Wittgenstein: From Mysticism to Ordinary Language

A Study of Viennese Positivism and the Thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein

By Russell Nieli

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy
Paperback : 9780887063985, 261 pages, July 1987
Hardcover : 9780887063978, 261 pages, July 1987

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Table of contents


I Positivism and Metaphysics: The Vienna Circle and the Dispute over the Nothing

The Vienna Circle

Heidegger's Nothing and the Experience of Radical Derealization-Depersonalization

Freak-out in a French Town: Sartre and the Nothing

The Nothing and the Christian Purgatorial Night

Who's on First?

II Metaphysics as Profanation: Wittgenstein Reconsidered

The Philistine and the Prophet

The Tractatus: Preliminary Characterization

Mystic Flight: Theophanic Encounter

The Symbolization of the Mystic Peak: Unbefittingness, Inadequacy, Profanation

The Theophanic Encounter and the Rejection of Metaphysics


Being Absolutely Safe

The World-Symbol of the Tractatus

Ekstasis and Apatheia

God and the World

Of What One Can and Cannot Speak: The Say/Show-Itself Distinction

The Solipsism of the Tractatus

Existential Yearning: The Urge to the Mystical

Profanation and Obscurantism: The Judgment on Metaphysics

Some Problems with the Tractatus: A Theocentric Ethic Without Fallen Man

Problems II: "Legislative Linguistics"

Problems III: The Rejection of History

Problems IV: The Rejection of a Hierarchical Ontology

The Tractatus: Final Characterization

III From Prophecy to Scripture: The Canonization of Ordinary Language

Showing the Truth of the Tractatus: A Choice of Vocations

Breaking Silence—Wittgenstein's Encounter with Paul Engelmann

Creating a Monster

Remarks on Frazer

The Shift to Ordinary Language: A Celebration of the Common Man

From Prophetism to the Spirit of Jamnia: A New Conservatism and a New Epoch

Off to Russia

The Triumph of Ordinary Language Philosophy in Britain

IV Linguistic Tribalism and the Revolt Against Innerlichkeit

Saving Society/ Saving Oneself

"Our Language"

Coming in Out of the Storm: Metaphysics, Mysticism, and the Significance of the Mental Health Metaphors

Towards a Behaviorist View of Mind: The Revolt Against Inwardness

Towards a Behaviorist View of Mind: The Revolt Against Privacy

Work Therapy vs Language Therapy

The Attack on the Notion of Universal Essences

A Comparison with Augustine

Linguistic Tribalism and the Ultimate Failure of Ordinary Language Philosophy: An Evaluation

An Exoteric Philosophy: Wittgenstein's Relationship to His Later Thought

V Concluding Remarks on the Nature of Language as Spiel



Wittgenstein: From Mysticism to Ordinary Language presents the Tractatus as a work of mystic theology intended to direct the reader to a transcendental plane from which human existence can be viewed from the divine perspective. More than any other work on Wittgenstein, this study integrates text material with personal biographical information, especially information dealing with his spiritual and psychological states. The result is a fresh, coherent, and extremely illuminating picture of Wittgenstein, successfully avoiding the pitfalls of either psychological reductionism or unfaithfulness to the text. It is bold without being reckless, passionately argued without being doctrinaire, and makes a very powerful and persuasive case for its main thesis.


"Russell Nieli's book constitutes an extraordinary contribution to scholarship, unique in many of its insights. For the first time, we come to understand core perspectives of Wittgenstein which some of his most influential interpreters misunderstood. No other book on Wittgenstein has helped me to understand half as well Wittgenstein as a human being, a thinker, and a man in his history and culture. None is as reliably right in its interpretations. None is as clearly written while attending to the richness of its subject matter. " — Manfred Halpern, Princeton University

"This is a very original approach to Wittgenstein that throws considerable new light both on Wittgenstein himself and on the whole of those tendencies in modern Anglo-American philosophy that stem from his influence. Nieli's hypothesis is both extremely insightful and well argued. " — Eugene Webb, University of Washington

"It treats one of the two most influential philosophers of the twentieth century in a genuinely fresh way. To that I can add that Nieli's novel assessment is on balance the right one. " — Huston Smith, Hamline University