The Strange Tale of A.J. Ayer, Naomi Campbell and Mike Tyson

"I love reading philosophy. Most philosophers are so politically incorrect - challenging the status quo, even challenging God. Nietzsche's my favourite. He's just insane." - Mike Tyson

Philosophers are renowned for their intellectual capacities but their pugilistic talents are not so well known. The existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus had a fight that was more than philosophical. An intellectual spat over Marxism and its incompatibility with existentialism led to a violent falling out and Camus giving Sartre a black eye. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously brandished a poker at Karl Popper after he challenged Wittgenstein's later conception of philosophy: that there are no such things as philosophical problems, but rather there are puzzles of language. 

Perhaps philosophers are better equipped for using reason to defeat their opponents. Immanuel Kant once expressed republican sympathies so vociferously in the presence of an Englishman that he challenged the philosopher to a duel. Kant overcame the man's challenge with such eloquence he not only avoided the duel but also changed the Englishman's opinions.

Oxford philosopher A.J. Ayer's classic work Language, Truth and Logic, in which he put forward the central theses of Logical Positivism, was published when he was just 24. Ayer is said to have been a man in whom "intellect and the senses were unusually highly developed at the expense of the faculties of feeling and intuition".

He had a talent for picking up unlikely people, and while staying in New York had befriended the fashionable underwear designer, Fernando Sanchez. It was at a party being held by Sanchez that Ayer, like Kant before him, was required to use all his skills of reason. Ayer was standing near to the entrance of the designer's apartment, chatting with a group of young models and designers. There was a commotion as a young woman rushed in, saying her friend was being assaulted in the bedroom. Ayer went to investigate and found heavyweight champion Mike Tyson pestering a young model just embarking on her career, Naomi Campbell. Ayer asked the boxer to desist but he was unwilling. "Do you know who the fuck I am?", Tyson warned Ayer "I'm the heavyweight champion of the world". "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic", Ayer replied calmly. "We are both pre-eminent in our field; I suggest that we talk about this like rational men".

Returning to Camus to end the story, when a student of Ayer asked him about the French existentialist novelist he replied "I don't know his work well, but he and I were friends: we were making love to twin sisters in Paris after the war".

Source: Ben Rogers, A.J. Ayer: A Life (2000)

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