Alan Watts on Science, Buddhism, Jung and Wittgenstein

“Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British born American philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience” (ref). He was a friend of poet and novelist Jack Kerouac (ref), had discussions with Carl Jung (ref) and hailed the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein (ref).

One reason I mention Watts now is because of a video where he speaks about science and Buddhism. This can be seen as a follow-up to the earlier post I wrote about distinguishing between science and philosophy. In earlier post I maintained that science is empiric while philosophy is not. Watts on the other hand doesn’t mention empirics at all as a characteristic of science, instead he stresses the method of science as being descriptive and systematic (as opposed to Buddhism). According to how Watts defines science in this video, it seems that the philosophy of Wittgenstein would to a large extent fall into the same category. I see it as an example of how one can view things from different perspectives.


I read that “Watts viewed the writings of Wittgenstein as a form of jnana-yoga, intellectual bending and stretching which makes the mind supple and ready to realise profoundly its identity with It” (ref). I don’t think he really embraced Wittgenstein though. Part of the reason I doubt it is that Watts seemed to rate the Tractatus higher than the Investigations (ref).

EDIT: I don’t mean to say that one should view the philosophy of Wittgenstein as a kind of science. As I see it, the philosophy of Wittgenstein has common traits with science (as pointed out above). But, as I show in other posts, the philosophy of Wittgenstein is also radically different from science. (Here is a post that presents Wittgenstein’s view on philosophy: Task of philosophy is to use ”introvert intuition”?)

Further reading

Alan Watts tribute to Carl Jung
(perhaps I’ll look deeper into this later on)

Jung’s Typology and Philosophy – In this blogpost I discuss the relationship between Jung’s typology and philosophy

Here is a review of Alan Watts tribute to Carl Jung on stOttilien’s blog.


About Dandre

Former student of philosophy, maths and literature. Now studying master program in sociology. Some thinkers of central interest include Ludwig Wittgenstein, C. G. Jung and Pierre Bourdieu.
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8 Responses to Alan Watts on Science, Buddhism, Jung and Wittgenstein

  1. m6munich says:

    Very concise and well doumented article. I agree, Wittgenstein would to a large extent fall into the same category. The term of science is complex and has interested me in the Freud-Jung context for quite a while. Freud(ians) aspired so badly to present psychoanalysis as science in the empirical sense and yet Freud failed by all means – if one follows science history (e.g. Kerr) – and is largely discredited since the age of Valium.
    Russell, Wittgenstein and Popper founded the analytic philosophy with their rigorous logical standards of argumentation (and W. perhaps somewhat prematurely proclaimed the death of metaphysics). Why should philosophy therefore not be science? The borderline between physics and metaphysics is perhaps not as sharp as it was argued. Emerged in the fifth century BC in Athens, flourishing during enlightenment in the seventeenth century, modern science is today a complex system in which many – sigh – even “social sciences” live. Why not the “Love of Wisdom” with or without metaphysics :-)?

    aka fallenAngel

    • Dandre says:


      Well, we do have a lot in common. Both background and interests. But we do not think the same, and in a sense that makes it more interesting.

      How I would put it: Wittgenstein’s rejection of metaphysics, is not a rejection of anything of content. The rejection is not based upon any presupposition. To understand Wittgenstein correctly is to understand he claims nothing at all (in a formal sense). That is, when he says all the propositions of Tractatus are nonsense, it is to be taken literally. He really means what he says when he says one has to throw away the ladder one has climbed up upon (the ladder didn’t consist of anything).

    • Dandre says:

      Concerning the tagline “Platform for non-metaphysical philosophy” of this site, most of all it’s intending to send a wink to people who’s into academical philosophy. I could have called it “platform for good philosophy” (and was seriously thinking of it), as that in a sense is the only guideline for the blog, but I wanted something sounding more specific and challenging to get attention.

  2. Pingback: From language games to mysticism – Allan Watts and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus « stOttilien

  3. Daniel says:

    I would argue that Wittgenstein did not think of metaphysics as “dead” he just claimed that the means of arriving at a metaphysical truth can be sought through different activities like poetry, art, religion, music, etc.
    Just my two cents.

    • Dandre says:

      One can argue that the entire philosophy of Wittgenstein is metaphysical, because for sure it is entirely non-physical. Wittgenstein denies making any claim about physical matters. We may also remind us of quote by Wittgenstein where he says his work consists of two parts, one that is written and one that is unwritten and it is the unwritten one that is the important part – one may also say claim this is a stand for metaphysics.

      But then, if one wants to claim Wittgenstein defended “metaphysics” I’d suggest it’s relevant to study how Wittgenstein himself actually used the word “metaphysics”, what content he himself put in the letter combination m-e-t-a-p-h-y-s-i-c-s… and he didn’t seem to put much value in it, he doesn’t speak of the word “metaphysics” with much respect or awe, rather he tends to pronounce it in a negative sense, like people use words like “gibberish” or “nonsense”, as for example in this quote: “Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics and leads the philosopher into complete darkness.”
      This quote indicates that he doesn’t want to encourage the usage of the word “metaphysics” in a positive sense (but that doesn’t mean he dismisses whatever content other people put in the word)

    • Dandre says:

      I made some further research on how Wittgenstein actually does use the word “metaphysics”, and at least to some part seem to be in favor of what you say. For example, we have this quote:
      “Philosophy consists of logic and metaphysics: logic is its basis.” – this seems to “legitimate” the usage of the word “metaphysics”

      But also he tends to speak quite dismissive of “metaphysics” and “metaphysical questions”, like here:
      “the characteristic of a metaphysical question being that we express an unclarity about the grammar of words in the form of a scientific question”

      As I see it, it’s not that big issue… but indeed a bit interesting

      I used the tagline of this site “Platform for non-metaphysical philosophy”…I removed it some days ago, it didn’t feel quite right. But I couldn’t think of any other tagline that felt quite right either…

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