By Michael Wunder, News Editor
“I read Descartes when I was very young,” said Saul Kripke, philosopher, teacher and genius, before a sizable audience Tuesday in the Arts and Sciences building. “I thought, ‘philosophy is a terrible subject, very confusing.'”
One philosopher says one thing, then another one comes along and says something entirely different, he said.
“Who knows what would have happened if I read a third one? I could’ve been led to stop!”
If Kripke had quit philosophy, the world would have lost a number of legends surrounding one of Omaha’s many native sons. He never wrote books. His speeches were simply transcribed into monumental works of philosophy. He was offered employment at Harvard while still attending Central High School, which he declined because his mother advised him to finish school first. He published articles in his teens that, to this day, continue to challenge the minds of students.
In Omaha to celebrate his father’s birthday, Kripke was “needled” into speaking at UNO before a crowd of philosophy students with pens and notebooks at the ready. By the end of the lecture, though, their pages were either still blank or covered with doodles and haphazard notes.
The topic of the lecture was the first person — a discourse on the meaning of the pronoun ‘I.’ Halfway through the talk, Kripke gazed upon the audience.
“At the rate I’m going, I’m only going to get a fraction of this paper read,” he said. “I hope I will get to the main point.”
Whether he reached his main point, he would’ve faced the question of whether his audience would understand. One glance at his Wikipedia page shows a man who has conquered a vast swath of information and whose influence is still being evaluated. Kripke semantics, modal logic, intuitionistic logic, Kripke frames and Kripke models are only a fraction of his academic biography.
However, Kripke, who works out of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York — also home of the Saul Kripke Center — had the audience laughing.
He recounted a discussion with a non-philosopher friend who told Kripke, “Hume must’ve never looked in a mirror,” while discussing philosopher David Hume’s idea of the self. “This shows how non-philosophers really can’t understand things,” Kripke said.
However, based on his UNO lecture, it seems some philosophers still haven’t caught up with Kripke.