Georg Henrik von Wright

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Georg Henrik von Wright
von Wright in 1972
Born14 June 1916
Died16 June 2003(2003-06-16) (aged 87)
Helsinki, Finland
EducationUniversity of Helsinki
(1934–1937, 1939–1941;
PhD, 1941)
University of Cambridge
(graduate student, 1939)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
University of Helsinki
Cornell University
Academic advisorsEino Kaila
Doctoral studentsJaakko Hintikka
Main interests
Modal logic, philosophy of action, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science
Notable ideas
Deontic logic
Myth of Progress
Von Wright's home on Laivurinkatu Street, Helsinki: a commemorative plaque marking his long-term residence was installed in 2006
G. H. von Wright in 1961

Georg Henrik von Wright (Swedish: [ˈjěːɔrj ˈhɛ̌nːrɪk fɔn ˈvrɪkːt];[a] 14 June 1916 – 16 June 2003) was a Finnish philosopher.


G. H. von Wright[3] was born in Helsinki on 14 June 1916 to Tor von Wright and his wife Ragni Elisabeth Alfthan.[4]

On the retirement of Ludwig Wittgenstein as professor at the University of Cambridge in 1948, von Wright was elected to his chair at the age of 32.[4] He published in English, Finnish, German, and Swedish, belonging to the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland. Von Wright was of both Finnish and 17th-century Scottish ancestry,[5] and the family was raised to nobility in 1772.[6]


Von Wright's writings come under two broad categories. The first is analytic philosophy and philosophical logic in the Anglo-American vein. His 1951 books, An Essay in Modal Logic and Deontic Logic, were landmarks in the postwar rise of formal modal logic and its deontic version. He was an authority on Wittgenstein, editing his later works. He was the leading figure in the Finnish philosophy of his time, specializing in philosophical logic, philosophical analysis, philosophy of action, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and the close study of Charles Sanders Peirce.

The other vein in von Wright's writings is moralist and pessimist. During the last twenty years of his life, under the influence of Oswald Spengler, Jürgen Habermas and the Frankfurt School's reflections about modern rationality, he wrote prolifically. His best known article from this period is entitled "The Myth of Progress" (1993), and it questions whether our apparent material and technological progress can really be considered "progress" (see Myth of Progress).


In the last year of his life, among his other honorary degrees, he held an honorary degree at the University of Bergen.[7] He also was awarded the Swedish Academy Finland Prize in 1968.


  • The Logical Problem of Induction, PhD thesis, 31 May 1941[8]
  • Den logiska empirismen (Logical Empirism), in Swedish, 1945
  • Über Wahrscheinlichkeit (On Chance), in German, 1945
  • An Essay in Modal Logic, 1951
  • A Treatise on Induction and Probability, 1951
  • Deontic Logic, 1951
  • Tanke och förkunnelse (Thought and Preaching), in Swedish, 1955
  • Logical Studies, 1957
  • Logik, filosofi och språk (Logic, philosophy and language), in Swedish, 1957
  • The Varieties of Goodness, 1963. (1958-60 Gifford Lectures in the University of St. Andrews[9] He considered this his best and most personal work.
  • Norm and Action, 1963 (1958-60 Gifford Lectures, St. Andrews[10]
  • The Logic of Preference, 1963
  • Essay om naturen, människan och den vetenskaplig-tekniska revolutionen (Essay on Nature, Man and the Scientific-Technological Revolution), in Swedish, 1963
  • An Essay in Deontic Logic, 1968
  • Time, Change and Contradiction, 1969
  • Tieteen filosofian kaksi perinnettä (The Two Traditions of the Philosophy of Science), in Finnish, 1970
  • Explanation and Understanding, 1971
  • Causality and Determinism, 1974
  • Handlung, Norm und Intention (Action, Norm and Intention), in German, 1977
  • Humanismen som livshållning (Humanism as an approach to Life), in Swedish, 1978
  • Freedom and Determination, 1980
  • Wittgenstein, 1982
  • Philosophical Papers I-III, 1983–1984
  • Of Human Freedom, 1984. (1984 Tanner Lectures at the University of Helsinki)
  • Filosofisia tutkielmia (Philosophical Dissertations), in Finnish, 1985
  • Vetenskapen och förnuftet (Science and Reason), in Swedish, 1986
  • Minervan Pöllö (The Owl of Minerva), in Finnish, 1991
  • Myten om framsteget (The Myth of Progress), in Swedish, 1993
  • The Tree of Knowledge, 1993
  • Att förstå sin samtid (To Understand one's own Time), in Swedish, 1994
  • Six Essays in Philosophical Logic, 1996
  • Viimeisistä ajoista. Ajatusleikki (On the End Times: A Thought Experiment.), in Finnish, 1997
  • Logiikka ja humanismi (Logic and Humanism), in Finnish, 1998
  • In the Shadow of Descartes, 1998
  • Mitt liv som jag minns det (My Life as I Remember it), in Swedish, 2001

Von Wright edited posthumous publications by Wittgenstein, which were published by Blackwell (unless otherwise stated):

  • 1961. Notebooks 1914-1916.
  • 1967. Zettel (Translated into English as Culture and Value).
  • 1969. On Certainty.
  • 1971. ProtoTractatus—An Early Version of Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus. Cornell University Press.
  • 1973. Letters to C.K. Ogden with Comments on the English Translation of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
  • 1974. Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore.
  • 1978 (1956). Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics.
  • 1980. Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, Vols 1–2.
  • 1980. Culture and Value (English translation of Zettel).
  • 1982. Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, Vols. 1–2, 1992.

Von Wright also edited extracts from the diary of David Pinsent, also published by Blackwell:

  • 1990. A Portrait of Wittgenstein as a Young Man: From the Diary of David Hume Pinsent 1912–1914. ISBN 0-631-17511-3.

*For more complete publication details see "Bibliography of the Writings of Georg Henrik von Wright" (in Schilpp, 1989) and "The Georg Henrik von Wright-Bibliography" (2005).[11]


  1. ^ His obituarist in The Times claims that von Wright "used to tell British friends that the anglophone pronunciation was correct, since the name derived from a Scotsman" i.e. as rhyming with "bright" not “tricked.”[1] The Institute for the Languages of Finland does however promote the rendering of the Von Wright surname as "fånvrikt".[2]


  1. ^ "G. H. Von Wright". The Times. 20 June 2003. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2022-03-12.
  2. ^ "Uttal av finlandssvenska efternamn". Institute for the Languages of Finland (in Swedish). Retrieved 2022-03-14.
  3. ^ An explanation of the von Wright name is given in "Georg Henrik von Wright: Intellectual Autobiography" (in: Schilpp, 1989): "Around the year 1650, the earliest known members of my family had to leave Scotland because, it is said, they had sided with King Charles against Cromwell. They settled in Narva in Estonia, which was then a province under Swedish rule. Georg(e) Wright there begat Henrik Wright, who fought in the armies of Charles XII and after a long and eventful life died in his home in Finland, another part of the old Swedish realm. Henrik Wright's son Georg Henrik was, together with his three other sons, raised to noble rank after the royal coup d'etat of 1772. This was how the odd combination of 'von' and 'Wright' originated."
  4. ^ a b Hacker, P. M. S. (4 July 2003). "Obituary: Georg Henrik von Wright". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  5. ^ "Georg Wrightin jälkeläisiä" (PDF) (in Finnish). Suomen Sukututkimusseura. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved April 24, 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  6. ^ Finlands ridderskaps och adels kalender 1992, p. 670, 672. Esbo 1991. ISBN 951-9417-26-5
  7. ^ "Nytt om navn". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). 17 January 2002. p. 14.
  8. ^ Wright, Georg Henrik von. The logical problem of induction. Acta philosophica fennica, vol. 3. Societas Philosophica, Helsinki (Helsingfors) 1941. [second revised edition, 1957]
  9. ^ "Gifford Lecture Series - Books". 21 June 2008. Archived from the original on 21 June 2008. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  10. ^ "Norm and Action". The Gifford Lectures. 18 August 2014. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  11. ^ "The Georg Henrik von Wright-Bibliography". Journal for General Philosophy of Science. 36 (1): 155–210. 2005. doi:10.1007/s10838-005-1182-1. ISSN 0925-4560. JSTOR 25171310. S2CID 189844182 – via JSTOR.


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