Wittgenstein's Hippopotamus

I recently ran across for the first time a reference to Wittgensteins’s refusal to agree to Russell’s statement that there was not a hippopotamus in the room. It sounded intriguing. I’ve just spent an hour on the internet trying to find a description of the argument, but although I found hundreds of references to it, they all assumed I knew it already. Can anyone provide me a concise account of their debate?

Too brief? :smiley:

Is this more or less what you’re looking for? (warning: pdf)

In his obituary of Wittgenstein, Russell states

As a quickly Googled analysis, expounding on this in a review of another work mentioning the anecdote and citing that obituary, Catherine Osborne states

In this respect, it would be akin to the discussion of “a rose has no teeth” near the end of Philosophical Investigations, and the similar discussions which form much of the theme of On Certainty.

(Of course, just to be clear, Russell apparently didn’t analyze the argument in that latter way, and he’s the guy who was there…)

When I saw the OP title I half-expected Wittgenstein’s Hippo to be like Schroedinger’s cat.

Of course, there was no hippo in the room: how was it going to fit in when there was already a rhino in there …

For Russell’s letters to Ottoline Morrell from the time - and this was a period, November 1911, when they were writing more or less daily - are clear that they were arguing about a rhinoceros in the room, rather than a hippo. In one he mentions that the point at argument was Wittgenstein believing that “nothing empirical is knowable.”
As he notes in the obituary, it took time for him to take his obstinate student seriously. So he may not have understood what the “German engineer” was trying to argue at the time. Although, having misrembered the most colourful detail of the anecdote, his much later account in the obituary may also be unreliable as to Wittgenstein’s point.

Now if only the rhinoceros could talk … it wouldn’t help us one bit.

The problem with Russel’s assertion, Wittgenstein would assert, is that it isn’t logically necessary.

It is if you’re allergic to hippos.

You must not be familiar with Wittgenstein’s Beetle. :wink:

The halls of the great thought experiment laboratories are strewn with animals left in boxes and forgotten…

I live in the South. Down here, we refer to “Wittgenstein’s Beetle” as “Wittgenstein’s Punch Buggy”.

A. Wittgenstein’s Hippopotamus

Q. What thought argument did Wittgenstein come up with to top Maxwell’s Demon and Schrodinger’s Cat, Alex?