Fonds WISD - Papers of John Wisdom

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Papers of John Wisdom


  • 1923-90 (Creation)

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Biographical history

Arthur John Terence Dibben Wisdom was born on 12 September 1904, the son of Henry Wisdom and his wife Edith. Henry Wisdom was a member of the Anglican clergy and in John’s early childhood served a number of West Country parishes before settling in Hartest in Suffolk.

In 1921 Wisdom came up to Fitzwilliam House to study philosophy. He took a first in Part I of the Moral Sciences tripos in 1924 and a second in part II the following year. He did not move straight into an academic career, but worked for some time for the National Institute for Industrial Psychology before becoming a lecturer under G F Stout at St Andrews in 1929. In 1934 he was appointed a lecturer in the Moral Sciences at Cambridge, which led the following year to the fellowship at Trinity he held until his death. Wisdom gave the Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen from 1948 to 50 with the title The Mystery of the Transcendental. In 1952 he was elected Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, only relinquishing the post in 1968 to accept the position of Distinguished Professor at the University of Oregon. In 1972 he retired to Cambridge where he died in 1993.

In 1929 Wisdom married Mollie Iverson, an opera singer with whom he had a son, Tom. Mother and child spent much of the war years in Canada while Wisdom remained in England and after the war, after some problems, a divorce was obtained. In 1950 Wisdom married Pamela Strain a painter.

Wisdom’s philosophy shows a deep interest in humanity and a belief in the fact that philosophy should have a practical as well as an intellectual impact. In his early work he acknowledges the influence of Wittgenstein, but he was no mere camp follower, finding a distinctive voice from the first. Amongst numerous aspects of his discipline, he seems particularly interested in the character of the questions asked in philosophy, the mind/body relationship, knowledge of other minds and the relationship between philosophy and psychology. Problems of Mind and Matter, published in 1934, was the only book conceived by Wisdom as such. For the most part his publications took the form of articles. Logical Constructions I-V appeared in Mind between 1931 and 1933 and were later published with an introduction by Random House in 1969. Other Minds I-VIII were published in Mind between 1940 and 1943 and reprinted with related items by Basil Blackwell in 1952. A further series of essays with the title Philosophy and Psychoanalysis was issued by the same publisher in the following year. Paradox and Discovery was a last series of essays published as a volume in 1965. Wisdom’s lectures as Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia were edited by S F Barker and published under the title Proof and Explanation. A Festschrift edited by Ilham Dilman was published in 1984.

Archival history

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The papers were given to Trinity by Wisdom's son Tom in 1995.

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The archive includes diaries 1952-59, records of self-analysis 1939-59, correspondence 1925-1980s, student notes of G E Moore's lectures 1923-24, academic papers (many fragmentary) ?1920s-1980s

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      Though some are quite substantial, many of the academic notes appear to be fragments.

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