John Wisdom

This article is about the philosopher. For the U.S. court of appeals judge, see John Minor Wisdom.

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 the philosopher John Oulton Wisdom (1908–1993), his cousin, who shared his interest in psychoanalysis.[1]


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.[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


If I were asked to answer, in one sentence, the question 'What was Wittgenstein's biggest contribution to philosophy', I should answer 'His asking of the question "Can one play chess without the Queen?"'.[5]


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

External links

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