Analytic Philosophy

Ordinary Language Philosophy

Who was John Wisdom?

Arthur John Terrence Dibben Wisdom (1904–1993) was educated at Cambridge University and became a professor there in 1952. His early work was on Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and logical atomism, but under Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1889–1951) influence he began a project of examining different approaches toward philosophical problems. Wisdom’s publications in that area include Other Minds (1952), Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (1953), and Paradox and Discovery (1964).

Wisdom discursively reflected on why philosophers say and write “very strange things,” and refuted skepticism about the existence of other minds. Wisdom brought the discussion of the “other minds problem” into twentieth century analytic contexts by ruling out the possibility of direct knowledge of other minds and at the same time showing why the claim that our knowledge is restricted to momentary sensations does not hold up. Overall, he argued that philosophers have always relied on the use of language and that there are historical precedents in philosophy for deciding when language gets the main subjects of philosophy right, as well as wrong.

Wisdom thought that the main subjects of philosophy were categories of being in reality and kinds of statements in language. He held that relevant distinctions within these subjects were implicit in language. He is also the author of Philosophical Papers (1962).


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