Learning to Look: On Mysticism and Mysticisms

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter addresses mysticism and argues that a reading of Simone Weil through the later Ludwig Wittgenstein can enable mysticism to be configured in new ways. Both philosophers stress the need to attend to phenomena, together with a radical pluralism, with neither thinker seeing any need to advocate dogma. As Wittgenstein remarks in the Investigations, we can say what we want, as long as we look at how things are, and then there will be some things that we will not say. Weil can be viewed as Wittgenstein’s ideal reader, and her notion of attention is examined and applied. It is important not to overlook the differences between the two thinkers, yet both offer ways of walking on the ground (as Wittgenstein described his refusal to adopt a confessional faith). We can move forward the project called for by Iris Murdoch of constructing mysticisms outside institutions, as a form of religious atheism. At a time when some writers seek to reduce mysticism to brain states, Weil and Wittgenstein show how its human face can be retained through investigating its rootedness in how we live. The chapter uses literary examples from Weil’s work and relates the debate to the current environmental crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBetween Wittgenstein and Weil
Subtitle of host publicationComparisons in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics
EditorsJack Manzi
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-30007-6
ISBN (Print)978-1-032-29109-3, 978-1-032-29110-9
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2023


  • Wittgenstein–Weil–mysticism–radical pluralism–Murdoch–attention– environmental crisis–literary Weil–religious atheism

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