C.G.Jung / East / Philosophy / West

From language games to mysticism – Allan Watts and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

This article explores Wittgenstein’s Tractatus as a mystical, metaphysical insight in the light of Eastern philosophy, Catholic mysticism and C. G Jung. Please be gentle and read this as an (intuitive) essay not as a scholarly article. There are methodological implications of Wittgenstein’s doctrine of silence for transcendental philosophy, Zen Buddhism, psychoanalysis and metaphysics. Or there is a line from Lao-Tse to Wittgenstein, connected by Jung and Watts.

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus,(Logisch-Philosophische-Abhandlung,1921 translated by C.K. Ogden 1922) is much closer to me than his work  Philosophical Investigations (Philosophische Untersuchungen,1953 translated by G.E.M. Anscombe). Simply because I understand the Tractatus largely transcendental (similar to Allan Watts). A fellow blog author (Recollecting Philosophy), who knows definitely more about philosophy and Wittgenstein than I do, objected slightly to Allan Watts rating the Tractatus higher than the Investigations,however. 

In the eighties and early nineties during my time in California  I picked up Allan Watts thoughts. Allan Watts knew C.G. Jung well and both were quite knowledgeable in Eastern Philosophy. Watts proposed that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy and not just a religion. Like Jung he was (to me) a bridge between the ancient and the modern, between East and West, and between culture and science. Both had  considerable problems with the institution of the church, were mystics and in a way certainly religious. Both emphasized that we Westerners cannot and should not escape our Western cultural roots but value them. Both valued Catholicism although Watts view is more bizarre. It’s not difficult to see therefore, that Allan Watts, who became a kind of Guru in California and postmodern mystic, reads Tractatus as a product of mystic consciousness.

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus 

Before I had read more of Wittgenstein and secondary literature, I regarded Wittgenstein’s writings as a kind of academic “Glass Bead Game”.  I still think, that what he tried to achieve, could have done simpler by mathematical language (or computer science). Therefore I can relate to Allan Watt, classifying the writings of Wittgenstein “as a form of jnana-yoga, intellectual bending” and that he favors Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.  

Logic without Mystic

Logic without Mystic

The Tractatus is notorious for its interpretative challenges. In Europe we live in a post-metaphysic world. If you approach Tractatus, however, from C.G. Jung’s Symbols as representation of archetypes, which manifest themselves in language (as part of the cultural context which are those archetypes) you see it crystal clear.

The Tractatus’s structure contains  seven basic propositions translated by Ogden and  Pears/McGuinness. Here I stick with German:

The seven basic propositions are (in German):

  • 1 Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.
  • 2 Was der Fall ist, die Tatsache, ist das Bestehen von Sachverhalten.
  • 3 Das logische Bild der Tatsachen ist der Gedanke.
  • 4 Der Gedanke ist der sinnvolle Satz.
  • 5 Der Satz ist eine Wahrheitsfunktion der Elementarsätze. (Der Elementarsatz ist eine Wahrheitsfunktion seiner selbst.)
  • 6 Die allgemeine Form der Wahrheitsfunktion ist: [ p, ξ, N(ξ)].Dies ist die allgemeine Form des Satzes.
  • 7 Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.

After three propositions Wittgenstein leaves metaphysics realm but comes back to it with the most elegant proposition seven, which again mirrors a sentence in the bible.  For that reason only 1-3 and 7 will be discussed.

Proposition (1) The world is everything that is the case.

Starting with a metaphysics, Wittgenstein sees the world as consisting of facts, rather than of objects and  reads to me like the beginning of the Gospel of John: 

  • Tractatus 1 The world is everything that is the case.
  • Tractatus 1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
  • Tractatus 1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.

 This is poetry to me. Let’s hear what the mystic (slightly Gnostic / Neoplatonic) St. John says:

  •  Jh 1.1 In the beginning was the Logos, the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  • Jh 1.2 The same was in the beginning with God.
  • Jh 1.3. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.

Equally beautiful and pretty much the same statement except god is absent. Logos, originally a word meaning “word,” “speech,” or “reason was used by Heraclitus to describe the principle of order and knowledge. There are some remarkable implications here starting of a debate between Plato and Aristotle which I want to move in an area between Wittgenstein and Western (Catholicism) and Eastern Mystic (Taoism and Zen Buddhism) and the psychoanalytic model of C.G Jung.

The idea of Tao is always stated negatively. The same is true of all its major characteristics, of which I would distinguish three: nothingness, the formless, and the unconditioned.  Again Lao-tse as starting point of our inquiry is strikingly similar:

  • The Tao (Way) that can be told of is not the eternal Tao;
  • The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
  • The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
  • The Named is the mother of all things.

 Wittgenstein’s Tractatus – Seen from Eastern metaphysic

I understand Wittgenstein, who was from the personality type based on C.G. Jung (and like him) an innovative thinker  from the mystic as well as a logic angle. As anybody knows, Wittgenstein was fond of Augustine and Kierkegaard, of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and wanted to become a monk on more than one occasion.  Wittgenstein’s Tractatus support my religious views, which are based on Catholicism, C.G. Jung and some pantheistic Asian influence coming from Taoism and Buddhism. There is alignment between Buddhism and psychoanalysis, as Watts stated, although I see goal of alignment more in an integration of the Ego and the main archetypes than a dilution of the Ego. However, Watts followed Zen Buddhism or Zen, a 5th century line of Mahayana Buddhism, which was heavily influenced by Chinese Taoism in China. And Taoism is indeed much more compatible with Wittgenstein,  Jung and Catholicism.

Crist and Buddha

Crist and Buddha

Since I know Taoism and Zen Buddhism better  I will focus on those. Both offer direct access to most deepest essence of our mind, exactly like Jung’s individuation.

 There is good book about that particular topic from Russell Nieli, “From mysticism to ordinary language”, 1987.  He claims, that Wittgenstein’s experience of language (and indeed the language game) was deeply influenced by his experience as rural school teacher, but got stuck there, staying in the uncritical childhood experience (page 244).  Wittgenstein’s language analysis offers no differentiation of what is of value or absurd in a given society. Obviously he received a harsh criticism not only from the Marxist side: “When … Wittgenstein set up the actual use of language as a standard that was equivalent to accept a certain setup and belief of the society of the standard. And when he says philosophy “may not interfere”, that come to saying that it may not interfere with a currently accepted society and culture”. I think this may by a misunderstanding taking him as a positivist.

Proposition (2) What is the case (a fact) is the existence of states of affairs.

Mystics, such as Taoists or catholic mysticism, can be aligned to the West and especially Wittgenstein. Systematic inquiry through a logical analysis make its mystical elements clear and comprehensible to non intuitive audiences. But as C.G. Jung noted, its intuitive sensing is highly beneficial to the individuation in our Western culture.  When for Wittgenstein, the logical structure of the picture is identical to the logical structure of the situation,  in Taoism it is simpler: the inexpressible Tao is in everything, or alternatively, everything is a manifestation of the inexpressible Tao. That is pretty similar what catholic monk told me a few weeks ago: God is in us and above us or God does not exists. When one sees both statements to express the same thought, one can see Wittgenstein’s transcendental elements can be coupled with Eastern and Western religious and mystical elements.



Wittgenstein’s Tractatus – Western metaphysic view

Plato put forth the idea that the metaphysical world is more knowable than the physical world. Following Socrates, Plato illustrates this idea through allegory of the cave. The idea is that this physical world we reside in is merely a shadow of a more real and more knowable world that is not physical but metaphysical. From here Plato posits the idea of the Forms. Plato would tell us that we know that it is a thing because there exists in our minds an abstract thing and the reason we know that the thing before us is this thing, is because of its resemblance to the archetype.



That archetype equals the collective known form and is a centerpiece in C.G.Jung psychoanalytic model. In short, we have knowledge of physical things here and now because of the resemblance of these physical things to their ideal metaphysical form. In contrast, Aristotle denies that the Forms exist way out there in the metaphysical realm.  So, the lines are defined : Is knowledge of a thing transcendent (Plato) or is it immanent (Aristotle)? Is the nature of all things Being (Plato) or Becoming (Aristotle) or in Kant seeking a synthesise? In his Critique of Judgment, Kant says that “a final purpose is a purpose that requires no other purpose as a condition of its possibility:

The final purpose is unconditioned, and that nature would therefore be incapable of achieving it and producing it in accordance with the idea of this purpose. … But a thing that, on account of its objective character, is to exist necessarily as the final purpose of an intelligent cause must be of such a kind that in the order of purposes it depends on no condition other than just the idea of it.

Proposition (3) A logical picture of facts is a thought – Archetypes in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

Tractatus, however, also  with the conditions with Symbolism in which a sentence “means” something quite definite. In practice, language is always more or less vague, so that what we assert is never quite precise. And that’s the beauty of it – of Jung, Taoism and Christianity.  Wittgenstein’s logic tries to overcome: (1) the conditions for non/sense combinations of symbols; (2) the conditions for uniqueness.

  •  Tractatus: 3.32 The sign is the part of the symbol perceptible by the senses.

 From Carl Jung’s “The Structure of the Psyche”, 1927:

  •  The collective unconscious — so far as we can say anything about it at all — appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious.
  •  We can see this most clearly if we look at the heavenly constellations, which original chaotic forms were organized through the projection of images. This explains the influence of the stars as asserted by astrologers. These influences are nothing but unconscious, introspective perceptions of the activity of the collective unconscious. Just as the constellations were projected into the heavens, similar figures were projected into legends and fairy tales or upon historical persons.

So according to Jung, those archetypes, which Wittgenstein calls symbols, are models (abstract classes in computer science) which are innate, universal and hereditary. And that’s the point. Archetypes are unlearned (but some shared by some cultures and some by all cultures) and function to organize how we experience certain things. “All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes,” Jung wrote:

“This is particularly true of religious ideas, but the central concepts of science, philosophy, and ethics are no exception to this rule. In their present form they are variants of archetypal ideas created by consciously applying and adapting these ideas to reality. For it is the function of consciousness, not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.”


Wittgenstein’s deep understanding of the mystical dimension brings him close to Taoist and Jungian thoughts. Wittgenstein is almost a Taoist and certainly a sophisticated logician. And, both these qualities are spontaneously exhibited in Wittgenstein. No other Western philosopher is better than Wittgenstein for the representation of the synthesis of mystics and metaphysics with sophisticated logical analysis. As Wittgenstein said once, a deep thinker makes us see that there is something that cannot be said. In his transcendental philosophy, Wittgenstein shows that there is something that cannot be said. In contrast, Lao-tse says that there is something that cannot be named – this is the single difference to monotheistic views,

Proposition (7) Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent

There are methodological implications of Wittgenstein’s doctrine of silence for transcendental philosophy and metaphysics. There are two senses of “sense” which Wittgenstein uses in the Tractatus, the actual sense. and the logical sense.  Wittgenstein explains that “every proposition is essentially true-false. Wittgenstein calls this “true-false” possibility bi-polarity an important concept, important to C.G. Jung, Taoism and C.G. Jung.

Philosophers should keep silent about the not speakable because “philosophy is not one of the natural sciences. The doctrine of silence is applicable to mysticism, however. Mysticism may be seen as equivalent to metaphysics, or as not too far away from metaphysics. Now we can see why the doctrine of silence is applicable to mysticism as well. Wittgenstein explains that

the urge towards the mystical comes of the non-satisfaction of our wishes by science. We feel that even if all possible scientific questions are answered our problem is still not touched at all. Of course in that case there are no questions any more; and that is the answer.SymbII

Transcendental mysticism seen in this light is the attempt to tell the same story: the inexpressible Tao and nonsense are the same story, a story that, technically and literally speaking, cannot be told. That story begins with the Lao-tzu’s inexpressibility  covers Jung’s collective – not to be learned archetypes – and ends with the Tractatus’s silence.

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