Morgenbesser anecdotes

by Chris Bertram on January 17, 2004

Norman Geras tells a couple of Sidney Morgenbesser anecdotes , but (at least IMHO) omits the best one, where Morgenbesser was asked his opinion of pragmatism:

“It’s all very well in theory but it doesn’t work in practice.”



Michael Otsuka 01.17.04 at 1:22 am

If you follow the links from Chris’s post, you will reach the following page which recounts the following joke of Morgenbesser’s: ‘Sidney Morgenbesser walks into a restaurant, has dinner, and then asks the waitress what they have for dessert. She says apple pie and blueberry pie. Sidney Morgenbesser says he’ll have the apple pie. She comes back in a moment and says that they also have cherry pie. So Sidney Morgenbesser says “In that case, I’ll have the blueberry pie.”‘

A comment: this joke cannot be fully appreciated unless one is told that it was offered as an illustration of the plausibility of Kenneth Arrow’s principle of irrelevant alternative which implies that if voters would elect x over y when z is not an option, they whould still elect x over y when z is an option.


Michael Otsuka 01.17.04 at 1:24 am

Sorry, I meant to say Arrow’s principle of the independence of irrelevant alternatives.


Michael Otsuka 01.17.04 at 1:37 am

One more correction: actually the above isn’t an implication of Arrow’s principle of irrelevant alternatives. The following is, however, an implication: if voters would elect x over y when z is an option, they would still elect x over y when z is not an option.

So the Morgenbesser joke must have been misreported. The waitress must originally have said ‘We have apple, blueberry, and cherry pie’. Morgenbesser chooses apple pie. Then the waitress returns to say that it turns out that they haven’t got cherry pie. And Morgenbesser says: ‘In that case I’ll have blueberry pie’.


Michael Otsuka 01.17.04 at 10:43 am

Upon sober reflection, I see that the joke is fine in its original form, since it illustrates the plausibility of the following genuine implication of Arrow’s principle: if voters would collectively prefer x to y when z is not an option, they will still prefer x to y when z is an option. (Note that one says something stronger when one says that voters would elect x over y than when one says that voters would prefer x to y, since the former implies that nothing is preferred to x, whereas the latter doesn’t.)

The lesson I draw from my previous three posts is that I should never blog after a Friday evening pub crawl.


Backword Dave 01.17.04 at 1:11 pm

“The lesson I draw from my previous three posts is that I should never blog after a Friday evening pub crawl.”
Oh you should, Michael, that was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read here.
The thing is, I thought the joke was quite funny until you explained it. Now I’m just confused.


Michael Otsuka 01.17.04 at 3:26 pm

Cheers, Backword Dave!


james 01.17.04 at 7:12 pm

I feel the pragmatism line would be snappier if it didn’t bother with the but part:

“Pragmatism? Well it’s all very well in theory…”

Although that does repeat “well”. Still.


jesse summers 01.17.04 at 7:22 pm

These posts have finally convinced me that there is most definitely a market for a keylock breathalizer for the computer, something that requires the user to pass a simple blood-alcohol test before being allowed to log on. It would not only save one from mistakenly blogging (although it would have prevented Mike’s posts here, which would have been a shame), but from purchasing that must-have food warmer from e-bay (only 12 remaining!), and from e-mail expressing to one’s close friend’s significant other those at-the-time reasonable propositions about a back massage that bubbled up from the 6th pint, 3 hours before. The breathalizer could have a temporary override, set when sober, to allow the user to have a couple of pints of liquid courage before sending that message explaining that she meant nothing to me, really, and I was only with her because you and your sister are so much alike; but the default would require complete sobriety. It sounds extreme, but I think my company would get enough messages of thanks late Saturday and Sunday mornings to justify the default setting. Just a thought.


Mike Almeida 01.17.04 at 9:44 pm

Would I be committing the Gambler’s Fallacy in concluding that Mike is not going to submit another correction??…..Kidding Mike.


Michael Otsuka 01.17.04 at 10:26 pm

At the moment I’m as sober as I can possibly be, so someone smarter than I will have to correct the rest of my mistakes. I suppose I could inhale something that would make me think I had cool new insights into Arrow’s theorem, but it would also make me too paranoid to post them on the internet. So no more corrections from me.


SqueakyRat 01.19.04 at 6:56 pm

My favorite Morgenbesser crack is his answer to the allegedly “deep” philosophical question (one that I independently heard that Arthur Danto put on an exam!): “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

Morgenbesser: “Even if there were nothing you’d still be complaining!”

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