History / Philosophy

Wittgenstein meets C.G. Jung


This essay is a highly subjective and indirect way to connect Wittgenstein and C.G. Jung. I  stumbled recently over the connection between Sigmund Freud and the very innovative Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian-born philosopher and contemporary of Freud. Wittgenstein’s  ( and C. G. Jung’s) contributions while not in everybody’s mind like Freud’s, are more significant and much more widely still in use today. I have to admit, that I have been only mildly interested in Freud’s theories, which have been discredited from many sides. On the other hand I do regard C.G. Jung’s psychoanalytic theory particularly the collective unconscious and its approach to self-understanding and spirituality as very useful. Most people have heard of C.G. Jung, often linking him vaguely with Sigmund Freud, and although the terms ‘complex’, ‘introvert’, and ‘extrovert’ are often used in everyday speech, few realize that they were coined by him not speaking about major concepts like personality types and collective archetypes.

C.G. Jung and Wittgenstein never meet, so this intellectual exercise is  based on bibliographic facts, quotes and indirectly by the Jung-Freud-Wittgenstein triangle. The reader should kindly be aware, that even if I know a thing or two about C.G. Jung, I am still learning about Wittgenstein.  Most accounts on Wittgenstein on psychoanalytic methods, philosophy of religion, alchemy (magic) and mystic are either not his own writings but notes of conversations and lectures or interpretation of those. A thesis can be made, that Wittgenstein was closer to C.G. Jung than to Freud in any aspects of this scope and by studying  Wittgenstein’s and Jung’s texts, it is evident that both viewed Freud’s basic concepts as a break-through and starting point but finally dismissed Freud’s psychology, sometimes for the same reasons.

Jung-Freud-Wittgenstein biographic facts

C.G. Jung was the son of a protestant pastor in Basel, whereas Wittgenstein and Freud, had both a secular background and shared a very well off bourgeois upbringing. The Wittgenstein’s were large and wealthy family of assimilated Jews origins. No doubt the father Karl Wittgenstein was overwhelming father figure. The and steel magnate made his family fortune within a relatively few years as sizable as the Rothschild’s. Ludwig hat a hard time to give his heritage away In 1914, he donated  the equivalent to today half a million euros) for needy artists (e.g Georg Trakl and Rainer Maria Rilke). He distributed his considerable paternal heritage 1919 to his siblings. Three of his four brothers committed suicide, Rudolf, who was obviously gay, poisoned himself in a Berlin restaurant in melodramatic way, his brother Hans by drowning overseas and Kurt an army officer of the k. u. k., shot himself at the end of the first world war on the collapsed Italian front. The three sisters were more visible and pragmatic. Margaret Stonborough was painted by Klimt (a very famous painting). But the older sisters, Hermine and Helene were after 1938 at risk. Because the Nazis had no access to their foreign capital bunkered in a Swiss foundation, they chose the means of blackmail. In tough negotiations with representatives of the Reichsbank in New York and the Switzerland millions were reclaimed from the Ludwig Wittgenstein, to get his Sisters out. The Nazis certified  the Grandfather Christian promptly “Aryan” descent - to claim  tax money from Switzerland accounts Germans authorities already then went the extra mile.

In a nutshell  C.G.Jung can be understood best as an “avant-garde conservative” intellectual (Jay Cherry). To the contrary Wittgenstein and Freud were definitely closer to the left spectrum – one might say “salon communists”. The principal historical difference lie partly in Wittgenstein’s sympathy for certain aspects of the left in the 1930s—he is said to have described himself as “a communist, at heart”.  It seems that Wittgenstein believed like C.G. Jung in mystical truths that somehow cannot be expressed meaningfully but that are of the utmost importance.

Wittgenstein, a very handsome man having considerable success with women, was homosexual. Francis Skinner a friend, collaborator was an alleged longtime lover of Wittgenstein. In 1934, the two made plans to emigrate to the Soviet Union. Throughout his life, Freud experienced competitive feelings in male-female-male triangles (John and Pauline; Wilhelm Fliess and Emma Eckstein ; C.G. Jung and Sabina Spielrein) with a male intimate companion.   It is perhaps ironic that when Sigmund Freud – who lived by the psychoanalytic theory that sexual desire was the prime driver for human beings – found out his young protégé, Carl Jung, was having an extra-marital affair Sabina Spielrein, a 22-year-old Russian who was a patient in the Swiss hospital at which Jung worked, and later became one of his most brilliant students, and committed lover. Sabina Spielrein, seems not the only femal patient with whom C.G. Jung had an relationship, he was a decidedly heterosexual man of impressive stature. Note: that part seems to be a interesting topic for another essay.

Carl Gustav Jung and Freud interaction

Carl Gustav Jung and Freud first met in person 1907 and corresponded extensively until 1914, with Freud viewing Jung as protégé and innovative and original heir to psychoanalysis. Jung, however, soon questioned some of the basic tenets of Freudian theory. Freud’s reaction to the defection of Jung, and later that of Alfred Adler, was to close ranks and further guard his theories. C.G. Jung’s view fit nicely to contemporary thinking, that innovative conservatism, which is called for to protect freedom -and- the world environment as well as western heritage. C.G.Jung’s cultural roots were decisively neo-romantic drawn to symbolism and irrationality or at least mystic and he uniquely connected psychology and religion. In politics he questioned democracy and rejected socialism preferring elitism – but certainly not Nietsche’s kind. He criticized also the rationalistic, “disenchanted” view of the world, Freud’s hostility against religions and contradicted him on many theses. More or less, he thought that Freud was to one-dimensional and a product of a special, narrow and bourgeois short overcome period.

Ludwig Wittgenstein and Freud interaction

Ludwig Wittgenstein lived in Vienna when Freud was developing psychoanalysis and was in contact with people who were either undergoing treatment or ‘experimenting’ with these new ideas. Wittgenstein, who had delivered a devastating critique of traditional philosophy was a severe critic of Freud’s scientific claims and held a coherently ambivalent view of Freud. Wittgenstein, however, never wrote a paper on Freud or on Psychoanalysis. Everything that we know about, so his criticisms on Freudian psychoanalysis has been either passed on to us through third party, who carefully some conversations with Wittgenstein on the subject (see “Conversations on Freud” in Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief), or through some minor remarks made by Wittgenstein himself in his writings. Freud’s objectivity seems sometimes to function as a pseudo-religion.  It’s usefulness for science I don’t deride. What bothers many is positivists’ making a petty-god of it the the claim of Marxism as well as Freud’s theories of being scientific. This is where motive meets epistemology and Jung meets Wittgenstein.

The Jung-Freud-Wittgenstein triangle

/1/ The psychoanalytic theory -  are they plausible?

For same basic information about C.G. Jung please refer to my article. While sharing basic terminology and concepts, Freud and C.G.Jung differ completely.  Freud view of an accomplished life is being materially established in society and having a healthy relationship (money and sex).  C.G. Jung’s view of an accomplished life is having accomplished individuation and finding spirituality (not necessarily within a religion). Freud’s psychology focuses on the years when persons achieve maturity, knowledge and assurance, settle into their careers and family lives.  C.G. Jung focuses after it inner growth and development to establish the whole self. 

 When Jung joined psychoanalysis in 1907, it could plausibly claim to be a radical new psychology. Later both became players on a world stage, but while Freud’s psychoanalytic movement guarded by orthodox body-guards (or academic and media priests) tinkering with the peripheral concepts and core premise of childhood sexuality, more original and fertile new hypotheses were developed by practitioners like C.G. Jung who in one way or another were considered “unorthodox.”

Did Freud present a scientific hypothesis about the unconscious, as he always maintained and as many until today keep repeating? Freud claimed that there are two innate forces or instincts behind human behaviour, is life instinct (Eros – life force and sexual drive) and death instinct (Thanatos – aggression towards ourselves or/and others). Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis was developed from this views on early psychological development and it has as its cornerstone the hypothesis of the unconscious as answer to ‘mental problems’. Eros and Thanatos make up the ‘Id’ (Es), which is the first part of personality to develop and operates solely on those instincts of life and death, i.e. those urges in the unconscious mind to satisfy desires and survival needs. Later the rational and logical ‘Ego’ develops, which is the conscious part of the child’s personality dealing with the outside world. At the age of three the child develops the third component of its personality, that is, the ‘Superego’.Freud believed that the Superego was divided into two parts, namely ‘Conscience’ (what we should not do) and ‘Ego Ideal’(what we should do). Freud and Jung disagreed on what constituted the unconscious. Freud viewed the unconscious as a collection of images, thoughts and experiences the individual refused to process, which lead to neuroses.

Jung drew a complex and rich multi-layered concept of the subconscious. C.G. Jung criticized that Freud’s concept of the unconscious was to narrow, overly negative and too focused on sexuality as a motivating force. Instead of simply being an evil storage room of repressed thoughts and motivations, as Freud believed, Jung argued that the unconscious is one of the major energy foe creativity. The theory of the unconscious was for Wittgenstein a new form of thinking and speaking, or rather, a new symbolic language context, for Jung a source of potential positive energy to be employed. As later been shown, both saw dreams as a message in a (coded and context sensitive) language.

/2/ The psychoanalytic methods – are they consistent?

Wittgenstein maintained that Freud’s methodology on interpretation of dreams were utterly mistaken or at best arbitrary based on the cultural context of the chosen symbolic. Wittgenstein criticised the fact that Freud seems to argue sometimes that the right interpretation of dreams is the one provided by the analyst and, at other times, the one which favours the best outcome for the patient. For Wittgenstein as mathematical mind this is unacceptable. Wittgenstein’s Therapeutic Positivism or Philosophical Method is based on his Theory of Meaning, which says that the  meaning of a word is never completely given, i.e. there is always an uncovered facet to the meaning of a word because the meaning of a word is linked to its usage. In the same way, for Wittgenstein, the meaning of a dream depends upon how the dream is recalled or reported by the subject – a subject’s choice and use of words influences the meaning of a dream, which is not given all at once but is something that unfolds during the course of a narrative. Wittgenstein also understands that there is nothing hidden in a dream, everything in a dream is in principle accessible to the dreamer who already knows everything he needs to know about the dream. Wittgenstein says: “when a dream is interpreted we might say that it is fitted into a context in which it ceases to be puzzling…”. Likewise C.G. Jung  first contextualizes dreams in this method, with the (real) context of the person or (in the case of individuation) with the archetypical cultural background of the collective unconscious. A collective unconscious, a group of shared images and archetypes common to all humans often bubbles up to the surface of the personal unconscious. Individuation dreams could be better interpreted by understanding the symbolic reference points of universally shared symbols. The similarity of the basic thoughts is strikingly.  Wittgenstein’s and Jung’s criticism on Freud cannot be entirely ignored and the charges that the Freud’s methodology of dream interpretation is somehow arbitrary (and stereotyped), and that it is only a sort of self made mythology that is being offered to the patient, cannot be overlooked. The use of interpretations of dreams,  within Wittgensteins’s constraints, that is, only insofar as a dream is reported or recalled by a patient (i.e. his or her choices of words will impinge on the meaning of the dream, and the meaning of the dream is something that unfolds during the course of the narrative) is contextualizing. The goal of the therapist, according to Jung, was to help the person recognize the work of the unconscious, and thus to assist the patient in understanding how better to strive for individuation which would produce a “whole” person.

/3/ The psychoanalytic benefit – does it work or does it harm?

Wittgenstein also criticised Freud’s use of the technique of ‘free-association’ because it is all-embracing, that is, everything has an explanation and is significant. Psychoanalysis satisfies patients by providing easy explanations,which makes patient’s lives ‘easier’, just as mythology did in the past or still does in some parts of the world today. He says: ‘Analysis is likely to do harm. Because although one may discover in the course of it various things about oneself, one must have a very strong…criticism in order to recognise and see through the mythology that is offered or imposed to one. A powerful mythology’ (Wittgenstein, 1966, pp. 51-52). C.G. Jung questioned Freud’s, therapeutic approach similar: “May I say a few words to you in earnest? … I would, however, point out that your technique of treating your pupils like patients is a blunder. In that way you produce either slavish sons or impudent puppies (Adler-Stekel and the whole insolent gang now throwing their weight about in Vienna). I am objective enough to see through your little trick. You go about sniffing out all the symptomatic actions in your vicinity, thus reducing everyone to the level of sons and daughters who blushingly admit the existence of their faults. Meanwhile you remain on top as the father, sitting pretty. For sheer obsequiousness nobody dares to pluck the prophet by the beard and inquire for once what you would say to a patient with a tendency to analyze the analyst instead of himself. You would certainly ask him: “who’s got the neurosis?” (McGuire, 1974, 534-535).
Jung’s assault on Freud’s theories and practice is frontal.  Freud has never come to terms with his own neurosis. To him Freud’s methods are one-sided sexual. His self-understanding is flawed, and he is — in the case where it matters most — no therapist but projects his shortcomings onto his disciples.

/4/ The psychoanalytic science claim

The most interesting criticism raised by Wittgenstein against Freudian psychoanalysis is that it is just a sort of myth. Part of Wittgenstein’s fame in modern times is due to the fact that he claimed to have found a therapeutic process analogous to psychoanalysis. This therapeutic process was very often referred to as ‘Therapeutic Positivism’ in the years just after the Second World War. It has been noted, that the word positivism is most unfortunate for the original positivists argued that all thinking should follow the patterns used by the sciences, whilst Wittgenstein tried to show that there are areas of human knowledge which are not accessible through a science. Wittgenstein’s criticism is that Freud provides new meanings to events which would be normally seen as ordinary. Wittgenstein claims similarly to Jung, that Freud is offering the patient a sort of own mythology – a mythology with no cultural, historical and empirical foundation. One could say, and it has been said, just based on values and interpretation of a male in a narrow historical and class context.  While Freud made small use of Greek mythology (Oedipus complex), C.G. Jung’s concept of collective unconsciousness is broadly and deeply based of mythology and historical and anthropological context.

/5/ The philosophy of religion 

With regard to religion, Wittgenstein is often considered a kind of Anti-Realist (see below for more on this). He opposed interpretations of religion that emphasize doctrine or philosophical arguments intended to prove God’s existence, but was greatly drawn to religious rituals and symbols. Although his writings on religion were few,Wittgenstein nevertheless developed a distinctive way of understanding religious belief that holds great appeal for many readers and philosophers, especially those who do not view theistic religion as simply a form of superstition or irrationality. Leading Wittgenstein scholars have varying views on the correct interpretation, and acceptability, of Wittgenstein’s writings on religion. Wittgenstein’s comments on religion (and mystic) stress the distinctive character of religious discourse. He emphasizes how we can misunderstand its nature if religious statements are viewed as contradicting scientific ones. If one compares Wittgenstein’s views on creation, magic and free will, with Kierkegaard and C.G. Jung, it sheds new light on the perennial debate between faith and reason. It highlights the disagreements between Wittgenstein and the religious sceptics especially Freud (and Bertram Russell). Freud felt religion was an escape and a fallacy,which ought not to be propagated. His relationship to religion resembles that of the materialists. Jung conversely believed that religion was an important place of safety for the individual during the process of individuation, exploring and accepting all parts of the self. Religion further was a means of communication between all types of people, because although religions ar based on common archetypes and offers needed symbols. Jung stressed also the positive impact of confessions an its similarity to psychoanalytic sessions: “You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.”

Wittgenstein is primarily known for his work on philosophy of logic and language and mind, but he was a cult figure at Cambridge when he taught there in the first half of the 20th century. Maybe it has to do with his eccentric but enduringly fascinating views on ethics and religion. He was deeply touched by Dostoyevsky’s romance The Brothers Karamazov. Wittgenstein made once a telling remark to his friend Maurice O’Drury: “I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view.” It’s curious because Wittgenstein was like Jung not religious in the traditional sense. Yet both were deep thinker, passionate about his own attitude toward life and spiritual men. There is the famous word of C.G. Jung: I cannot prove to you that God exists, but my work has proved empirically that the pattern of God exists in every man and that this pattern in the individual has at its disposal the greatest transforming energies of which life is capable. Find this pattern in your own individual self and life is transformed. 

Wittgenstein likewise distrusted and disapproved of any attempt to prove the existence of God, asserting even that none of the usual proofs could bring about belief: A proof of God’s existence should really be something by which one could convince oneself of God’s existence. But I think that believers who have provided such proofs, have wanted to give their ‘belief’ an intellectual analysis and foundation, although they themselves would never have come to believe through such proofs. Perhaps one could ‘convince someone of God’s existence’ through a certain kind of upbringing, by shaping his life in such and such a way. Life can educate one to a belief in God. And also experiences can do this; but not visions and other forms of sense experience which show us the ‘existence of this being’ – but, e.g. sufferings of various kinds. These neither show us God in the way a sense impression shows us an object, nor do they give rise to conjectures about him. Experiences, thoughts, – life can force this concept on us.

Wittgenstein, was baptized and raised catholic, became after the first world war – in his own way – spiritual and religious. He was a very unique man, and I doubt whether one can really knew what manner of man he was. Just like C.G. Jung he was, however leaning on the catholic side.  Wittgenstein worked as a gardener’s assistant at a Benedictine monastery near Vienna after he left school teaching, and,more than once considered becoming a monk or priest: “Religious faith and superstition are quite different. One of them results from fear and is a sort of false science. The other is a trusting. “A friend of Wittgenstein’s, a Dominican priest said prayers beside Wittgenstein’s death-bed and at his graveside and on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s wish, his funeral was done with catholic rites. Like for C. G. Jung religious symbols, Wittgenstein called them “religious pictures” his respect for sincere religious faith was much broader than his respect for the Christian faith alone. To Drury he once said: “All religions are wonderful … The ways in which people express their religious feelings differ enormously.” Wittgenstein’s own faith was non institutionalized (or, to use his word, “ascetic”), that is, without dogma, with mythology serving only as life-guiding pictures. To Drury: The symbolism of Catholicism are wonderful beyond words. But any attempt to make it into a philosophical system is offensive. However austere it may have been, however, Wittgenstein’s faith must have been deep because it lasted to the end of his life.

C.G. Jung had a great interest in the Christian sacraments, particularly in the Mass. He repeatedly stated that he considered Catholicism a far more complete religion than its Protestant counterparts. The mystery of the sacraments, said Jung, had great value, and produced a degree of psychological health among Catholics that was not found among Protestants and atheists. (One wonders whether he would have made the same statement about the post-Vatican II rituals.) Jung contended that the Eucharistic sacrifice contained a vital mystery: The ritual act [of the Mass] consecrates both the gift and the givers. It commemorates and represents the Last Supper which our Lord took with His disciples, the whole Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. But from the point of view of the divine, this anthropomorphic action is only the outer shell of husk in which what is really happening is not a human action at all but a divine event. To revert to magical terminology once again, there are two main categories of magic. According to Jung, the Mass, when properly understood, is best treated as an act of “high magic” (a word also used by Wittgenstein).

Conclusion Wittgenstein and C.G. Jung

Contemporary philosophy and psychology share a common heritage. Both stem from the older discipline of classical (pre-Kantian) philosophy. Whereas classical philosophy included psychology and was motivated by a life-long search for self-knowledge (as epitomized by the maxim, ‘Know thyself’). Nowadays philosophy and psychology are generally regarded as distinct disciplines, often the contemporary philosophy being very limited and abstract. The past two centuries have witnessed an important rupturing of philosophy, with the fragments blurring sometimes borders between philosophy, (soft and hard) science and psychology.Humans are driven by their need to achieve individuation, wholeness or full knowledge of the self. Many emotions drive humans to act in psychologically unhealthy ways, but all these ways were a longing for the desire to feel complete.

Bibliography C.G. Jung and S. Freud

Vorlesungen und Gespräche über Ästhetik, Psychoanalyse und religiösen Glauben
Vorlesungen von Ludwig Wittgenstein in Cambridge aus dem Jahr 1938

Tractatus logico-philosophicus Suhrkamp Verlag;
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Philosophische Untersuchungen Suhrkamp Verlag;
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein Reads Freud 
Jacques Bouveresse

Wittgenstein: Eine Einführung Reclam
Joachim Schulte

Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View?
Norman Malcolm

Short essay on youtube.

Wittgenstein and faith (BBC)

One thought on “Wittgenstein meets C.G. Jung

  1. Pingback: Alan Watts on Science, Buddhism, Jung and Wittgenstein | Recollecting Philosophy

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