The Paradox of Ineffability: Matilal and Early Wittgenstein

Research paper by Priyambada Sarkar

Indexed on: 04 Oct '16Published on: 04 Oct '16Published in: Sophia


Bimal Krishna Matilal was interested in the paradoxes of the ineffability of mystical experiences throughout his career. He was all eager to prove that the concept of mysticism in Indian tradition had its own strong logic, which had helped its proponents overcome the charges of being ‘self-refuting’. In various articles, Matilal had analysed various formulations of the logic of ineffability in various systems of Indian philosophy and examined various ways to get out of the logical paradoxes. While discussing the paradox of ineffability, he often refers to the ineffability of the mystical in the Tractatus and maintains that the Tractatus paragraphs T4.003 and 6.522 and Wittgenstein’s letter to Russell, quoted in Anscombe, ‘strike a very familiar note in the heart of the mystics’. His own view in this regard was that ‘ineffability in the sense that something is beyond the reach of all words, is impossible. For in the last analysis it is possible to speak of that which is (supposedly) ineffable, by the word “ineffable” itself’ (Matilal 2002, 12). He discusses also the ways how one can finally avoid the paradoxes of ultimate ineffability. His position is that ‘the so-called ineffable is not really or ultimately ineffable.’ In this paper, there will be an attempt to apply Matilal’s viewpoint on the paradox of ineffability in the Tractatus. This exploration unfolds in three main sections. Matilal’s perspective on the concept of ineffability along with the paradoxes and its solutions in various systems of Indian tradition will be highlighted in the first section and the paradox of ineffability in the Tractatus along with the controversy regarding its interpretation in the second, and finally, in the concluding section, attempts will be made to find a way out of this impasse by applying Matilal’s stance on this matter and see how it allows us to give ‘fresh answers to the questions raised in Western Philosophy’ (Mohanty 1992,401).