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Thursday
Oct222009

On Wittgenstein's Cancer and Death

... from Alexander Waugh's "The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War" at 274-275. Describing his prostate cancer and its treatment (and assumed side effects). Also describing "a large portion" of On Certainty being composed during his final two-and-a-half months.  

"Returning to London [in late 1949, after visiting  Malcolm -- sw] he had himself checked again and was finally told the proper cause of his malaise. He had inoperable and advanced cancer of the prostate, which had spread to his bone marrow, causing anemia. The treatment, a regular oral administration of the female hormone estrogen, was prescribed to arrest his production of testosterone. The side effects of this therapy include sickness, diarrhea, hot flashes, impotence and breast swelling.

... Ludwig was himself expecting to die, but for a year after Hermine's demise he continued writing and moving from place to place. In April 1950, he went to Cambridge ... . By February [of 1951 --sw] his decline was such that it was decided any further treatment would be pointless. Bucked by this, Ludwig told Mrs. Bevan [, the wife of a doctor he was staying with --sw], 'I am going to work now as I have ever worked before.' Immediately he set about writing a large portion of the book now known as On Certainty. He made it (just) to his sixty-second birthday. 'Many happy returns!' said Mrs. Bevan. 'There will be no returns,' he answered. On the following morning he composed his last philosophical thought:

"Someone who dreaming says, 'I am dreaming,' even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream 'it is raining,' while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain."

That night Ludwig's condition deteriorated considerably and when Dr. Bevan told him that he was not likely do survive more than a couple of days he said, Good!" Before passing out for the last time he murmured to Mrs. Bevan: "Tell them I've had a wonderful life!" ... He was buried the next day (April 30, 1951) by Catholic rite in the cemetery of St. Giles, Cambridge."

Regards and thanks. 

Sean Wilson

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