John Wisdom

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Arthur John Terence Dibben Wisdom (12 September 1904, Leyton, Essex – 9 December 1993, Cambridge), 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 his cousin, fellow philosopher John Oulton Wisdom, 1908-1993, who shared his interest in psychoanalysis.[1]


Before the posthumous publication of the Philosophical Investigations in 1953 Wisdom's writing was one of the few published sources of information about Wittgenstein's later philosophy.[2]

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’.[3]

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."[4]

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

  • Interpretation and Analysis. (1931)
  • Problems of Mind and Matter. (1934)
  • "Philosophical Perplexity". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1936-37.
  • Other Minds. (1952)
  • Philosophy & PsychoAnalysis. (1953)
  • Paradox and Discovery. (1965)
  • Proof and Explanation (The Virginia Lectures 1957). (1991)



  1. Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy, Duckworth, London 1956, p. 447
  2. See review "Can You Play Chess without the Queen by John Holloway", The Hudson Review, Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter, 1954
  3. J. O. Urmson, Philosophical Analysis, Oxford 1960, p. 173
  4. David Pole, The Later Philosophy of Wittgenstein, Athlone Press, London 1958, p. 103
  5. Paradox and Discovery, 1965, p. 88

External links