Entries in Alexander Waugh (3)


Wittgenstein's Family and Cancer

From Alexander Waugh's, The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War, pp 275-276

After telling the story of Ludwig dying of prostate cancer; of his father, Karl, dying of cancer of the tongue and mouth; of Hermine, Ludwig's oldest sister, dying of gynecological cancer; and of Paul, Ludwig's brother, dying of prostrate cancer -- Waugh writes:   

"If ever there were a case to show that cancer is a genetic disease, the Wittgenstein family should be submitted as the first exhibit of concluding proof. Eighteen months before Hermine's death Maria Salzer (Helene's daughter) was killed by cancer. [Helene is another of Ludwig's sisters -- sw] In time both Helene's daughters and several of her granddaughters as well as her great-granddaughters would be stricken by the same disease. Helene herself died of it in 1956. She had not seen her brother Paul since 1938."

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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."

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What Wittgenstein's Extended Family Thought of His Genius

... from, the House of Wittgenstein, A Family at War, by Alexander Waugh. (pp. 146-147)

Regarding the sucess of the Tractatus, Waugh writes:

"From these small beginnings was the great industry of Wittgenstein exegesis born. Thousands of books have since been written to explain the meaning of the Tractatus, each different from the last. Ludwig himself later disavowed parts of it in his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations, but still this brief, gnomic work of the First World War continues to give the philosophical world a great deal of gristle to chew upon and in this sense, at least, the influence of Wittgenstein the philosopher has been considerable.

There were of course at that time (and still are, now) many doubters -- those who roll their eyes and mutter about "the Emperor's new clothes!"  Ludwig's uncles, aunts and extended family of Austrian cousins were among those who were the least impressed. Many of them were simply embarrassed by what they perceived to be his eccentric behavior and thought it perverse that he, the dupe of the family -- an elementary school teacher -- should be honored as a great philosopher abroad. 'Shaking their heads, they found it amusing that the world was taken in by the clown of their family, that THAT useless person had suddenly become famous and an intellectual giant in England."

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