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Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir Paperback – 2 Aug 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Clarendon Press; New Ed edition (2 Aug 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199247595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199247592
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 1.3 x 13 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,066,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'A reader does not need to care about philosophy to be excited by Mr Malcolm's book; it is about Wittgenstein as a man, and its interest is human interest'. ((From a review of the first edition in the Manchester Guardian))

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ON 29 April 1951 there died at Cambridge one of the greatest and most influential philosophers of our time, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Read the first page
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on 7 Sep 2004
Format: Paperback
Norman Malcolm was a close friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein's. They exchanged many letters and the reader can discover the 56 letters that Wittgenstein sent to Malcolm between March 26 1940 to April 16 1951 in this book.
Norman Malcolm does not discuss Wittgenstein's philosophical works - although he attended a respectable number of his lectures - but describes the philosopher in his daily life, his tastes, his talks with his fellows in Cambridge. It is interesting to learn that Wittgenstein was an emphatic talker both while lecturing and conversing privately, that he dressed as simply as possible although he had rigorous standards of cleanliness and that his room at Trinity College was austerely furnished.
His lectures were quite original. He didn't address his audience in a formal way but the meetings - in his room where the members of the class had to bring chairs - were rather a conversation during which Wittgenstein carried on original research. He was usually impatient and easily angered and his students often feared him. Making friendship with Wittgenstein was very exacting since his extreme harshness could rebuke a friend. Malcolm often experienced that Wittgenstein had a tendency to be suspicious of motives and character. It was always a strain to be with Wittgenstein because of the intellectual demands of his conversation and his ruthless severity. This was due to his passionate love of truth and that is the reason why his philosophical thoughts tortured and exhausted him. He detested academic life, he could not stand the society of his academic colleagues and could not suffer all forms of affectation and insincerity. His mood was often sombre because of the difficulty of achieving understanding in philosophy.
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Format: Paperback
Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein

This memoir by Norman Malcolm, who attended Wittgenstein's Cambridge lectures on the philosophical foundations of mathematics in 1939, is an intimate and revealing study of the man behind the philosopher. Malcolm confesses that he `understood almost nothing of the lectures,' until re-reading his notes some ten years later. The `lectures,' given without preparation or notes, were as informal as the man himself, and Wittgenstein himself preferred meeting in his own rooms or those of friends. Nevertheless `one had to be brave to enter after the lecture had begun and some would go away rather than face Wittgenstein's glare.'

Wittgenstein's severity, Malcolm believes, was an essential part of his passion for truth. He would be a harsh critic of himself and others, `an awesome and even terrible person,' yet one who relished (but never relaxed with) American movies. He disapproved of jokers, but loved questions, especially those without answers; for example: Why, can't a dog simulate pain? Or Can there be such a thing as a riddle?

Wittgenstein had a horror of the academic life, and when Malcolm asked him if he should become a professor of philosophy he suggested farm work or some manual labour, which accords with the man's own practice. He wanted to be practical and useful, was a house painter, an architect, a sculptor and a musician, and in both wars volunteered his services, in 1942 as an orderly at Guy's Hospital. As a soldier in World War 1 he kept a notebook in his rucksack, with ideas that germinated in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He hated lectures as such, and at Cambridge wanted to resign from `the absurd job of a prof. of philosophy. It is a kind of living death.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A vivid memory 7 Sep 2004
By HORAK - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Norman Malcolm was a close friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein's. They exchanged many letters and the reader can discover the 56 letters that Wittgenstein sent to Malcolm between March 26 1940 to April 16 1951 in this book.

Norman Malcolm does not discuss Wittgenstein's philosophical works - although he attended a respectable number of his lectures - but describes the philosopher in his daily life, his tastes, his talks with his fellows in Cambridge. It is interesting to learn that Wittgenstein was an emphatic talker both while lecturing and conversing privately, that he dressed as simply as possible although he had rigorous standards of cleanliness and that his room at Trinity College was austerely furnished.

His lectures were quite original. He didn't address his audience in a formal way but the meetings - in his room where the members of the class had to bring chairs - were rather a conversation during which Wittgenstein carried on original research. He was usually impatient and easily angered and his students often feared him. Making friendship with Wittgenstein was very exacting since his extreme harshness could rebuke a friend. Malcolm often experienced that Wittgenstein had a tendency to be suspicious of motives and character. It was always a strain to be with Wittgenstein because of the intellectual demands of his conversation and his ruthless severity. This was due to his passionate love of truth and that is the reason why his philosophical thoughts tortured and exhausted him. He detested academic life, he could not stand the society of his academic colleagues and could not suffer all forms of affectation and insincerity. His mood was often sombre because of the difficulty of achieving understanding in philosophy. As he struggled to work through a problem, his listeners felt that they were in the presence of real suffering. That may explain his strong inclination to pessimism, a feeling that was often close to despair. Another source of torment was that he felt himself to be a failure as a teacher, a profession he abandoned after a few years to devote himself exclusively to philosophy.

Towards the end of his life, Wittgenstein spent long months with Malcolm and his wife in America where Malcolm could witness Wittgenstein's increasing difficulty to concentrate and think, mainly because of his fragile health. A moving memory of one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
The Philosophical Personality 19 Dec 2001
By SBell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Malcolm's memoir, written as a straightforward account of his relationship with Wittgenstein over a number of years, vividly brings to life the odd charisma of the philosopher. It is easy to see, just from Malcolm's account, how Wittgenstein's personality influenced or overwhelmed people around him. Malcolm himself seems to have avoided a full dose of the spell, and simply accepted Wittgenstein as he was, which makes him a superior memoirist. (Furthermore, Malcolm was scrupulious enough that, upon reading his memior, I guessed from it that Wittgenstein was gay, long before I read any of the more heavy-handed books that claim new revelations about the philosopher. It was all already there for them to see, if they would just look at it.) Malcolm's accounts of conversations with Wittgenstein, and even more so the selection of letters included at the end of the volume, amply display the philosopher's character, as well as revealing his rather dry and odd wit and ability to produce aphoristic phrases of great, and sometimes comic, insight. I would strongly recommend giving it to a student who has taken a semester or two of philosophy; even though it won't tell him much about the content of Wittgenstein's actual philosophy, it does provide a serious, and fascinating, example of a way to approach philosophy, and makes the subject seem like it can be an exciting and live quest.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Biographical Overview plus Intimate Memoir 15 Dec 2006
By B. Marold - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This volume contains two independant pieces of writing about the giant of 20th Century philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein. The first, shorter Biographical Sketch by Cambridge colleague, Georg Henrick Von Wright covers the broad outlines of Wittgenstein's life and work in the first 22 pages of this slim volume. The remaining 78 pages are occupied by one of Wittgenstein's more influential and dedicated American students, Norman Malcolm, and it deals only with Malcolm's personal experiences with Wittgenstein from mid-1938 at Cambridge to Wittgenstein's death on April 27, 1951.

While Von Wright's piece is an essential introduction, it is Malcolm's memoir which had me reading this slim volume over and over as I began my studies of modern Philosophy in 1963. This was before any of the several long biographies now available, and long before the notority of the little book 'Wittgenstein's Poker'. At this time, we only had Wittgenstein's two major works, the 'Philosphical Investigations' and the earlier 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus' plus the 'Blue and Brown Books' and, I believe, another slim volume of aphorisms, 'Zettel' (German for 'notes').

Malcolm was one of a core group of students who seemed to see be apostles to Wittgenstein's philosophical Messiah. I especially recall meeting another of Wittgenstein's students, Stephen Toulmin, who spoke of Wittgenstein with a particular reverence reserved for only two or three of the century's greatest thinkers such as Einstein, Stravinsky, and Picasso.

Wittgenstein's life seemed to be a great contradiction, as he seemed to suffer great bouts of depression and anxiety, and working on philosophy seemed to give him all the pain of childbirth. And yet, when he was told he had but a few days to live, he said 'Great! Tell them I've had a wonderful life.'

After all these years, I still find lessons from Wittgenstein's life in this little book. That may be because I practically memorized it 40 years ago, but one can find much worse exemplars for life than the memorable Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I'm surprised to see how pricy this little book has become. Fortunately it is durably bound, as my 40 year old copy is still in good shape, so don't be too reluctant to acquire a used copy, as long as it is not marked up.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
tell them I've had a wonderful life... 5 Dec 2007
By S. Lee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Erich Heller, a Germanist at Northwestern who left very readable and witty essays on Nietzsche, Kafka, Rilke, Wittgenstein and others, commented on the difficulty of understanding Wittgenstein in these words: ""Do you understand Kant?" is like asking "Have you been to the summit of Mont Blanc?" The answer is *yes* or *no*. "Do you understand Nietzsche?" is like asking "Do you know Rome?" The answer is simple only if you have never been there. The trouble with Wittgenstein's thinking is that it sometimes looks like Descartes's: you believe you can learn it as you learn logic or mathematics; but it almost always is more like Pascal's: you may be quite sure you cannot."

When it comes to the thought of Nietzsche, Pascal, Kierkegaard or Wittgenstein, he notes, its "temperature is of its essence, in its passion lies its seriousness, the rhythm of the sentences that express it is as telling as is that which they tell, and sometimes a semicolon marks the frontier between a thought and a triviality." If what we see in their philsophies are indeed the "destinies of souls," then an intimate understanding of the people they were should be essential for an understanding of their thought. And, in Wittgenstein's case, this memoir will be of not a small help.

An anecdote from this memoir seems to have become almost a legend, often quoted as exemplary Wittgensteinian integrity. One day on a walk with Wittgenstein in 1939, Malcolm mentions something about how what he believes to be the British "national character" would make it unlikely that they invade Germany. Wittgenstein remembers this and reproaches Malcolm 5 years later in a letter. To Wittgenstein, using a phrase like "national character" betrays a primitiveness and inability to be honest in thinking. And the very reason one studies philosophy is to improve thinking about important questions of everyday life. To quote him from the letter: "thinking about these things is not thrilling, but often downright nasty. And when it's nasty then it's most important ... You can't think decently if you don't want to hurt yourself."

A good life to Wittgenstein was living for the thing for which one has a talent with all the energy all life long. That way, the idea of immortality may assume a meaning. As Malcolm tells us, such was what Wittgenstein thought of one's "duty": "Wittgenstein once suggested that a way in which the notion of immortality can acquire a meaning is through one's feeling that one has duties from which one cannot be released, even by death. Wittgenstein himself possessed a stern sense of duty."

Early in Ray Monk's biography, we read about a discussion about "soul" between Russell and Wittgenstein. As to Wittgenstein's question of why it is so hard not to lose one's soul sometime in life, Russell's answer was perhaps the best way not to lose it is to have a purpose to devote oneself to. Wittgenstein disagrees and says it is a matter of suffering, how to endure suffering. Here we see an incompatible difference in the characters of these two thinkers. This also reminded me what he said upon his death, "tell them I've had a wonderful life." I think he really thought he had a wonderful life and it had to do with his talent for suffering.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Human side of an Austere Philosopher 3 Sep 2005
By C. Middleton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Norman Malcolm's memoir of his friend and colleague, Wittgenstein, is a very personal account of the man that gives the reader a human side to this enigmatic and austere philosopher. Malcolm's descriptions of Wittgenstein delivering his unorthodox lectures in the philosopher's minimalist rooms at Cambridge - students crammed sitting and standing shoulder to shoulder, the philosopher glaring at any late comer, gesticulating in silence like a suffering mime to achieve a crystalline synthesis of thought, has now become legend. Wittgenstein was an extemporaneous lecturer, never using notes, uncannily picking up the thread of his thoughts from the previous weeks lecture. Malcolm admits that he didn't really begin to understand Wittgenstein until years after attending these "conversations". However this memoir is not about Wittgenstein's philosophy, but about Wittgenstein the man, by way of personal anecdotes and an eleven-year correspondence up until only thirteen days before Wittgenstein's death from prostate cancer.

There are many moving and humorous anecdotes in this memoir, however two in particular really stand out: While visiting Cambridge, Malcolm and his wife would occasionally have Wittgenstein over for dinner. More often than not, he would insist on doing the dishes, but preferred to do them in the bathtub with extremely hot water and a fair amount of soap. This way, he insisted, was the only method to wash dishes to ensure their utter cleanliness. He would often scold Malcolm for not drying the plates properly. This incident may seem minor, but it really exemplifies Wittgenstein's intense character, and what ever he put his attention on, it would be done to the best of his ability.

On one spring evening, after washing up, Wittgenstein, Malcolm and his wife set off on one of their many walks around campus. Wittgenstein began talking about the planets in the solar system and their relationships. He told Malcolm's wife that she was the sun and to continue walking; Malcolm was told he was the earth and to run around her, orbit, counter clockwise; Wittgenstein took the role of the moon, the most difficult, and ran around Malcolm at top speed. Anyone observing this spectacle from afar must have thought they were crazy, but Malcolm said it was extremely difficult and exhilarating experience.

Overall the text is divided into three sections: a well-written biographical sketch by Wittgenstein's colleague at Cambridge, G.H. von Wright. The second section is Malcolm's moving and humorous memoir, ending in the third section with a collection of correspondence from Wittgenstein to Malcolm spanning over eleven years. It is these letters that show the human side of Wittgenstein, his tireless work ethic and his concern for the well being of his friends.

If you have any interest in the character of this interesting philosopher, Malcolm's memoir is an excellent text.
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