Eulogy for Sidney Morgenbesser

Wittgenstein once remarked that you could write a book of philosophy consisting entirely of jokes. We all know who could have authored that book. Jonathan Lieberson, who made that connection to Wittgenstein, described Sidney as a combination of Spinoza and Groucho Marx. But Sidney worried about this very gift. He worried that all that people would know of him would be that he was outlandishly funny—they would think he was a clown. Yet he was who he was, and wasn’t going to become dull and humorless just to dispel that worry. At the same time, there was this sad side, his nervousness about what this great and wonderful gift of humor would do to his reputation.

Later this summer will be the 10th anniversary of the death of Sidney Morgenbesser. In honor of the anniversary, Tablet has published the eulogy for Morgenbesser that David Schatz delivered at his funeral. It mentions a few of Morgenbesser’s famous witticisms and talks about his life, of course, but it also speaks to some more general issues about humor in philosophy, the cost of fine distinctions and high standards, self-doubt, and Jewishness.

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