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Saturday, January 28, 2006

"Greatest living philosopher"

NY Times on philosopher Saul Kripke:

In many circles, Mr. Kripke, who in 2001 was awarded the Schock Prize, philosophy's equivalent of the Nobel, is thought to be the world's greatest living philosopher, perhaps the greatest since Wittgenstein. Mr. Kripke is actually superior to Wittgenstein in at least two respects. Wittgenstein did not accomplish some of his most important work while still in high school. And unlike Wittgenstein, who was small, slender and hawklike, Mr. Kripke looks the way a philosopher ought to look: pink-faced, white-bearded, rumpled, squinty. He carries his books and papers in a plastic shopping bag from Filene's Basement ...

While still a teenager he wrote a series of papers that eventually transformed the study of modal logic. One of them, or so the legend goes, earned a letter from the math department at Harvard, which hoped he would apply for a job until he wrote back and declined, explaining, "My mother said that I should finish high school and go to college first." ...

Except on very rare occasions, Mr. Kripke does not actually set words down on paper. He broods, gathers a few texts, makes a loose mental outline, and then at some public occasion, a lecture or a seminar, he just wings it, talks off the top of his head, the way Socrates used to, come to think of it.

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