Ludwig Wittgenstein and Yorick Smythies. A hitherto Unknown Relationship

Volker A. Munz


As Monk points out in his Wittgenstein biography (Monk 1990, 402) Smythies -though a
person who is often referred to in published texts- is still a rather unknown figure.
Born in Februrary 1917, Smythies entered the University of Cambridge (King's College)
in October 1935 and graduated in June 1939 with a 1st class degree in philosophy.
Moral science built his main subject. After leaving Cambridge he worked as a local
investigator at Nuffield College, Oxford (1942-44), as a librarian at the Cambridge
Philosophical Society (1945-47), as an assistant libriarian at the departement of
forestry (1947-1951) and later at the department of social studies at the University
of Oxford. Although he never worked as a professional lecturer he taught philosophy
part time at the University of Oxford in 1944 and for the Advanced Student Summer
Courses between 1955-57. In his conversations with Wittgenstein, Bouwsma remembers
the latter saying: "Smythies will never get a lectureship. He is too serious."
(Bouwsma 1986, 34) Smythies became best known for his published notes of
Wittgenstein's Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious
Belief, (1966) the Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics (1976) and the two
Lectures on Freedom of the Will (1989). He also composed a hithero unpublished
collection of Wittgenstein lectures on different subjects such as knowledge,
similarity, states of mind, description and others, which are now prepared for
publication. Smythies has, however, written a great deal of his own philosophical
work, containing about 65 notebooks, a play, and a series of poems, material some of
which he also intended to publish. In contrast to Monk's version (Monk 1990, 403)
Smythies did not suffer from paranoid schizophrenia and there were no tragic
circumstances of his death at all. Having been afflicted with emphisema for about
five years and knowing not to live much longer he died in 1980, (not in 1981 as Monk


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; Cambridge; lecture; religion; conversion; biography

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