The existential philosopher, William Barrett (who was my former teacher), once remarked in a literary reminiscence (1982), that the most intelligent man he had ever met was the critic Lionel Trilling. If I were asked to make a similar designation, I would without question nominate the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, someone I’ve encountered and feel I know (although I have not met personally) through the process of becoming and being a devoted and enthusiastic student for many years. What I respond to and think I appreciate in Wittgenstein — although I am neither a philosopher nor logician by training — is this: an almost magical ability to retrieve from a single sentence, a brief phrase, or a traditional line of inquiry a seemingly flawless distillation of original pure thought. What’s more, such golden nuggets of thought were often clothed in Wittgenstein’s famous aphoristic and enigmatic prose style — a style that rightly has earned him a place among the modern masters of German prose.

I mention Wittgenstein in the context of this book, first, because he was perhaps as much of an artist as he was a philosopher; and, second, because — although he has been academically scrutinized and exhaustively studied — no one, so far as I know, has written about him form the less esoteric, more personal, psychoanalytic perspective. Part of this omission has to be attributed to the efficacy and force of Wittgenstein’s wish: he deliberately drew an opaque curtain of silence around his life, his innermost thoughts, and, especially, his feelings. He even elevated this imposed silence to the stature of a philosophical canon: whatever could not be spoken properly and clearly, should not be expressed (be kept silent). It accounted in no small part for his celebrated reputation of having a “dark” aide — a mysterious, brooding, perhaps mystical dimension to his personality.

As a psychoanalytic psychotherapist I could not help but speculate on his dark side and wonder what possible light therapy — had Wittgenstein ever consented to being a patient — might have added. I realized that so great was Wittgenstein’s antipathy to close encounters of any kind, that even a Freud would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to therapeutically engage him even for the briefest of times.

From all accounts, Wittgenstein was a profoundly guarded man whose pervasive suspiciousness of human contact turned him into something of a perpetual social recluse. It seemed likely, therefore, that his distinctive, powerful personality would have interacted with his creative genius in a dynamically interesting way and that a psychoanalytical examination of such connections would prove meaningful. In his famous study of Leonard da Vinci, Freud (1910) — setting careful constraints on his own methodology — warned that the most psychoanalysts could ever hope to attain in such an investigation was an understanding of the underlying psychopathology and never an explanation of the creative act of genius.

To attempt a psychohistory of a contemporary figure of Wittgenstein’s stature would be not only intrusive, but irreverent. But to consider on a cognitive basis how his personality — along lines, for example, suggested by David Shapiro in his classic study Neurotic Styles (1965) — might have informed, infused nudged, or even partially contributed to his creative output seemed both worthwhile and justifiable.

Having so decided, I confided my ideas to my friend, a very intelligent and sensitive woman, whose first reaction was to inwardly cringe (she was too kind to outwardly cringe). She immediately wanted to know if he had any direct heirs, and I told her I was certain he did not, and I very much doubted if there were any indirect heirs. I then relayed my intent to connect Wittgenstein’s well-known paranoid style of relating with certain equally well-known idiosyncrasies of his published work; and my friend did not bother to hide her annoyance. Paranoia was a horrible word and to say someone, even if it were true, was paranoid was therefore in some way to brand him with a stigmatizing label. I pointed out that to say someone had a cognitive paranoid style was not at all the same thing as saying he was clinically paranoid; that I, personally, consider paranoia to represent a deficiency of relating that is sad rather than horrible; and that thinkers such as W.W. Meissner (1978) believe the so-called paranoid process is a universal feature of human development.

Therefore, the Wittgenstein that is presented here is the man for whom human intimacy, from every published report, was problematical and potentially treacherous. It is a style of relating that I’ve encountered, in one form or another, time and again in Wittgenstein by many people, but has never — so far as I know — been psychoanalytically connected to his published writings. Which is why I include him.

Wittgenstein’s story extends from Vienna — the cultural matrix and catalyst for Freud, Wittgenstein, and geniuses as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg, Karl Kraus, and Moritz Schlick (Janik and Toulmin, 1973) — to Cambridge where the young, undergraduate Wittgenstein will meet, join minds, (and then bump heads) with the likes of Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, and Alfred North Whitehead. From the start he is an iconoclast, his iconoclasm indulged in by established, world –famous intellects who are taken aback by the dazzling force of both his mind and his personality (Barrett 1979). Afterward, Bertrand Russell would say that he learned more from his young student, Wittgenstein, than he was able to teach him; and he prophesied that it would be this same student who would provide the next turning point in philosophy (Barrett 1979, p. 33).

The prophecy is an inspired one. Beginning with Russell and Whitehead’s recently published, epoch-making The Prnicipia Mathematica (1910) wherein they attempt to reduce the entire world of mathematics to the laws of logic to guarantee its certainty, Wittgenstein goes on, at age twenty-nine to produce a work so revolutionary that it is destined to change the course of Western philosophy. The Tractatus Logico-Philosohicus (1922), in many ways is an extension of the sweeping program of mathematical logic ushered in by Russell and Whitehead. But it is much more. A radical who will not stop short of the final step, Wittgenstein takes the ideas of Russell and Whitehead and applies them to all of language. He imagines what the world would be like if it could be expressed purely, simply, and completely in logical form. He does not shrink from the daring conclusion he is led to: the world is the totality of all facts, and these facts have a special relationship, or lack of relationship to one another. “Any one fact can be either be the case, or not be the case, and everything else remains the same” (Tractatus, 121, p.31). Wittgenstein is picturing a world so supremely disembodied and disconnected, that the existence or nonexistence of any particular fact makes no difference whatsoever. It is a world in which the hegemony of logic — the truth or falsehood of any particular fact — is made perfect. So perfect that he can actually claim, “the truth of the thoughts communicated here seems to me unassailable and definitive: (Tractatus, p.29), and conclude, “the problems have in essentials been finally solved” (Tractatus, p.29). But the problems that have been resolved are problems of logic. At the closing of the Tractatus, in a strange mystical turn, Wittgenstein suddenly says, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent: (7, p. 187).


One wonders what it was that lay wrapped in Wittgenstein’s silence. It seems to include much if not all of what would normally be called emotional, passionate, sexual, moral, mystical, ethical, meaningful. Logical positivists, inspired by the starkly logical world pictured in Wittgenstein’s theory of language, chose to overlook the meaning and enormity of his silence. While existential philosophers like William Barrett (The Illusion of Technique, 1979) will make much of it, for our purposes, it is enough to show, now, that from the outset of his philosophical career, Wittgenstein was a divided man: The rebelliousness and opposition he aims at his mentors, Whitehead and Russell, have, in some puzzling but deep way, been also internalized.

This ambivalence is so pervasive that it applies even to his most cherished ideas. On the one hand, the Tractatus will take the mathematical logic of Whitehead and Russell, and elevate it to an unprecedented height; on the other, it will simultaneously plant the seeds of ideas that will eventually overthrow it. Wittgenstein does this by introducing his now famous truth tables: he wants to show the tautologous character of logical statements. By employing the truth tables, he can tabulate the various possibilities of logic and by demonstrating that the result for the whole, in whatever case, will always be true — prove this tautologous character. Another way of saying this is that the proposition of logic is true whatever the facts may be. Therefore, it can say nothing about the world. The logical proposition, “Either it is a, or is not a” will always be true, regardless of the actual state of a. Therefore it can tell us nothing about a (or the world).

This is a crucial point in the Tractatus, when Wittgenstein begins to subvert the sanctity of the mathematical logic he himself is championing, by calling it, at bottom, tautologous. From here, it s but a succession of steps until the later, The Blue and Brown Books (1958) and the posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953), works in which Wittgenstein seemingly will reverse most of the spirit, method, and results of the Tractatus. Wittgenstein’s “reversal” has been described (Pears 1969) as a dramatically rare change of mind in the history of philosophy. Looked at from the angle of logical consistency in the history of ideas, it does stand out as unusual. But looked at from a different angle (the psychoanalytic one), the apparent lacuna in logical consistency may be explained — as is sometimes the case in analytic investigations — by unconscious determinants. The two celebrated, contrary Wittgenstein philosophical positions — logical atomism epitomized in the Tractatus, which helped launch logical positivism, and the seemingly antilogical, behavioristic, ordinary language movement presented in the equally influential Philosophical Investigations — psychoanalytically compared, show enough correspondence to suggest, if not a reaction formation, at least a compromise formation. To put it one more way, two radically and apparently disparate philosophical positions show surprising underlying unity.

The similarities are (1) both rely exclusively on language as the final reference point, and stop there; (2) both view the world essentially through the prism of language; (3) both effectively shut out affect and dynamic personal meaning; and (4) both are radically uncompromising, all-or-nothing in their supposedly antithetical viewpoints.

The differences are also revealing. Wittgenstein, in his later phase, seems as obsessed with flexibility as he was originally with orderliness and logical consistency. Again and again, in Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (1956) and Philosophical Investigations (1953), he lashes out against the tyrant of “necessity” and “the logical must.” Instead of the truth tables of the Tractatus, he inserts the hegemony of what he will call “language games” and ordinary usage. In this second philosophical position Wittgenstein, typically, goes all the way. He uses his genius to try to show how even the hallowed, logical law of the excluded middle — a thing can not be itself (a) and not itself (not a) at the same time and in the same place — may be undermined: “Why should Russell’s contradiction not be conceived as something that towers above the propositions and looks in both directions like the Janus head?” (as quoted in Barrett 1979, p. 111).

Here Wittgenstein is being perversely provocative, but he is also being quite serious. More and more, he seems to fight bitterly against a persecutory sense of unbearable rigidity and authoritarian confinement that more and more seems (to us) internally located. Wittgenstein, himself, places the blame for his philosophical anguish elsewhere: on the misapplication of crossed metaphors, on the lack of appreciation of ordinary language usage, on the overvaluation of mathematical logic, on inherent subtle flaws in the nature of thought, language, the mind itself. He looks everywhere except within himself. According to our thesis, a study of the relationship between Wittgenstein and psychoanalysis, we might summarize this point by saying that Wittgenstein, who in terms of linguistic analysis, penetrated more deeply than anyone — in terms of the psychoanalytic psyche — stayed always on the surface.

Philosophers like Barrett, wishing to gain conceptual access to Wittgenstein by means other than mathematical logic and analytic philosophy, have speculated on the possible meanings of his celebrated “silence.” Barrett indicates Wittgenstein was a deeply ashamed homosexual (1979, p.66) and suggests this may have been an important personal ingredient in his philosophical persona of forever suffering, endless searching. Whether this is so, what there does seem to be — and this notwithstanding the traditional abstract impersonality of philosophical writing — is a curtain of silence drawn tightly over the slightest hint of personal sexual orientation. It is not that Wittgenstein is shown to be without passion and love; on the contrary, he is presented (Von Wright and Malcolm 1958) as fiercely passionate, but it is a Socratic passion, only for the truth.

Wittgenstein showed, as perhaps no one else in the century did, how there could be such a thing as a trauma of language. Time and again, he illuminates the painful, endless confusion, the hopeless knots that abuse and misuse of language could bring about as symbolized in the so-called great philosophical problems (which he originally believed he had solved). He set as his goal to let the fly out of the bottle. He was talking about language and its conceptual agonies in its purest form, but in our view, he was also talking about himself. Looked at psychoanalytically, Wittgenstein appears to use his philosophy as a highly sophisticated defense against his id. By drawing a philosophical veil around himself, effectively closing off all personal meaning and affect, Wittgenstein is also using language to shut out the world. A curious offhand but telltale sentence, occurring Remarks on Color (1977), perhaps illustrates this well. In a typically Wittgensteinian passage about the expression, “I see,” the philosopher matter-of-factly says, “People on the street often take me for blind” (p.54e). To us the effect is eerie (all the more so because it is delivered so drily, so philosophically, so unself-consciously). We can only wonder at the intensity of disconnected inwardness that could regularly elicit so gross a perceptual distortion.

David Shapiro in his study of neurotic styles (1965) devotes a chapter to the paranoid style. Describing the general behavior mode of the paranoid, he finds crucial: a certain “continuous, tense and antagonistic directedness, intentionality, purposefulness:

‘operating’; general aims is defense against threat” (p.106). Everything we have by his own hand, or those closest to him, strongly suggests Wittgenstein possessed an abundance of these characteristics. He is tense, antagonistic, willfully intentional, forever guarding against threat — to the extreme. He finds fault and reasons to distance with everyone. In the first year of their friendship, Wittgenstein sends a letter to his great mentor, Bertrand Russell, advising him they can never be friends: their values are too far apart (Barrett, p. 33). In his private classes, according to Malcolm (1958, p. 27), Wittgenstein is a “frightening person”: “Once when Yorick Smythies, an old friend of Wittgenstein’s was unable to put his objection into words, Wittgenstein said to him very harshly, “I might as well talk to this stove’” (p.27). His is morbidly irritable, suspicious of everyone; he meets the mathematical physicist Freeman Dyson, then an undergraduate, and when Dyson, out of politeness, inquires as to the nature of his studies, Wittgenstein grows wary — wanting to know if Dyson “is a journalist” (Malcolm 1958, p. 65). There are other traits Wittgenstein possessed (also mentioned by Shapiro): he is peculiarly nonsensual; talks about becoming a monk and manifests “an intense desire for purity” (Malcolm, p. 71); he is pathologically unstable. Three of Wittgenstein’s brothers committed suicide, and according to his student and friend G.H. Von Wright (Barrett, p. 66): “it is probably true that he lived on the border of mental illness. A fear of being driven across it followed him throughout his life.”

Turning from the general behavior mode of the paranoid to the mode of attention, Shapiro describes it as “extremely acute, intense and narrowly focused; fixed on its own idea, searching only for confirmation; biased; characterization suspicious” (1965 p. 105). He elsewhere describes the paranoid style as one of psychological bias (the opposite of suggestibility) that can willfully impose its own conclusion anywhere; that loathes surprises. Although not intended to be, it is an apt description of Wittgenstein’s style. To anyone who has not seriously studied him, it is difficult to convey a proper sense of the abnormal, almost obsessed focus of his writing. William Barrett, himself a distinguished American philosopher, commenting on the fact Wittgenstein hammered out this first great landmark philosophical work while actively serving as an infantryman in the First World War, says: “That a work so concentrated and compact in form should have been conceived and brought to completion amid the life of the trenches cannot but fill us with awe at the intensity of mind of the thinker himself: (p. 34).


Let us look at Wittgenstein’s writing and thought — pychoanalytically, not philosophically — and conceive of it as a cognitive, paranoid style following David Shapiro (1965). A somewhat different but interesting perspective emerges. We can see Wittgenstein’s early yearning to construct a consummately logical language, as a paranoid attempt to cleanse his private conceptual universe of every irritant and impurity he cannot personally control. Seen this way the Tractatus — apart from it philosophical destiny — is also a personal, extraordinarily single-minded attempt to close off and fend off the world without. Seen this way, his celebrated silence — “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” –apart from laying down the logical rules for what can and what cannot be said meaningfully, is also a repressive barrier to the world within. Because of the narrow focus and willful search only for confirming clues, Shapiro notes (p.65) there is in the paranoid style a loss of a sense of proportion resulting in a loss of the world. The loss of the world in its fuller, richer, proportions takes the form (in the paranoid style) of a rigid, obsessive craving for certainty; a severe restriction of the inner, sensual, affective world, and a consequent preference for mechanical objects, mechanical schemes, mechanizations of all kinds. What greater certainty is there than in Wittgenstein’s early logical atomism, his attempt to structure a universally perfect, totally logical language? What greater lack of surprise, than in the gloomy, tautologous world of the Tractatus Logicio-Philosophicus where “any one fact can either be the case, or not the case, and everything else remains the same”? What greater example of the mechanization of thought and language in the history of philosophy, than Wittgenstein’s great masterpiece, The Tractatus?

What Shaprio does not include in his study of the paranoid style is the element of genius. It may be that the bizarre conjunction of profound originality, of first rate genius, and pronounced (perhaps pathological) paranoid style creates much of the tension that goes into his unique, oracular style. There has probably never been anyone in the history of philosophy who has written with such breathtaking originality, such wholehearted, vibrant feeling on a subject traditionally so clear-cut and lifeless as logic. In the light of such tension, we see Wittgenstein, on the one hand driven by his paranoid style, fashion an airtight, rigidly perfect, logical prison (personified by the Tractatus); and on the other, propelled by flights of imagination like a philosophical Houdini, execute his wonderful escapes.

Wittgenstein’s small book On Certainty (1969) shows this. Again and again, with unbelievable concentration and patience, we see Wittgenstein — almost animal-like — circling and trying to close in on his single, abstract prey, in this case certainty. It is easy to say that Wittgenstein, like a good paranoid, is scanning his private terrain for a safe avenue of approach (Shapiro 1965). But what is wondrous in the case of our philosopher — whether his particular search for certainty has overtones of a paranoid style or not (and we believe it unmistakably does) — is how fruitful that search is. Wittgenstein appears seduced by his own genius: a fairly commonplace, intellectualizing, paranoid suspiciousness and craving for certainty, joined and elevated by genius, repeatedly leads to findings of philosophical beauty. With such reinforcement it is understandable he will press forward, not backward. With such reinforcement, it is understandable that he will not pause to consider whether it is solely his genius that leads him to believe the philosophical answers he proposes are “unassailable” “ but that perhaps it is also his need to be “unassailable,” to be perfect, to be absolutely right. Because of this, part of our fascination with Wittgenstein may be our fascination at seeing a genius, literally, trying to think his way out of despair. Analysts know better than anyone that it can’t be done, not even by Wittgenstein.


If we now compare Wittgenstein and his use of language and psychoanalysis and its use of language, some immediate, substantial differences arise. First of all, if analyst and analysand were ever to conform to Wittgenstein’s exquisitely exact, logical standard of what can and what cannot be meaningfully said, very little of what goes on in the consulting room would be sayable. It is not that psychoanalysis denies the importance or results of linguistic analysis, it just places a far greater emphasis on the possible latent, personal, or motivational meanings that may be condensed in the more manifest logical confusions or mistakes. This would extend especially to the more gross, logically self-contradictory, tautologous, or meaningless verbalizations contained in thought disorders. Whereas the approach of Wittgenstein to language could be said to be more analytic, the approach of psychoanalysis could be called much more projective (psychologically). In a sense psychoanalysis, regarding language, begins where Wittgenstein leaves off. In contrast to Wittgenstein who often seems to be restraining, purifying, and delimiting language, psychoanalysis widens the range of language, mainly by spreading the network of personal meaning which it does by listening for and discovering unsuspected, hierarchal levels of meaning.

In contrast to Wittgenstein who found so much of what was said un-meaningful and would sometimes speak of the man who was meaning blind, there is no meaning vacuum in psychoanalysis. As analysts, we know there is no verbalization or psychic manifestation so vague, nonsensical, or irrational that it may not contain at least some personal, condensed meaning. In contrast to Wittgenstein, meaning in psychoanalysis is personal, dynamic, hierarchal, topographic, shifting. Whereas in Wittgenstein, and many analytic philosophers influenced by him, to say something meaningful is to confer a privileged, ontological status and to demonstrate something is meaningless is to deliver a powerful, ontological invalidation; much as the noted scientific philosopher, Karl Popper (Popper and Eccles 1977) uses the criterion of falsifiability to validate or invalidate scientific hypotheses. As anaylsts, we do not labor under the burden of having to prove meaning. For us meaning is ubiquitous: we have only to discover its manifestations and transformations. As analysts, we do not look at meaning as some logical essence or form (in the sense of Wittgenstein), which once found is static and fixed (“unassailable”); on the contrary, meaning for us can be transient, it can be forged before our eyes.

Language is important to psychoanalysis, but — allowing for hermeneutic philosophers like Paul Ricoeur (1970) and metapsychological, linguistic revisionists like Roy Schafer (1976) — does not seem to carry the weight that it does for philosophers like Wittgenstein. Instead, psychoanalysis uses language as it does dreams, not as a fundamental stopping point but as a mediating, symbolic system (and therein tool) to be further deciphered, hopefully leading to even more fundamental, personal, relational meanings. The magical retrieval which David Pears (1969) so admired in Wittgenstein, was executed via the realigning of crossed metaphors and the unravelling of misapplied language pictures that had led to philosophical blind alleys. In psychoanalysis, if there is magical retrieval, it occurs because even the most nonsensical verbalizations and images (as for example in dreams) can via interpretation reveal personal meaning and intentionality. In this sense psychoanalysis, by accepting the language of the analysand in whatever shape it comes, uses language to let in and restore the world. It is a sharp contrast to Wittgenstein, whose paranoid style severely delimits the world, resulting in the previously mentioned loss of proportion and with it a loss of reality.

We might say, in their own ways, Wittgenstein and psychoanalysis use language to practice a different kind of linguistic abreaction: Wittgenstein through realigning crossed metaphors and unraveling misapplied language pictures — and thereby narrowing and purifying language — tries to lead the philosophical fly out of the bottle: while psychoanalysis by hierarchically spreading the network of personal meaning to include every nonsensical, illogical, and irrational verbalization, by reconnecting through new associative pathways isolated affect to its proper language (through interpreting it instead of banishing it as Wittgenstein does), tried to broaden, unrepress, and thereby restore the world.

Perhaps some of this is reflected in the respective writing styles of Wittgenstein and Freud. Both are acknowledged masters of German, but, paradoxically, Wittgenstein’s style, presumably about non-worldly, abstract relationships, reveals more disturbance and inner conflict than Freud’s, whose prose by comparison, though animated, introspective, and rich — in spite of the intensely charged world he is describing — is relatively self-contained and measured. This may be because the almost continuously charged nature of the pathological material he writes about is thereby somewhat cathartic and allows Freud to work through some of the anxiety necessarily provoked by the same material. By contrast, Wittgenstein, because of his need to bar the world and especially affect and deep personal meaning from his writing, is accordingly blocked and because of it has a greater need to release his powerful inner conflicts, which emerge in his famous, enigmatic style. As noted, never did a man expend so much feeling about so much abstraction.

Or perhaps it is simply that Wittgenstein’s style, just because its content is so barren of emotion, has to be charged and dynamic while Freud’s style, just because the content is so charged and dynamic, must compensate by being more sober and self-contained. Whatever the cause, this much appears descriptively true: Wittgenstein’s style with its darts and insights, its teasing, aphoristic slipperiness, and its tormented tone is more modern than Freud’s. More modern because more self-conflictual and more ambivalent. The tension that exists between Wittgenstein and psychoanalysis exists between Wittgenstein’s style and Wittgenstein’s content. His style is passionate, dynamic, energetic, and filled with life. His content is the logically complete, inert world of the Tractatus or the language games and trivial-seeming ordinary language customs of the Philosophical Investigations. His style is unexpected, rich with surprise; his content is closed off, logically complete, gloomy, tautologous or alive in a trivial, behavioristic sense. By comparison, Freud’s style, as dynamic and alive as Wittgenstein’s, is at peace with its content. To us, it does not seem arbitrarily imposed on its subject matter as does Wittgenstein’s. Instead, it seems to resonate with its subject matter and to grow naturally out it. Again, by contrast, Wittgenstein’s restless tormented style — so at odds with the cold, formal world it describes-seems to spring, like Kafka’s from some great unknown inner depth. In terms of modern literature, Wittgenstein’s style strikes us as more of what is called a voice. And we might conjecture that Freud — being able to express more of whatever personal conflicts he had in his writing-experienced a greater cathartic sense of release than Wittgenstein, who was not able to achieve in his personal style linguistic abreactions and so perhaps made linguistic abreaction — to let the fly out of the bottle- a consciously pursued, life-long goal.

To my knowledge, Freud and Wittgenstein never met. But Wittgenstein was aware of Freud (“Conversations on Freud,” from Wittgenstein Lectures and Conversations 1972). It is no surprise that Wittgenstein was characteristically ambivalent toward Freud and highly critical. His remarks are instructive in how much of Freud they omit. Of course, it is to be expected that Wittgenstein will approach Freud on his own terms — linguistic analysis; but what is revealing is how thoroughly Wittgenstein chooses to ignore Freud on his terms. When Wittgenstein does touch on typical Freudian themes (the symbolism of dreams, the language of the unconscious), he seems to do so in an offhand, coolly appraising, almost ironically detached way. Noticeably missing is Wittgenstein’s familiar, passionate engagement. One gets the strong impression that Wittgenstein wants nothing to do, wants to keep his distance very much from the all too human, unmeasured world of psychoanalysis. His remarks may always be subtle, but Wittgenstein seems so out of sympathy with the spirit of psychoanalysis that his presence seems almost alien.

Although he consistently criticized it, Wittgenstein appears more at home in the world of science. As noted by Malcolm (1958) Wittgenstein’s prodigious range of natural gifts extended from music, philosophy, and the arts, all the way to mechanical and aeronautical engineering, to mathematics and physics. Now it may be there is an analogy between Wittgenstein and the so-called reality crisis presently occurring in quantum mechanics (Herbert 1987); that is, that by reducing the physical world to a network of only formalized, abstract relationships there is a consequent loss of reality (even for physicists). Whether the world at bottom-the so-called deep reality — is really made up of only ordinary objects (the neorealist position of Einstein, Schrodinger, and others) or has no deep reality and is founded on probability outcomes of events (Heisenberg, Bohr) is a matter for particle physicists to decide. Yet psychologically it may be that the current, more orthodox physicist’s view concerning reality (there is no deep reality, only probability outcomes of events) has as its price a consequent disconnection and sense of a loss of reality.

This sense of the loss of reality (induced in physicists as well as others) by the disconnected world of quantum mechanics reminds us of the fragmentation of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Though entirely different disciplines, modern linguistic analysis, founded in large measure by Wittgenstein, and modern quantum mechanics have in common that both reduce a rich world of objects (linguistic and physical) to abstract patterns, a minimal array of rules and relationships. There is a necessary loss of reality in both disciplines (Barrett 1979, Herbert 1985).

In contrast to both, psychoanalysis adopts a position — regarding the nature of the so-called deep reality — that in quantum reality terms (Herbert) would be called neorealism. This means that the ultimate reality psychoanalysis is describing is composed, if one looks far enough, of only ordinary objects, or rather, abstractions resembling ordinary objects. This, of course, follows from psychoanalysis’ theoretical choice of stopping at instinct, near the border of psyche and soma thereby never giving itself a chance of getting to a subatomic, fundamental object that would not be considered ordinary by quantum reality standards or realistic (in the classical physicist’s sense). While it may be objected that early psychoanalytic metapsychology seemed to abstract regions of the mind, it is also true that the abstractions are abstractions of what Herbert calls ordinary objects; here there are no probability waves and probability outcomes. The abstractions are abstractions of instinctual, affective, relational, neuronal, energetic entities — all ordinary objects. This is quite different from Wittgenstein whose world foundation (especially in the Tractatus), far from being composed of ordinary objects, is made up only of rule and linguistic extensions of pure logic. And further, if we are persuaded by Pribram and Gill (1976) then even the abstractions of Freud’s metapsychology are, at bottom, transposed neurophysiological concepts (and therefore, according to Pribram, ordinary and testable).

This is only one more way of showing how psychoanalysis differs from Wittgenstein’s linguistic analysis in that it uses language to restore the world. There is nothing that transpires in psychoanalysis no matter how inexact, blurred, irrational or disguised that may not be traced back to some personal ordinary object (instinctual, object relational) — and thereby made meaningful. In this sense, psychoanalysis uses language to restore the world in a way that linguistic philosophers like Wittgenstein do not.

It may be objected that psychoanalysis, in its effort to use language for more than logic and precision, moved too far beyond Wittgenstein and the logical positivists that followed him. It may be that the efforts for philosophers of science like Edelson (1984) and language purifiers like Roy Schafer (1976) are called for in order to bring psychoanalysis and analytic philosophers somewhat closer. But there is a difference between great systematizers like David Rapaport (1976) who need to pay exquisite attention to every nuance of psychoanalytic terminology in order to clarify theoretical concepts, and metapsychological revisionists like Roy Schafer (1976) who wish to revamp psychoanalysis on the basis of a streamlined language.

We suggest that the different uses of language by psychoanalysis and Wittgenstein are crucial and should not be overlooked. We characterize the language of psychoanalysis as broad and open to the extreme; it can accommodate the paranoid style of a Wittgenstein as well as every other neurotic style; it incorporates the language of dreams, the language of symbols, the language of the unconscious. By comparison, Wittgenstein’s use of language, especially in the Tractatus — a work of first-rate philosophical genius — is extraordinarily closed. Finally, we suggest that it is this same versatility and openness of language in psychoanalysis, with so many linguistic threads running to the inner and outer world, that adds to its curative value. It is this ability through openness to restore the world, to always find meaning and personal centeredness, that, in the long run makes the use of language in psychoanalysis therapeutic.

In summary, we have taken the paranoid neurotic style, in the sense of David Shapiro (1965) and applied it to the full-blown philosophical genius of Wittgenstein. It is suggested that important aspects of his thought and style are thereby clarified. It is further suggested that the peculiar tension that exists between Wittgenstein and psychoanalysis arises from this same tension that exists within Wittgenstein between his neurotically restrictive paranoid style and the uncontrollable imaginative flow of his creative genius. Finally, the language of Wittgenstein — in spite of the profundity of its analysis — is characterized as essentially closed (despite valiant later efforts to “reverse” himself), while the language of psychoanalysis is characterized as exceptionally open — and therein therapeutic.

Gerald Alper

Author of God and Therapy

What We believe When No One is Watching

(The above post was published in my book, “Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Patient”, Psychodynamic Studies of the Creative Personality”)

Author. Psychotherapist. Writing about psychology for all to read. I also interview scientists.