Thursday, February 16, 2023

According to a famous anecdote, Sraffa responded to Wittgenstein’s claim by brushing his chin with his fingertips, which is apparently readily understood as a Neapolitan gesture of skepticism, and then asked, “What is the logical form of this?”

Smith was working as a freelance photographer for the Boston archdiocese’s weekly newspaper at a special Mass for lawyers Sunday when a Herald reporter asked the justice how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship. 

“The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ ” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.  

The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.” 

Yesterday, Herald reporter Laurel J. Sweet agreed with Smith’s account, but said she did not hear Scalia utter the obscenity. 

In his letter, Scalia denied his gesture was obscene and claimed he explained its meaning to Sweet, a point both she and Smith dispute. 

Scalia went on to cite Luigi Barzini’s book, “The Italians,” which describes a seemingly different gesture - “the extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin” - and its meaning -  “ ‘I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out.’ ” 


A freelance photographer has been fired by the Archdiocese of Boston’s newspaper for releasing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making a controversial gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday. 

Was Sraffa thrilled by the impact that his ideas had on, arguably, the leading philosopher of our times (“the God” whom Keynes met on the 5:15 train)? Also, how did Sraffa arrive at those momentous ideas in the first place? I asked Sraffa those questions more than once in the regular afternoon walks I had the opportunity to share with him between 1958 and 1963. I got somewhat puzzling answers. No, he was not particu- larly thrilled, since the point he was making was “rather obvious.” No, he did not know precisely how he arrived at those argu- ments, since—again—the point he was making was “rather obvious.”
Sraffa was very fond of Wittgenstein and admired him greatly.8 But it was clear that he was not convinced of the fruitfulness of conversing ceaselessly with the genius philosopher. When I arrived in Trinity in the early fifties as a student, shortly after Wittgenstein’s death, I was aware that there had been something of a rift between the two. In response to my questions, Sraffa was most reluctant to go into what actually hap- pened. “I had to stop our regular conversa- tions—I was somewhat bored,” was the closest to an account I ever obtained. The events were described, however, by Ray Monk (1991), in rather greater detail, in his biography of Wittgenstein (p. 487):
In May 1946 Piero Sraffa decided he no longer wished to have conversations with Wittgenstein, saying that he could no longer give his time and attention to the matters Wittgenstein wished to discuss. This came as a great blow to Wittgenstein. He pleaded with Sraffa to continue their weekly conversations, even if it meant staying away from philosophical subjects. “I will talk about anything,” he told him. “Yes,” Sraffa replied, “but in your way.”
There are many puzzling things in the Sraffa-Wittgenstein relations. How could Sraffa, who loved dialogues and arguments, become so reluctant to talk with one of the finest minds of the twentieth century? Even initially, how could the conversations that were clearly so consequential for Wittgenstein, which made him feel “like a tree from which all branches have been cut,” seem “rather obvious” to this economist from Tuscany? I doubt that we shall ever be sure of knowing the answers to these questions.

I think they're "rather obvious". But I feel a little sorry for Wittgenstein: the abandoned lover.

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