Norman Malcolm

American philosopher (1911-1990)

Norman Malcolm (11 June 1911 – 4 August 1990) was an American philosopher, known for his work on Ludwig Wittgenstein.



Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, 1958

  • I first saw Wittgenstein in the Michaelmas term of 1938, my first term at Cambridge. At a meeting of the Moral Science Club, after the paper for the evening was read and the discussion started, someone began to stammer a remark. He had extreme difficulty in expressing himself and his words were unintelligible to me. I whispered to my neighbour, ‘Who is that?’: he replied, ‘Wittgenstein.’ I was astonished, because, for one reason I had expected the famous author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to be an elderly man, whereas this man looked young—perhaps about 35. (His actual age was 49.) His face was lean and brown, his profile was aquiline and strikingly beautiful, his head was covered with a curly mass of brown hair. I observed the respectful attention that everyone in the room paid to him. After his unsuccessful beginning he did not speak for a time but was obviously struggling with his thoughts. His look was concentrated, he made striking gestures with his hands as if he were discoursing. All the others maintained an intent and expectant silence. I witnessed this phenomenon count less times thereafter and came to regard it as entirely natural.
  • It is hardly correct to speak of these meetings as ‘lectures’, although this is what Wittgenstein called them. For one thing, he was carrying on original research in these meetings. He was thinking about certain problems in a way that he could have done had he been alone. For another thing, the meetings were largely conversation.
  • Wittgenstein's personality dominated these meetings. I doubt that anyone in the class failed to be influenced by him in some way. Few of us could keep from acquiring imitations of his mannerisms, gestures, intonations, exclamations. These imitations could easily appear ridiculous when compared with their original.
  • Some have thought that Wittgenstein's lectures were only for his friends and favourites. In fact he would admit anyone to his lectures. He required, however, that they should attend continuously and for a considerable period of time. He would not allow anyone to come for only one or two meetings. To one such request he replied, 'My lectures are not for tourists.'
  • Wittgenstein expressed more than once the fear that his writings would be destroyed by fire. He related with horror how the great historian, Mommsen, had lost a manuscript volume of his History of Rome in that way.
  • Undoubtedly Wittgenstein did greatly need human warmth and affection and he was enormously appreciative of any simple kindness. But a friendly relationship with him was very exacting. He could rebuke a friend with extreme harshness. He had a tendency to be suspicious of motives and character.
  • On Friday, April 27th, he took a walk in the afternoon. That night he fell violently ill. He remained conscious and when informed by the doctor that he could ‘live only a few days, he exclaimed ‘Good!’ Before losing consciousness he said to Mrs. Bevan (who was with him throughout the night) ‘Tell them I've had a wonderful life!’ By ‘them’ he undoubtedly meant his close friends. When I think of his profound pessimism, the intensity of his mental and moral suffering, the relentless way in which he drove his intellect, his need for love together with the harshness that repelled love, I am inclined to believe that his life was fiercely unhappy. Yet at the end he himself exclaimed that it had been ‘wonderful’! To me this seems a mysterious and strangely moving utterance.
Wikipedia has an article about: