John Wisdom

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Arthur John Terence Dibben Wisdom (12 September 1904, Leyton, Essex – 9 December 1993, Cambridge[1]), usually cited as John Wisdom, was a leading British philosopher considered to be an ordinary language philosopher, a philosopher of mind and a metaphysician. He was influenced by G.E. Moore, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Sigmund Freud, and in turn explained and extended their work.

He is not to be confused with the philosopher John Oulton Wisdom (1908–1993), his cousin, who shared his interest in psychoanalysis.[2][3]


Before the posthumous publication of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations in 1953, Wisdom's writing was one of the few published sources of information about Wittgenstein's later philosophy.[4]

His article "Philosophical Perplexity" has been described as ‘something of a landmark in the history of philosophy’ being ‘the first which throughout embodied the new philosophical outlook’.[5]

According to David Pole "in some directions at least Wisdom carries Wittgenstein's work further than he himself did, and faces its consequences more explicitly."[6]

Wisdom was for most of his career at Trinity College, Cambridge, and became Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University. Near the end of his career he was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oregon. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1950 to 1951.

His famous "Parable of the Invisible Gardener" is a dialectic on the existence or absence of God.

He was cremated and his ashes were buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge.


Major writings[edit]

  • Interpretation and Analysis (1931)
  • Problems of Mind and Matter (1934)
  • "Philosophical Perplexity, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1936–1937)
  • Other Minds (1952)
  • Philosophy and Psycho-analysis (1953)
  • Paradox and Discovery (1965)
  • Proof and Explanation, the Virginia Lectures, 1957 (1991)


  1. ^ Ellis, Anthony (2006), "Wisdom, Arthur John Terence", The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy, Continuum, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199754694.001.0001/acref-9780199754694-e-2290, retrieved 2019-02-04
  2. ^ Passmore, John (1917). A Hundred Years Of Philosophy. Gerald Duckworth and Co. p. 437. It strikes one as odd that a philosopher should be called ‘Wisdom'; that two bearers of the name should be contemporary philosophers passes beyond the limits of the reasonable; that they should both be interested in psycho-analysis has produced in many minds the justifiable conviction that the two are one. But it must be none the less insisted that J. O. Wisdom of the London School of Economics not identical with his cousin Professor John Wisdom of the University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ Jarvie, I.C. "Obituary: J. O. Wisdom". The Independent. J. O. WISDOM was an important contributor to philosophy and to psychoanalysis. To the confusion of some he shared both interests and his apposite surname with his cousin the Cambridge professor J. A. T. D. Wisdom.
  4. ^ See the review "Can You Play Chess without the Queen by John Holloway", Hudson Review, vol. 6, no. 4 (winter), 1954.
  5. ^ Urmson, J. O. (1960). Philosophical Analysis. Oxford. p. 173.
  6. ^ Pole, David (1958). The Later Philosophy of Wittgenstein. London: Athlone Press. p. 103.
  7. ^ John Wisdom, Paradox and Discovery, 1965, p. 88

External links[edit]