Sidney Morgenbesser witticism I don't get

He once said about George Santayana “There’s a man who asserted p and ~p and drew out ALL the consequences”.

  1. Does anyone know what he was referring to? I’m not especially familiar with Santayana, beyond his authorship of what must be the most misquoted phrase in history (well, after “No, I am your father”, constantly rendered “Luke, I am your father”).

  2. Can anyone explain the line? I mean, once I know what he’s referring to, I’m sure it’ll be fairly obvious-- it’s obvious that drawing out all the consequences will be a reference to the fact that any contradiction allows any other contradiction in logic. So I care more about knowing when Santayana asserted p and ~p.

If it’s somehow related to the “those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it” quote, just explain how the heck that is an assertion of p and ~p, or an attempt to draw out all the consequences.

Not knowing much about either of these gentlemen, I would take such a comment to be a description of the sort of person who creates improbable hypothetical situations and spends pointless hours arguing about them, even though the hypothetical constructs are largely useless, as are their “consequences”.

If you were looking for information specific to these gentlemen, sorry for wasting your time!

I can’t give you anything precise, but in case you don’t know, in logic ~p means “not p” so the statement is that some proposition and its opposite were both asserted.

I am aware, OldGuy. I was looking for an instance of a statement by Santayana which asserted p and not p…

I don’t know anything about either protagonist, but it sounds to me like Morgenbesser was trying to fling a witty sort of insult at Santayana. “Asserting p and ~p” is to assert an inherent contradiction, therefore there is nothing to be gained by arguing about it. The allusion seems to be that Morgenbesser thought Santayana’s work was useless, or just a lot of hot air. Does this help? I could be completely wrong, of course.

it wouldn’t have been anything of the sort. It would have been an amusing but penetrating summary of Santayana’s life’s work… like when he said “pragmatism is nice in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice”.

The problem is, I’m too ignorant of Santayana to know in what sense he “asserted both p and not p”.

and i beg future posters not to clarify, for a third time, the concept of asserting p and not p.

Interesting, why are you so sure about this in particular?


cause that’s just how morgenbesser rolled lol.

No, but seriously, if it were as simple as claiming that he had asserted a contradiction, it wouldn’t be especially witty. Since this quote was listed among his witty quotes (all of which penetrated to the heart of some philosophical matter), it seems reasonable to assume that there’s an actual joke, making an actual point.

The only source of this quote I can find cited is a comment on (comment #3) posted by one Bob Talisse, who “once heard it claimed.” This may be the same Robert B. Talisse who teaches philosophy at Vanderbilt University. I have inquired by email.

Lo, a response, early on a Sunday morning!

So, it’s a commentary on Santayana’s entire body of work, not any particular premise or proposition (but I’ve asked whether there is a particular premise involved).

Dr. Talisse reports that he doesn’t think there was anything specific.

Thank you very much. and i accept the rebuke; I know that every proposition (even true ones) follows from a contradiciton.

Seems clear to me. A man who asserts two contradictory things is a fool and that is about “ALL the consequences” which can be drawn.

That’s nice. It’s not what he meant, but that’s nice.

If Santayana had prostate troubles, he probably spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating pee and not pee.

All the consequences being a ruptured bladder AND wet pants?

those who forget toilet training are condemned to repeat it.