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According to early Wittgenstein, do we need language or thought for the mystical to "show itself"?

He does say the mystical shows itself. 6.522:

There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical

But does it show itself "sub specie aeterni"? 6.45:

The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling.

I'm not sure, because this may be saying that the world "sub specie aeterni" is "a limited whole" because its contemplation is, or, because the world is.


There is the suggestion that it's not how the world shows itself that's limited, but that the world shows itself. 6,44:

Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.

But if his "mystical feeling" is never of the whole world but a limited whole: then we can't -- I think -- say that, that it shows itself is limited. In which case the mystical etc. is outside time and thought, right?

  • No, "limited" does not mean "partial" here. The limits of my language are the limits of my world, hence it can not express the world as a limited (completed) whole. How the world is it can express, but that never gives the whole, which only shows itself in its existence. Talking about "the mystical" and how or what it is is the nonsense that Tractatus is meant to dispel, it should be passed over in silence and left to contemplative "mystical feelings". – Conifold Aug 13 at 9:24
  • good point with the last sentence, thanks @Conifold – another_name Aug 13 at 12:10
  • "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" but we are talking about something outside language – another_name Aug 13 at 21:51
  • Talking is usually about something other than talking. But there are limits to what that can productively be. And Wittgenstein's way out of the bottle then is to stop talking, once the Tractarian ladder is climbed. – Conifold Aug 13 at 21:57
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    There is nothing to reason about, or to be sure of there. After Tractatus, such questions go away, along with the propositions of the Tractatus itself. They are creatures of language misuse (especially, reified "the mystical") which is blocked in the concept script that Tractatus introduces. – Conifold Aug 15 at 7:34
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There is a false dichotomy, you make a jump at the end that assumes that what we cannot communicate intentionally lies 'outside time and thought'. I don't think Wittgenstein would agree.

There are plenty of things inside time and thought that cannot be conveyed by language, and for which language is not necessary because language can only provide a 'picture' that suggests the experience, and we could give that help equally well with many other kinds of guidance, including pictures.

The realization that comes at the top of the 'ladder' which we need to use and then kick aside is inside time and thought. It occurs to us, or we cannot move forward, and many have. So it is inside time. It is a realization that affects our future perception and behavior, so it is inside thought. But if it were also inside language, he would not need to guide his audience toward it via experiential immersion to transfer this understanding.

That said, I am sure he does not consider the point of his work to be mystical, just subtle philosophy, beyond straightforward communication. The sense I get is that he thinks he can reliably get most interested people to see his point, without revelation, and that it is actually part of everyday life in many ways. (He goes on the Philosophical Investigations to render it utterly pedestrian and even boring.)

There is therefore a middle ground (for him) between what is merely beyond language and what is truly mystical.

Some aspects of color are probably beyond language, if you are blind, or even if you are color-blind. But they are surely not outside time and thought.

  • you seem to be in agreement with conifold's comment. which i did not yet completely make sense of – another_name Aug 13 at 21:50
  • yeah i think i get what you mean: the world of mysticism is (you argue) limited by time and space (even if not limited in some other sense) – another_name Aug 15 at 7:26
  • @another_name I would not agree with that. I do not think W was as negative as Conifold suggests about primitive experiences that cannot be analyzed. I would argue that there are things beyond language other than the mystical. There are levels of sense beyond language. At least one of them is attainable from implications that can be prompted reliably by language. This is the level at which the book is functioning, which makes it a proper part of philosophy. W does think 'the ladder' has a fixed destination. And it is not mystical. – jobermark Aug 17 at 23:59
  • ... Mysticism is beyond that. The mystic can only seek resonance with experiences within you, not only can he not convey his experience reliably, he cannot even reliably lead you into his experience indirectly. It is too far out and no longer a part of philosophy. – jobermark Aug 18 at 0:01
  • Many subtle points of reasoning; moreso the comments. +1 Only difference I have is «mystic cannot even reliably lead you into his experience indirectly» Well... If you emphasize the "reliably" strongly enough it becomes almost tautologically true. Drop it and (I believe) it's false : billions follow religions; at least some are genuine; of these at least some are touched by the mystical origins. – Rusi Aug 20 at 5:25
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The simplest way to understand this, I think, is to break it down this way:

  1. There is the world as it is, in its holistic entirety.
  2. There is the world as it appears to our perceptions, which is a delimited subset of #1
  3. There is the world we can encapsulate in symbolic language, which is a delimited subset of #2

The aim of logical positivism from its inception was to reduce #1 and #2 to #3: to capture the world entirely in symbolic language. The aim of mysticism, by contrast, has always been to reach beyond #3 to perceive #2 and #1: to look past language to 'see' our unfiltered perception of the world and even the world as is truly is. The early Wittgenstein realized that the first was impossible but rejected the second, so he set off 'mystical feelings' as something real but unimportant.

That last line — "Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is" (emphasis added) — is simply a reference to the idea that as we expand language to try to incorporate more of #2 (the basic imperative of science) we expand our knowledge of how the world works, but not really of what the world is. For instance, we know a tremendous amount about how gravity works in the universe, but we really don't have much of an idea about what gravity is, or worse, why gravity is. It simply is, and contemplating that kind of is-ness is inherently mysticism.

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From a reading of the 'Tractatus' and 'Investigations' it is clear he had no idea what the word 'mysticism' means as represented by Plotinus, Eckhart. Lao Tsu and so forth. Had he understood this his philosophy would have been noticeably different. I

The Investigations are sometimes said to be 'mystical' but all the word seems to mean here is 'muddled'. His talk of 'mystical feelings' is a give-away.

I do not know what he means by the word 'mystical' and suspect that neither did he, nor do I know what he means by 'feeling the world as a limited whole'.

If he places the 'mystical' outside time and thought, as you speculate, then this makes some sense of his use of the word, but Conifold says this...

Talking about "the mystical" and how or what it is is the nonsense that Tractatus is meant to dispel, it should be passed over in silence and left to contemplative "mystical feelings".

If this is his approach then he has confused the mystical with the unnecessary. I wonder what he really thought and find it hard to tell. At any rate, by adopting this approach he banishes the mystical to the realm of mere feelings and renders Reality incomprehensible.

In respect of the question in the title, if the mystical is beyond time and thought then it cannot 'show itself'. It would have no appearance. This would be what Bradley calls 'Reality' and Kant the 'thing-in-itself'. It would not be a 'mystical feeling' since feelings require time and thought.

The idea that we should not speak of it is unorthodox and it makes philosophy impossible. We need only recognise that we're speaking of what cannot be spoken and use language carefully. As Lao Tsu says, the Tao as what it is cannot be spoken, but nevertheless it must be spoken. Otherwise we'd have to pass over it in silence as if it has no role in philosophy, and this did not get LW very far.

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    Be gracious. Wittgenstein's philosophy was well beyond his time, but that does not mean that W was not a creature of his time. – Ted Wrigley Aug 13 at 18:27
  • I don't see any content here, just unsupported disapproval. – jobermark Aug 14 at 7:32
  • @jobermark - You're right. Sorry about this. I will add an edit. – PeterJ Aug 14 at 12:40
  • @TedWrigley - I take your point. It was a poor answer before the edit. Perhaps it still is. – PeterJ Aug 14 at 13:16

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