Obscure philosophy question

So there was this philosopher, I would guess early 20th century but not sure, who wrote something like:

“Suppose I put my pen into my desk drawer and close it, and then open it again; if the pen were not to be there, then I should go insane; therefore there is no point in considering counterfactuals”.

That’s a very poor paraphrase, and indeed perhaps an entirely incorrect one, but I think it’s a fairly well known passage… among metaphysics students.

I can’t remember who it might have been who wrote it, since I read it over 20 years ago. Is there a philosophy major in the house? Any ideas?

It didn’t ring a bell with my Dad (a retired philosophy professor), but he says it sounds like Bertrand Russell.


No, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Russell, I think it was someone a bit less well known to non-philosophers.

Randomly clicking around through lists of philosophers made me think for a minute it might be Gilbert Ryle, but I honestly have no good reason to think so, just a sort of resonance on the name, and searching on Ryle and on some of those words didn’t help much, so it’s actually probably not him either.

Thanks for asking, though.

“while others embrace reality, we ascend it”
reality is what we make of it, there is nothing more relative than fact

I don’t know. It’s not familiar. Maybe Wittgenstein? It sounds like the kind of dismissing thing he might’ve said. I’ll rattle some cages.

Sounds like G.E. Moore to me, but I don’t know the quote.

Or possibly Quine?

While I have a PhD in philosophy, logic/epistemology is not my specialty. Some of my colleagues will know though, if you really need to find out.

Everyone with a PhD does. rimshot :)

Fair enough, Guap.

Oh, a quick google suggests you may be thinking of Harry Frankfurt for the quote.

I think it’s not Quine. IMO Quine would never argue along those lines. He also said “Whistling in the dark is not the method of true philosophy”, which I would argue is inconsistent with the remark I tried to reproduce – that sounds a lot like whistling in the dark to me :)

What I really want is to find the actual passage, whether it’s Moore or Frankfurt or whomever… However, I was hoping someone would just by some fluke remember, I think actually bothering to inquire amongst colleagues might be going a bit too far – but far be it from me to hold you back :)

Some characters in a story I’m fiddling with seem to be talking about philosophy, and I thought one of them might bring up that remark as an argument against supernatural phenomena.