Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dead Parrots and Invincible knights

New English Review has this post on today (which I'm replicating in full)

Remember the first time you heard the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch? It was funny, wasn't it? But despite being the best known, it's by no means the funniest Python sketch. Certainly, when you've heard it parroted for the thousandth time by some nerd who can't make up his own jokes, the plumage loses its colours. In fact the funniest lines come right at the end, when, having finally acknowledged that the parrot is dead, the pet shop owner agrees to replace it, but he's all out of parrots. "I've got a slug," he suggests hopefully. "Does it talk?" asks the customer. "Nah, not really." It's the word "really" that tickles. And then the sketch goes on to make the famous "palindrome" of Bolton: Notlob. But now I'm getting nerdy, so I'll stop digressing.

If repetition is bad for the sketch, philosophical analysis must surely be fatal. But Gary L. Hardcastle has done one, according to Stephen Asma:

An emblematic approach can be found in Gary L. Hardcastle's article "Themes in Contemporary Analytical Philosophy as Reflected in the Work of Monty Python," a chapter in Monty Python and Philosophy: Nudge Nudge, Think Think!, a 2006 book in the Open Court series. Hardcastle, an assistant professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, unpacks the 20th-century epistemological debate between verificationism (logical positivists like M. Schlick, R. Carnap, and A.J. Ayer), and semantic holism (W.V. Quine, Thomas Kuhn, and the later Wittgenstein) by using the famous Python parrot sketch and the Black Knight dismemberment fight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the parrot sketch, John Cleese (Mr. Praline) attempts to return a dead parrot to the pet store where he purchased it, and Michael Palin (the shopkeeper) uses an infuriating casuistry to deny the deceased state of the parrot. Hardcastle has to do a fair amount of real philosophy before we can appreciate this point, and when he analyzes the sketch, it actually sheds some light on the philosophical debate.

Hardcastle explains that "Mr. Praline, the man attempting to return the parrot, is our verificationist, as is evidenced by his attempt to verify the death of the parrot by reference to experience, such as seeing that it's motionless, its falling to the ground when sent aloft, its being nailed to its perch, and so on. The shopkeeper is our philosophically more sophisticated holist. He knows that maintaining the truth of other statements, concerning for example the bird's strength and its affection for the fjords, will allow him to maintain that the parrot is alive."

Notice that the shopkeeper is like the famous Black Knight from Holy Grail, who, despite having his limbs successively chopped off, continues to define himself as the victor in his battle with King Arthur. The holist shopkeeper need never accept that the parrot is dead, if he keeps explaining the observation of its motionless state by appeal to increasingly elaborate theories.

I just know this will come in handy for describing some outlandish arguments that keep springing up all over. So until it is put to good use, enjoy it as is :-)

1 Comments:

At 12:14 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Noga,

nwo

I may get the book.

 

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