Peter Geach Sings Frege, Russell & Wittgenstein

This is an abridged version of a recent post by Brian Leiter. The full post which includes the original Heine poem & Geach’s re-worked lyrics (both in German and in English) can be found here. Note: The mp3 file remains available though it’s now past June 5.


Shalom Lappin (King’s College London) writes:

In (I believe) 1974 Peter Geach came to the Philosophy Department at Tel Aviv University, where I was a young lecturer at the time. After his talk, there was a reception at the home of the Chair of the Department. During the reception Geach expressed the desire to sing a song that he had composed in German about Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, the debate over definite descriptions, and other matters philosophical. I recorded the song on a cassette tape, which became part of my collection, and it accompanied me on my wanderings. It disappeared in our house here for many years until my wife came upon it unexpectedly in a drawer, this past weekend. Some additional rummaging turned up an old tape deck with stereo speakers, long unused.
Unfortunately the tape had split, but several days of analogue engineering and a transplant to a blank cassette (amazingly, still available at Mapplin, right here on the Strand) managed to restore it.

I have produced an mp3 file of the recording [available till June 5 from this link].

The sound quality is not great, but Geach’s lyrics are clear, and he is in fine voice. Enjoy.

UPDATE:  Professor Lappin writes with more information:

“Mark [Textor] points out that Geach’s song is apparently based on a poem by Heine. He has translated the song, sustaining the analogy with the poem. I include his translation of Geach, a published translation of the Heine poem, and the German original of the poem (all generously provided by Mark), below. Many thanks to him for his insights and his translation.

“This would seem to open up new lines of research in Geach scholarship. Anyone interested in pursuing them (or changing their thesis topic accordingly) should contact Mark. I am merely the sound engineer here.” . . . Read on.



Some small this-and-thats.  You may have noticed that now redirects to  The new domain name wins us a few more blog features, which may or may not make their way onto the site.  More significantly, it makes for a (slightly) more robust internet presence.  I’m very eager to hear if there are any hangups on your end: I’m thinking bookmarksreaderslinks, and the like.  If so, please give a shout.


Last week I was in Denmark, teaching a writing course at Syddansk Universitet in Odense. There I had the pleasure of meeting a host of scholars in Law and Philosophy. Especially memorable were the long conversations with Esben Nedenskov Petersen and Emily Hartz (on Fichte, finitude, love of language, and the legal subject), as well as with Caroline Schaffalitzky de Muckadell and Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen.  Caroline is a philosopher of religion and education currently working on Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough.  And you may already know Anne-Marie through her work on the Nordic Wittgenstein Society and Review, and/or her work on ethics and experience more generally.  I’m in Berlin now (see photo) and very much looking forward to lunch with Christoph Menke tomorrow.  (I suppose this is my sideways way of conducting introductions, an attempt at cross-pollination.)

In Copenhagen, Emily and I paid our respects at Kierkegaard’s grave.  What a surprise to find that the philosopher-poet who’d have had his tombstone pronounce him “The Individual,” is memorialized instead with a sort of sing-song rhyme.  (The stone reads, “Just a short while, then I have won. Then the whole struggle entirely disappears. Then I can rest in halls of roses and talk with my Jesus without ceasing,” an adaptation of Hans Adolph Brorson’s hymn “Halleluja, jeg har min Jesum funden.”)  Emily and her partner Peter Brunn also treated me to some extraordinary jazz and I think I am–at long last–on (really on) to what Arnold Davidson is getting at with his projects on jazz and the ethics of improvisation.  The heroism (is there another word?) of the musicians put me in mind of J. M. Coetzee’s reflections on sports:

“If I look into my own heart and ask why, in the twilight of my days, I am still—sometimes—prepared to spend hours watching cricket on television, I must report that, however absurdly, however wistfully, I continue to look out for moments of heroism, moments of nobility. In other words, the basis of my interest is ethical rather than aesthetic.”

This from his correspondence with Paul Auster, collected in Here and Now: Letters (2008–2011).  An excerpt is available in the March 8 New Yorker.

Of course the relationship between the ethical and aesthetic should take us right back to Kierkegaard . . .


Amir Khan: “Michael Jackson’s Ressentiment: Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal in Conversation with Fred Astaire”

We wanted to draw your attention to a newly published essay by Amir Khan (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English, University of Ottawa), entitled “Michael Jackson’s Ressentiment: Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal in Conversation with Fred Astaire“. The essay appears in a new issue of the journal Popular Music and Society, a special issue devoted to the late Michael Jackson. Khan attended the October 14-16, 2010 conference at Harvard on Cavell and literary studies, and he’s the person who took these photos of the event.

According to Khan, his essay’s reading of Jackson is an extension of Cavell’s original discussion of Fred Astaire (two moments of which we’ve cited, with video clips, here and here).

To access Khan’s essay online, please click here. Here is its abstract:

Little attempt is made at juxtaposing Michael Jackson’s art against that of his cultural predecessors. Reading Billie Jean (1983) and Smooth Criminal (1988) in conversation with Fred Astaire’s popular 1953 musical, The Band Wagon, for example, exposes all sorts of intertwining threads of significance and ressentiment, particularly in terms of race relations and cultural appropriation. Yet my purpose in this paper is not to assign the last word to either Michael Jackson or Fred Astaire, but to analyze what sort of ramifications their dialogue may have for American popular imagination.

William Day: Lecture on Wittgenstein and Jazz (Williams College, April 4)

Announcement (feel free to circulate):

“Wittgenstein, the Nature of Experience, and the Experience of Jazz”

Lecture by William Day (Philosophy, Le Moyne), co-sponsored by Philosophy, English, and American Studies

Monday April 4, 4pm, Williams College

William Day, who teaches philosophy at Le Moyne College, will be giving a talk in Griffin 7 at 4pm on Monday, April 4. Prof. Day’s talk is entitled “Wittgenstein, the Nature of Experience, and the Experience of Jazz,” and here is his brief account of what it will be about:

The first half of the talk will offer a picture of Ludwig Wittgenstein as a philosopher of experience, a somewhat overlooked implication of his later writings on aspect-seeing as a “concept of experience” and of his declared interest in “the correspondence between concepts and very general facts of [human] nature.” It follows this thought, through a series of thought experiments or “fictitious natural histories” (some Wittgenstein’s, some not), to sketch what might be called a natural history of experience. The second half of the talk will then consider how this sketch might coincide with, or at least inform, our ways of hearing what there is to hear in the best instances of improvised jazz.

Professor Day has written on a wide variety of subjects, including ethics, film (including the films Moonstruck and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, and music (especially having to do with the topic of improvisation, about which he is currently writing a book-length study). For more information about him and his work, please visit his personal webpage here:

Oct. 14: Arnold Davidson’s passages

As many of you know, there will be a celebration on Oct. 14 of the publication of Stanley Cavell’s new autobiography, Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory (Stanford University Press). Arnold Davidson (University of Chicago and University of Pisa) will be one of five speakers who will respond to selected passages from Cavell’s just-published memoir (for full information about this event, please click here). Prof. Davidson has sent me the passages he intends to speak about, and I wanted to share them with all of you, to give you a chance to mull them over yourselves before the event. As the other speakers send me their selections, I will post them here as well. I hope to see many of you there!

Stanley Cavell and Ben Webster On Expressivity and Improvisation

Passages from Stanley Cavell, Little Did I Know: Excerpts From Memory:

  • On hearing the Benny Goodman band at the World’s Fair:

“To hear the familiar arrangements played live, with inevitable and enlivening alterations in the improvisations, confirmed for me as it were the knowledge of existence in the form of, or a prophecy of, the reality of happiness.”

  • On improvisation and the marriage of words and music:

“Thompson told me of witnessing Ben Webster, tenor saxophonist with the Ellington band — whose playing sometimes outstripped his natural competition with the other two geniuses of the tenor saxophone contemporary with him, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins — having joined a small group in a club on 52nd Street in New York, once suddenly stop playing in the middle of a chorus, seeming bewildered.  Asked why later, Webster replied that he had forgotten the words.”

  • On philosophizing:

“…in philosophizing — perhaps only of a certain kind — there is the odd feature that two can enter unknown territories together.  (This is true of playing music but not of composing.  One perhaps thinks here of the history of improvisation; let’s call it mutual inspiration…)”

— B.R.

Now online: Summer 2010 issue of JAAC (with symposium on musical improvisation)

The Summer 2010 issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism is now online. You can find the hyper-linked table of contents below. The issue as a whole looks excellent, but we wanted to draw your attention, in particular, to the cluster of essays on the topic of musical improvisation, which includes contributions by Garry Hagberg, William Day, and others. Enjoy!


  • The Uselessness of Art (p 205-214), PETER LAMARQUE
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 119K)
  • The Importance of Being Earnest about the Definition and Metaphysics of Art (p 215-223), JOSEPH MARGOLIS
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 114K)
  • Artistic Worth and Personal Taste (p 225-233), JERROLD LEVINSON
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 112K)
  • Actual Art, Possible Art, and Art’s Definition (p 235-241), GREGORY CURRIE
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 101K)
  • Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces (p 243-257), NICHOLAS ALDEN RIGGLE
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 1466K)
  • Using Artistic Masterpieces as Philosophical Examples: The Case of Las Meninas (p 259-272), ROBERT WICKS
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 165K)

Symposium: Musical Improvisation

  • A Topography of Improvisation (p 273-280), PHILIP ALPERSON
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 317K)
  • On Rhythm (p 281-284), GARRY L. HAGBERG
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 317K)
  • Repetition and Self-Realization in Jazz Improvisation (p 285-290), JOHN M. CARVALHO
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 317K)
  • The Ends of Improvisation (p 291-296), WILLIAM DAY
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 317K)
  • Sonicism and Jazz Improvisation (p 297-299), GARY ISEMINGER
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 317K)

Book Reviews

  • The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film edited by livingston, paisley and carl plantinga (p 301-303), CYNTHIA FREELAND
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • Andy Warhol. by danto, arthur c. (p 303-305), DANIEL HERWITZ
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor by morreall, john (p 305-308), JOHN MARMYSZ
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of  Wine edited by smith, barry c (p 308-310), ERIC SAIDEL
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • On Architecture by rush, fred (p 310-313), DAVID GOLDBLATT
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • Aesthetic Experience edited by shusterman, richard, and adele tomlin (p 313-315), CHRISTOPHER STEVENS
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • The Portal of Beauty: Towards a Theology of Aesthetics by forte, bruno (p 315-317), DAN VAILLANCOURT
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • Why Music Moves Us by bicknell, jeanette (p 317-319), CHRISTOPHER BARTEL
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • Photography and Philosophy: Essays on the Pencil of Nature edited by walden, scott (p 319-320), ZED ADAMS
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)
  • Aesthetics and Painting by gaiger, jason (p 320-323), DAVID DAVIES
  • Abstract | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 236K)

Audio/Video: Past events at Stanford’s Philosophy + Literature Program

We wanted to let you know that the Philosophy and Literature program at Stanford University, has now posted on their website audio and video from a few of their impressive past events, including a “Film and Philosophy Conference” (January 15-16, 2010) and a symposium on “Evolution, Cognition, and the Arts” (March 13, 2009). To access the video recordings, please click here. To access the audio recordings, please click here. And to visit the homepage of Stanford’s Philosophy and Literature program, please click on their logo above.

Video: Arnold Davidson on Improvisation and Ethics

Arnold Davidson (Philosophy, Univ. of Chicago) gave the keynote address for an event, held at Columbia University in 2008, on the topic of “Improvisation and Ethics,” and we’ve just learned that video of this talk (including the discussion period afterwards) is available online (on Jazz Studies Online). To access it, please click here.

Here is some information about the event:

Discussants included Eric Lewis, McGill University; Lydia Goehr, Columbia University; Bernard Gendron, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and Lorenzo Simpson, Stony Brook University. The panel was introduced and moderated by Carol Rovane, who is Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University.

After Professor Carol Rovane’s introduction to the panelists and theme of the conversation, the keynote speaker, philosopher Arnold Davidson, presents his views on improvisation and ethics. Davidson’s interest lies not only in how ethics bears on improvisation, but what improvisation can tell us about ethics. He makes reference to the ancient tradition of self-realization through rational inquiry, or “care of the self,” to explore the relation between self and other in the process of collective improvisation.

Andrew Bowie: Background Capabilities and Prereflexive Awareness


For those of you who are interested in jazz, improvisation, and/or the philosophy of action:

Last Wednesday, October 7, Andrew Bowie (Professor of Philosophy and German, Royal Holloway, University of London) gave a talk entitled “Background capabilities and prereflexive awareness” at The Humanities and Arts Research Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London. Prof. Bowie used jazz improvisation as his primary example of human action, and his presentation included a performance by the Andrew Bowie Jazz Trio. The Backdoor Broadcasting Company has posted audio of both the talk and musical performance, which you can access by clicking here.

Here is some information about the talk, performance, and performers:

Accounts of human action in many parts of philosophy tend to depend on the idea that action is to be characterised in terms of following norms or rules. This gives considerable emphasis to the idea of self-consciously determining yourself to do something, according to a rule. This model has considerable consequences for how procedures are codified in many areas of social and professional life. However, there are serious reasons to think that this model is inadequate as an account of how we actually do many things. This is because, even though rules are essential, so much that we need to do these things cannot come immediately to consciousness when we do them. Examples of what is involved here range from the ways in which we carry out conversations, to the example used for the talk: jazz improvisation.

Presentation includes musical examples and is followed by a performance by the Andrew Bowie Jazz Trio, featuring John Turville (piano), and Tom Farmer (bass).

John Turville studied Music at Cambridge University and at the Guildhall School of Music, and is one of Britain’s leading jazz pianists, playing, for example with Tim Garland, Tim Whitehead, Gilad Atzmon, Guillermo Rozenthuler, Koby Israelite and Robbie Robson. John and Andrew used to play together at Andrew’s regular Sunday evening gig in Cambridge, now at the Cricketers pub. Andrew was a semi-pro saxophonist in Berlin and still plays regularly in and around Cambridge.

Now published: Fleming’s Evil and Silence


We wanted to let everyone know that Richard Fleming’s new book, Evil and Silence (which we first mentioned here), is now out.

Here is the publisher’s description of the book, as well as links to musical illustrations and scores mentioned in the text:

Inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell, this book is a profoundly original philosophical work put together as a network of quotations, to show that our language is never our own and that ethics can be understood as an effect of our attitude to language. It is a meditation on justice and addresses the question of how to lead a non-violent life and acknowledge the humanity of others following 9/11 and extending right up to the current moment.

Using extensive interdisciplinary sources, Evil and Silence investigates the nature of evil and the ways to make a life worth living in the face of such a fact of existence. It argues that we must reject the choice of violence as a justified way of life and embrace the creative efforts of nonviolence. The text begins with Socrates’ argument that it is never just to harm another and ends with Cage’s exploration of silence as all the sounds we don’t intend. Drawing on his past work in philosophy of language and music, Fleming develops arguments for the logic of nonviolence and the value of silence. He demonstrates that living consistently by way of silence and meaningful sound, understanding the music and language of our lives, is a justified response to the truth and miseries of evil.

Links to Musical Illustrations and Scores Mentioned in the Text

Mozart’s Symphony 40, Beethoven’s Symphony 6, and Ives’ The Unanswered Question:

Mozart’s Symphony 40
Beethoven’s Symphony 6

First page of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde:

First page of Wagner’s Parsifal:

First and second pages of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun:

An original manuscript page from Schoenberg’s Opus 23, Five Piano Pieces:

The central tone-row from Berg’s Violin Concerto (section B) and the last page of Wozzeck:

Last page of Mahler’s Symphony 9:

First page of Stravinsky’s Petrushka:

Page from Bernstein’s Mass:

Page from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 6:

Cage’s 4’33” manuscript page and precursor materials: