Jokes about Neo-Kantians


Not a cretinous tirade, but another amusing passage from Scholem’s Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship:

Benjamin was fond of telling a joke that circulated about Hermann Cohen, the head of the Margburg Neo-Kantian school.  In Marburg even pharmacists who wished to obtain a diploma had to take an examination in philosophy, cursory though it may be.  One day such an examinee was sent to Cohen, and he asked him with his characteristic intensity, “What do you know about Plato?”  The candidate had never heard the name.  “Can you tell me anything about the main doctrines of Spinoza?” Silence.  Cohen, now in despair: “Can you tell me who the most important philospher of the 18th century was?”  The pharmacist’s face brightened and he started hemming and hawing.  Cohen vigorously encouraged him.  Finally the candidate said, “Kaut, Mr. Privy Councillor.”  Cohen is said to have burst into tears (p135).

5 thoughts on “Jokes about Neo-Kantians

  1. I’m confused by the wording. Was Cohen the Privy Councillor or was Kant, or did the pharmacist think Kant was when he wasn’t, this misidentification explaining the lacrimal outburst?

    As to the duties of a Privy Councillor, is it more a matter of directing people toward the available privies, or advising on their proper use?

  2. The beginning of this story reminds me of a Chukchi joke that is told in Russian. (The Chukchis are an indigenous people of the far Northeast of Russia, and the butt of a genre of joke in Russian.) The joke comes from Soviet times.

    A Chukchi applies for admission to the Writers’ Union. An officer of the union asks him, “Do you know Gogol?” The Chukchi replies, “No.” The official, surprised, asks, “Do you know Chekhov?” The Chukchi replies, “No.” “Do you know — Tolstoy?” “No.” “Do you know — Pushkin?” “No.” Completely exasperated, the official asks, “Do you know any Russian writers at all?” The applicant replies: “Chukchi is not reader! Chukchi is writer!”

    (In Russian, the last sentences are grammatical, but they sound best when translated word for word.)

    (No Chukchis were harmed in the making of this joke, but I’m sorry if any were offended.)

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