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.
Wisdom was educated at Aldeburgh Lodge School, Suffolk, and Fitzwilliam House, Cambridge, where he graduated with a first-class BA degree in Moral Sciences in 1924. He is not to be confused with the philosopher John Oulton Wisdom (1908–1993), his cousin, who shared his interest in psychoanalysis.
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.
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’.
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."
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.
The first recorded use of the term "analytic philosophers" occurred in Wisdom's 1931 work, "Interpretation and Analysis in Relation to Bentham's Theory of Definition", which expounded on Bentham's concept of "paraphrasis": "that sort of exposition which may be afforded by transmuting into a proposition, having for its subject some real entity, a proposition which has not for its subject any other than a fictitious entity". At first Wisdom referred to "logic-analytic philosophers", then to "analytic philosophers". According to Michael Beaney, "the explicit articulation of the idea of paraphrasis in the work of both Wisdom in Cambridge and Ryle in Oxford represents a definite stage in the construction of analytic philosophy as a tradition".
He was cremated and his ashes were buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge.
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?"'.
- Interpretation and Analysis (1931)
- Problems of Mind and Matter (1934)
- "Philosophical Perplexity, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1936–1937)
- Other Minds (1952)
- Philosophy and Psycho-analysis (1953)
- Paradox and Discovery (1965)
- Proof and Explanation, the Virginia Lectures, 1957 (1991)
- Ellis, Anthony (2006), "Wisdom, Arthur John Terence", The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy, Continuum, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199754694.001.0001/acref-9780199754694-e-2290, retrieved 2019-02-04
- "WISDOM, Prof. Arthur John Terence Dibben". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2019 (online ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- Passmore, John (1917). A Hundred Years Of Philosophy. Gerald Duckworth and Co. pp. 437.
It strikes one as odd that a philosopher should be called ‘Wisdom'; that two bearers of the name should be contemporary philosophers passes beyond the limits of the reasonable; that they should both be interested in psycho-analysis has produced in many minds the justifiable conviction that the two are one. But it must be none the less insisted that J. O. Wisdom of the London School of Economics ..is not identical with his cousin Professor John Wisdom of the University of Cambridge.
- Jarvie, I.C. "Obituary: J. O. Wisdom". The Independent.
J. O. WISDOM was an important contributor to philosophy and to psychoanalysis. To the confusion of some he shared both interests and his apposite surname with his cousin the Cambridge professor J. A. T. D. Wisdom.
- See the review "Can You Play Chess without the Queen by John Holloway", Hudson Review, vol. 6, no. 4 (winter), 1954.
- Urmson, J. O. (1960). Philosophical Analysis. Oxford. p. 173.
- Pole, David (1958). The Later Philosophy of Wittgenstein. London: Athlone Press. p. 103.
- Beaney, Michael (2013). "The Historiography of Analytic Philosophy". In Beaney, Michael (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Analytic Philosophy. Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-19-923884-2.
- John Wisdom, Paradox and Discovery, 1965, p. 88