The philosopher’s puzzlement

When I was still doubtful as to his ability, I asked G. E. Moore for his opinion. Moore replied, “I think very well of him indeed.” When I enquired the reason for his opinion, he said that it was because Wittgenstein was the only man who looked puzzled at his lectures.

– Bertrand Russell
(Quote taken from The Floating Library)

I wonder what he means when he said the fact that Wittgenstein was the only man who looked puzzled at his lectures made him think well of him .Was it merely facetiousness ? One possible reason could be that everything of what he said posed no puzzles to others while he seemed to think there was much in it that was too deep for the audience to grasp and there was no reason for them not to look puzzled. Surely this cannot be the reason because Wittgenstein could not have been presuming that his lectures should go over their heads.The fact that Moore thought well of him merely on the basis of the philosopher’s puzzlement before an audience who seemed to understand everything is a certificate of the philosopher’s ability . Apparently it is the ability of the audience which is suspect.If they had tried to grasp what he was saying they too would be as puzzled as the philosopher was.

But the question that remains unanswered is whether the audience’s inability to grasp what he says proves,ipso facto,the philosopher’s own ability to grasp the subject,irrespective of his ability to explain it to the audience.The fact that he looked puzzled does not necessarily prove that he is “at sea” on the subject.It may even prove the other possibility that there was much in what he says that had to puzzle anybody.The fact that he was the only person who looked puzzled indicates that he alone understood the subject while the audience did not attempt to grasp it.Had they attempted it,they too would have been puzzled.

Published by


Retired banker with poetry and photography as chief interests

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s