catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Peter Munz 1921-2006

with 3 comments

German-born New Zealander, historian and philosopher Peter Munz died in October.

He was a pupil of both Popper and Wittgenstein, and he came to think that they should have settled their differences in a friendly manner and merged their strong points.

He was a genuine quiet achiever,  with many books over a wide range of topics.

A friend of Peter in New Zealand has provided a fascinating and somewhat eccentric profile (this is a part of his blog post, but the site has gone off the air since I copied the extract).

One day in 1980 I happened to bump into Peter outside the Victoria University library and we struck up a conversation about Ludwig Wittgenstein. To my horror he said “Wittgenstein was a one book man who did some good work on atomic sentences”. Up until then I had been of the opinion that Wittgenstein was possibly the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. Just like that Peter had dethroned him, but not in my mind. I wasn’t ready then and still not now, to dismiss his greatness. The fact that Peter had met and known Wittgenstein no doubt played a part in his thinking. Peter had also studied with Karl Popper and been influenced by him. Peter had a absolute commitment to the “Open Society”. The later Wittgenstein had embraced a kind of mysticism whereas Popper had clung to rationalism to the end. In fact it can be argued that instead of demolishing local positivism he simply put it into reverse. If a synthesis of both Popper and Wittgenstein was to take place it would be difficult to see that with Popper and the later Wittgenstein, however it would be not so difficult with the early Wittgenstein, who was a logical positivist.

Peter’s athesism meant that he saw no justification for the state of Israel and he was an opponent of Zionism. Over the years I was to hear many assertions to the effect that the Jews should have been content with their books and been left alone. As a Jew his views would not have been popular with many in the Jewish community.

Peter had picked up the problem of logical positivism that Karl Popper has so carefully exposed – verification was no longer an acceptable methodology and with an ever present uncertainty one was forced to use the tools of falsifcation. It would be a world without absolutes and yet we still needed them in order to make the right judgments. In the place of absolutes Peter placed his hope in reason . Starting from himself, reason would be enough to bridge the epistomological, moral and metaphysical problem of a universe without absolutes, and also without God. That debate is not over nor should it be but Peter Munz in his own way has sharpened it and it is with his arguments that contemporary theologians will have to westle in order to gain credibility for the forseeable future.

Peter Munz had the advantage of a European background where culture had a high place and as child he had been educated in both Germany and Italy and exposed to a depth of culture that was not part of New Zealand life. In Europe there were many people of Peter’s ability and I met some of them personally so I do speak of experience. That is not to take away anything from Peter as he was without equal in many ways in Australasia . While Peter was an intellectual prince he was also a member of the human family with feet made of clay. I’m sure his close friends would have been quite familiar with that fact. I will miss my conversations with Peter Munz



Written by Admin

December 18, 2006 at 11:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. thanks for this post, Excellent!

    all we need add is a study of how bias motors our indiviudal egos as we choose our way thorugh the world, and how these biases are framed by our perceptions of risk, (for which I look to Mary Douglas, see alsoRisk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers, and a biography)

    I feel it is the friction of these biases that inform wants that builds things (markets, societies, baskets, nails and nunneries).



    December 19, 2006 at 10:16 am

  2. Rafe—two very nice posts. Many thanks (& apols for slow response—I’ve been off the web for a couple of weeks & am still catching up).


    December 22, 2006 at 6:24 am

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