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  • Egocentricity and Mysticism: An Anthropological Study by Ernst Tugendhat
  • Christian Helmut Wenzel (bio)
Egocentricity and Mysticism: An Anthropological Study. By Ernst Tugendhat. Translated by Alexei Procyshyn and Mario Wenning. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2016. Pp. 190. Cloth $50.00, isbn 978-0-231169-12-7.

This is a short, but complex and ambitious book. It is argumentative in style and in many places written in the first person. It appeared first in German in 2003, and in 2016 in English translation, to which the two translators added a detailed and informative introduction. The overall aim of the book is to describe and explain how human beings, as users of propositional language and with the ability to refer to themselves (to be "I"-sayers), develop into egocentric beings, who find themselves confronted with the world as a whole, and who turn to mysticism or religion in order to find some peace of mind (Seelenfriede). A wide range of themes and arguments are interwoven along on the way from being an "I"-sayer to becoming a mystic or religious person. To give a quick idea of the range of themes, I give a rough list: rationality, the good (moral, instrumental, adverbial, and prudential), deictic expressions, awareness of time, acting for purposes, altruism, self-esteem, something depending on me (es liegt an mir), free will, affective responsiveness (affektive Ansprechbarkeit), intellectual honesty (Redlichkeit), asking how one should live, fear of death, nothingness, numinosity, religion, Indian mysticism, Buddhism, Daoism, and wonder (Staunen). An appendix offers methodological considerations about first- and third-person perspectives. Not only is the scope of topics remarkable, but also the mix of continental and analytic traditions as well as the inclusion of Western and Eastern traditions.

The book is not historical. It is argumentative and driven by Tugendhat's own concerns from his own first-person perspective. It sometimes reads like a meditation or even a confession. But Tugendhat also refers to many philosophers from different times and traditions, which distracts from such a meditative style. The overall argumentative line of thought develops as follows: Tugendhat moves from what distinguishes us from non-human animals, namely our use of language, in particular propositional language and the use of the pronoun "I," to human egocentricity, to facing contingency and our limited capacities, and from there to religion and mysticism. I will give a brief outline of the chapters and then offer my criticisms.

In chapter 1, Tugendhat draws on Aristotle to show that it is through [End Page 1] propositional language that we become aware of ourselves as free and rational beings and that we objectify the world and become conscious of norms and of what is good. We objectify ourselves and become "I"-sayers. Through propositional language we develop egocentricity that goes beyond mere self-consciousness.

Chapter 2 shows how language allows us to count and to be aware of time, to deliberate, and to set goals beyond the here and now. This is how we become egocentric. We think of ourselves as being important (wichtig), while we also realize that this applies to other human beings as well. But other animals, Tugendhat argues, can be neither egoistic nor altruistic, because they cannot deliberate and set goals for themselves.

Chapter 3 draws on Tyler Burge and J. L. Austin to show how as "I"-sayers we realize that some things depend on us (es liegt an mir), i.e. that we can do something if we only want to (we have free will), as well as how we refer to others as "I"-sayers and develop a sense of responsibility.

Chapter 4 develops a theory of adverbial goodness, how we do good or better and enjoy others' recognition. Tugendhat refers to Plato, Kant, Bentham, Murdoch, von Wright, and others to distinguish between prudential, instrumental, and moral goodness, and he argues that the adverbial goodness (as in living well) is the most basic one. We are intellectually honest (redlich) when we strive for truth independently from others' recognition, and this makes it possible to step back (Zurücktreten) and "dampen," or "attenuate," the kind of "egocentricity, which unfolds with the objectivating-propositional self-relation" (p. 67). "The individuals...


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