Tuesday, 8 February 2011

In which Wittgenstein encourages the academics

The Welsh scholar Rush Rhees (1905-1989) went into academic life very reluctantly. Inspired by Wittgenstein and Simone Weil, he tried working as a welder in a factory; but he was such a bad welder that he finally accepted a job at Swansea University. Still, he couldn't quite resign himself to academic life, and he often talked about quitting his job. On one occasion, when he was very close to leaving Swansea, he received the following letter – encouraging, yet brutally honest – from his close friend Wittgenstein (cited in Mario von der Ruhr, "Rhees, Wittgenstein, and the Swansea School", in Sense and Reality: Essays out of Swansea, 225):
I should, for personal reasons, hate you to leave Swansea…. Don’t stupidly throw away an opportunity of doing some good. Your derogatory remarks about your philosophical abilities & success are so much rubbish. You are all right. And I mean just that: nothing more & nothing less. Philosophical influences much worse than yours & mine are spreading rapidly, & it’s important that you should stay at your job. That your success won’t be brilliant is certain; in fact it will be meagre, it’s bound to be. Please, if you possibly can, resign yourself to it & stay on.
Have you ever heard a better rationale for sticking at academic work?

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