Volume 90, Issue 2, Spring 2016
Anscombe, Cambridge, and the Challenges of Wittgenstein
In the decade between Elizabeth Anscombe’s arrival in Cambridge in 1942 and Wittgenstein’s death in 1951 she became in turn a student, a friend, and then a chosen translator of his work. His choice of her as translator and literary heir speaks for itself, but it is not widely appreciated that the position she came to occupy contrasted with aspects of his Cambridge life prior to her taking up a research studentship at Newnham College. Anscombe came to be a profound and original philosopher. Perhaps Wittgenstein’s engagement with her presupposed an inkling of her qualitative gifts later attested to by Donald Davidson, who estimated her short monograph Intention to be “the most important treatment of action since Aristotle.” It is impressive that while living amid the throes of WWII, giving birth to a large family, often engaging with forces surrounding Wittgenstein, and holding her own with him, she was simultaneously crafting her own philosophical progress. Twenty years after his death she was appointed to the Chair of Philosophy at Cambridge that he had occupied when they first met.