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Sunday
Dec062009

John Ryle on Ludwig Wittgenstein

During World War II when the Germans were regularly bombing Britain, Wittgenstein found it intolerable to teach philosophy. He wanted to assist with the civilian war effort. In September of 1941, he was able to arrange a lunch meeting with John Ryle about obtaining work at Guy’s Hospital where he could assist people in need. After meeting Wittgenstein, Ryle wrote a letter to his wife, saying …

    “He is one of the world’s most famous philosophers …He wears an open green shirt and has a rather attractive face. I was so interested that after years as a Trinity don, so far from getting tarred with the same brush as the others, he is overcome by the deadness of the place. He said to me ‘I feel I will die slowly if I stay there. I would rather take a chance of dying quickly. And so he wants to work at some humble manual job in a hospital as his war-work and will resign his chair if necessary, but does not want it talked about at all. And he wants the job to be in a blitzed area. The works department are prepared to take him as an odd job man under the older workmen who do all the running repairs all over the hospital. I think he realizes that his mind works so differently to most people’s that it would be stupid to try for any kind of war-work based on intelligence. I have written to him tonight to tell him about this job but am not trying to persuade him unduly.” 

Source: Ray Monk, The Duty of Genius, 431-432.

Dr. Sean Wilson, Esq.

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