poker in a fit of despair.
Understanding what really happened during that Moral Science Club meeting on Oct. 25, 1947 was a long process for Edmonds and Eidinow, who researched and interviewed members attending that particular meeting. What started as a book about a 10-minute argument between the chairman of the club, Wittgenstein and guest speaker Popper, ended as a thorough look into their lives, characters, the philosophies they lectured on and the answer to our basic question: why were they arguing?
Edmonds expressed his passion to find specific details surrounding the day (to the extent of what the weather was like) to better clarify the incident. “It was almost like an obsession. We wanted to know everything there was to know about the argument. Like a bit of the universe that you want to master, of course the interesting part is that it”s impossible to know everything,” Edmonds said.
The two journalists were also very persistent in getting the philosophy presented in the book straight. Much praise was received for this book but the positive reception which Edmonds and Eidinow were most pleased with was that of distinguished philosophers like Simon Blackburn, who now holds the same position in the philosophy department at Cambridge as Wittgenstein held in the 1940s.
David Edmonds, who is speaking and reading tonight at Shaman Drum Bookshop, recently arrived in Ann Arbor to complete a four month Journalism Fellowship. He is taking classes on campus and working on his own writing project. He will return to London to continue working for the BBC after the fellowship is over. “Wittgenstein”s Poker” was his first book and plans to write another book with John Eidinow regarding the Fisher vs. Spassky chess match are already under way. “The work of compiling information, going back to check facts and organizing it all was worthwhile just to see the book on shelves in bookstores.” Edmonds will also be working on his PhD with all of his spare time.