Entries in Guy's Hospital (2)


Wittgenstein Labors at Guy's During WWII

[… continuing a segment that might be called, “Wittgenstein at War, Again.” – sw]

 Wittgenstein thought it intolerable to teach philosophy during World War II when Britain was being blitzed. He wanted to help with the civilian war effort. In September of 1941, he therefore obtained a job at Guy’s Hospital in London, working as a dispensary porter. Monk writes,

     “Wittgenstein’s job as a porter was to deliver medicines from the dispensary to the wards, where, according to John Ryle’s wife, Miriam, he advised the patients not to take them. His boss at the pharmacy was Mr. S F. Izzard. When asked later if he remembered Wittgenstein as a porter, Izzard replied, ‘Yes, very well. He came and worked here and after working here three weeks he came and explained how we should be running the place. You see, he was a man who was used to thinking.’ After a short while, he was switched to the job of pharmacy technician in the manufacturing laboratory, where one of his duties was to prepare Lassar’s ointment for the dermatological department. When Drury visited Wittgenstein at Guy’s, he was told by a member of the staff that no one before had produced Lassar’s ointment of such high quality. “ (433)

 Wittgenstein’s work was physically grueling. He was 52 years old and had said to Rowland Hutt, “When I finish work about 5 … I’m so tired I often can hardly move.” (434).

 Source: Ray Monk, The Duty of Genius, 433-434. 

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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.” 

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