G. E. M. Anscombe writes in An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus (1971, St Augustine's Press) the following about Wittgenstein's use of the concept of mysticism: (page 170)

But Wittgenstein took the term over from Russell, who used it in a special way, with reference to an entirely ordinary feeling; one that is well expressed at 6.52: 'We feel that even if all possible scientific questions have been answered, still the problems of life have not been touched at all.' And his further comment on this is: 'Of course there then just is no question left, and just this is the answer.'

Anscombe did not cite any text of Russell's where he discusses mysticism which leads me to my question: Where does Bertrand Russel discuss mysticism?

1 Answer 1


From Russel's Mysticism and Logic


Metaphysics has been developed, from the first, by the union and conflict of two very different human impulses, the one urging men towards mysticism, the other urging them towards science. Some men have achieved greatness through one of these impulses alone, others through the other alone: in Hume, for example, the scientific impulse reigns quite unchecked, while in Blake a strong hostility to science co-exists with profound mystic insight.

He outlines the following characteristics of mysticism.

1 Revelatory Intuition

A Reality behind the world of appearance and utterly different from it... regarded with an admiration often amounting to worship; it is ​felt to be always and everywhere close at hand, thinly veiled by the shows of sense, ready, for the receptive mind, to shine in its glory even through the apparent folly and wickedness of Man.

The poet, the artist, and the lover are seekers after that glory: the haunting beauty that they pursue is the faint reflection of its sun. But the mystic lives in the full light of the vision: what others dimly seek he knows, with a knowledge beside which all other knowledge is ignorance.

2 Unity

Belief in unity, and its refusal to admit opposition or division anywhere... In Plato, this impulse is less prominent, being held in check by his theory of ideas; but it reappears, so far as his logic permits, in the doctrine of the primacy of the Good.

Following from the denial of all division there follows

2.1 Denial of time

2.2 Denial of the reality of evil

Personal note

I've always had a low opinion of Russell in this regard and am happy to revise it.
(And thanks for asking this question!)

The main thing I would disagree with Russell is in the claim that the impulses to science and mysticism are in opposition. Complementary would have been better.

  • What an excellent answer. I would agree completely that he made a terrible mistake by placing science and mysticism in opposition. Worse, he argued against the ideas of Bradley and Spencer Brown, who place this idea of mysticism on a sound philosophical basis. I feel he just didn't like mysticism so didn't want to study it.
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 11:47
  • Don't know that I agree with your agreement @PeterJ😆 After all 90% of my answer is Russell verbatim. The remaining 10% half says I am pleased to revise my negative opinion of Russell. The remaining 5% could be expanded... But that's not here yet! About "He didn't like mysticism..." I feel (particularly after discovering this text) that you are making a mistake. Russell is saying: "Violin is nice... But I really only know piano" which you are hearing as "I don't like violin". I think Anscombe's "an entirely ordinary feeling" for Wittgenstein on mysticism is more objectionable than Russellor W
    – Rushi
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 14:09
  • I stand by my praise for the answer. It's good because it quotes Russell on the topic. Russell considered himself a philosopher so has no excuse for not studying it. I'd say he's more like a pianist who doesn't like half the keys so doesn't play them and then wonders why his pieces don't work. .
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 8:35
  • 1
    I'd say it the other way round: metaphysics inherently sits at the 3-way junction of spirituality/mysticism, science & philosophy. Individual metaphysicians may be partial to one or two sides. Russell does a v good job of saying: While I am strongly in the science, philosophy camp, the 3rd end of the triangle exists; and legitimately! Wittgenstein -- not coincidentally allied to Russell — does likewise: see last para of Tractatus
    – Rushi
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 8:06
  • 1
    That's a misunderstanding (widespread). He disavowed it personally; not as a valid general human modality. Pls read en.wikisource.org/wiki/Mysticism_and_Logic_and_Other_Essays/…. Russell was no Dawkins or Sam Harris! (And even Harris is a Buddhist; it's just that where he is brazenly schizophrenic, somtimes materialistic sometimes spiritual, BR was a genuine philosopher
    – Rushi
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 8:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .