Wittgenstein and Religion: Fashionable Criticisms

  • D. Z. Phillips
Part of the Library of Philosophy and Religion book series (LPR)


It may be that Wittgenstein’s influence on the philosophy of religion has aroused more hostility than any other aspect of his work. The years since the Second World War have been described as ‘a sorry time for the philosophy of religion in English-speaking countries’, and this, it is said, has been due not least to the disastrous influence of Wittgenstein.1 During the period referred to, the influence of Wittgenstein has been far-reaching in almost every branch of philosophy: philosophical logic, philosophy of mathematics, theory of knowledge, philosophy of mind, ethics, aesthetics, philo sophy of the social sciences, and so on. Adverse comments on his influence on the philosophy of religion, however, are not confined to those who think that Wittgenstein’s philosophical influence in general has been a disaster. On the contrary, they are made, as in the instance quoted, by sympathetic commen tators. Unfortunately, it cannot be denied that a philosophy by innuendo has grown up by which it is hinted, rather than argued, that what Wittgenstein is said to have said about religion and ritual is not closely related to the rest of his work. It has been suggested also that those influenced by him in the philosophy of religion have imposed alien features on Wittgenstein’s work, and made use of certain of his terms, such as ‘language-games’, in ways of which he would not have approved.


Religious Belief Rational Justification Religious Believer Religious Language Conceptual Confusion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Anthony Kenny, ‘In Defence of God’, The Times Literary Supplement, 7 February 1975, p. 145. The title is the supple ment’s, not Kenny’s.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Rush Rhees, ‘Wittgenstein’s View of Ethics’ in Discussions of Wittgenstein (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Anthony Kenny, Wittgenstein (Harmondsworth: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1973) pp. 229–30.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969) p. 4.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Kai Nielsen, ‘Wittgensteinian Fideism’, Philosophy, vol. 42,(1967).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    I am described as a ‘leading fideist’ by Robert Herbert in Paradox and Identity in Theology (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1979) p. 13,Google Scholar
  7. Kai Nielsen in An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (London: Macmillan, 1982) p. 56. According to Nielsen, The Concept of Prayer, Faith and Philosophical Enquiry and Death and Immortality give ‘a detailed paradigma tic statement of Wittgensteinian Fideism’ (An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, p. 200).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    John Hick, ‘Sceptics and Believers’, in John Hick (ed.), Faith and the Philosophers (London: Macmillan, 1964) pp. 239–40.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Walford Gealy, ‘Ffaith a Ffydd’, (Fact and Faith) Efrydiau Athronyddol (1977). It ought to be said that since writing the article Gealy has accepted the force of my textual refutations. He no longer thinks that I have ever held the thesis that religious belief is cut off from other aspects of human life, but he continues to disagree about the character of the connections between religious belief and other aspects of human life.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953) I, 66.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    D. Z. Phillips, Faith and Philosophical Enquiry (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970) p. 78.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    ‘Postscript’ in Stuart C. Brown (ed.), Reason and Religion (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977) p. 139.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    D. Z. Phillips, The Concept of Prayer (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965) p. 40 (Issued as a paperback, Oxford: Basil Blackwell; New York: Seabury Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    H. E. Fosdick, The Meaning of Prayer (London: SCM Press, 1915) p. 12.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (London: Fontana Books, 1959) p. 67.Google Scholar
  16. 21.
    Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1960) ch. 9, p. 47.Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    Bryan Magee (ed.), Modern British Philosophy (London: Paladin, 1973) p. 214.Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    D. Z. Phillips, Religion Without Explanation (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976) ch. 11, ‘Religion, Understanding and Philosophical Method’, p. 189.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    Kai Nielsen, Contemporary Critiques of Religion (London: Macmillan, 1971) p. 96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 28.
    F. C. Coplestone, Religion and Philosophy (London: Gill and Macmillan, 1974) p. viii.Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    T. H. McPherson, ‘Religion as the Inexpressible’, in A. G. N. Flew and A. MacIntyre (eds), New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: SCM Press, 1955) p. 142.Google Scholar
  22. 31.
    J. A. Passmore, ‘Christianity and Positivism’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1957) p. 128.Google Scholar
  23. 33.
    See D. Z. Phillips, Death and Immortality (London: Macmil- lan, 1970).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Z. Phillips 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Z. Phillips

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations