Oswald Hanfling

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Oswald Hanfling, (December 21, 1927 – October 25, 2005) was a German philosopher.

Early life

Oswald Hanfling was born to in Berlin in 1927. His parents were Jewish and when their business was vandalised on Kristallnacht in 1938, he was sent to England by Kindertransport and lived in Bedford with a foster family. After the war, he traced his family to Israel, with the help of the Red Cross.

Hanfling left school at the age of 14 to become an "office boy". For the next 25 years he worked in business, eventually running his own employment agency for au pairs. He told his students that he picked up the English language through reading comics as a young boy.


Bored by business, Hanfling studied 'A' levels and then enrolled on a BA in philosophy by correspondence at Birkbeck College. He gained a first, then embarked on a PhD, which he completed in 1971.

Academic work

Hanfling was appointed as a lecturer at the Open University in 1970, and worked there until retiring as a professor in 1993. His biggest influence was Ludwig Wittgenstein.


It was impossible to tell, either from his conversation or from his writings, that Hanfling was not a native English speaker. He once commented to Elizabeth Anscombe that he found it strange that Wittgenstein had continued to write in German throughout his life. Anscombe; who must have assumed that Hanfling was English, replied that only someone who wasn’t able to read Wittgenstein in German could have...
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