Entries in Ray Monk (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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Wittgenstein's Thoughts in 1937 About God & The Resurrection of Jesus

After describing a period in Wittgenstein’s life where he experienced inner feelings of anxiety, guilt and fear – he was always a complicated person – Ray Monk offers the following. Wittgenstein was staying in Norway in 1937 and had trouble working. Monk goes on to note:

 “When, during the following few days, he was able to work again, he thanked God for a gift he did not deserve. He always felt, he wrote, what a truly devout person never feels – that God was responsible for what he was: ‘It was the opposite of piety. Again and again I want to say: “God, if you do not help me, what can I do?”' And although this attitude accords with what the Bible teaches, it is not that of a truly devout man, for such a one would assume responsibility for himself. ‘You must STRIVE,’ he urged himself; ‘never mind God.’”

Two paragraphs later, Monk continues: 

“On the ship to Bergen Wittgenstein wrote of Christ’s Resurrection and of what inclined even him to believe in it. If Christ did not rise from the dead, he reasoned, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. ‘HE IS DEAD AND DECOMPOSED.’ He had to repeat an underline the thought to appreciate its awfulness. For if that were the case, then Christ was a teacher like any other, ‘and can no longer HELP; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation.’  And if that is all we have, then: ‘We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven.’ If he wanted to be saved, to be redeemed, then wisdom was not enough; he needed faith:

     “And faith is faith in what is needed by my HEART, my SOUL, not my speculative intelligence. For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can only say: Only LOVE can believe in the Resurrection. Or: it is LOVE that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to Resurrection … 

    What combats doubt is, as it were, REDEMPTION. Holding fast to THIS must be holding fast to that belief. …”

[Note: allcaps substitued for italics -- sw]

 Source: Ray Monk, The Duty of Genius, at page 382-383. Dr. Sean Wilson, Esq.

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