Religion and Wittgenstein’s Legacy: Beyond Fideism and Language Games

Part of the Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion book series (CSPR)


We can go up to someone and notice her or not notice her. We can give someone our attention or ignore him. We can show compassion to someone or harden our hearts. Wittgenstein’s greatest gift is the clarity of his vision, his honest and penetrating insight into what really occurs in human beings. Human beings in our world are still religious — many passionately so — in spite of the secular grip that our Enlightenment heritage has placed upon us. Wittgenstein has given us a way of honestly investigating what occurs in human beings when their lives are actively engaged in being religious. His manner of investigating puts conventional philosophising aside — this is part of what is implied in his remark about bringing ‘philosophy to an end’. Setting aside philosophy as he intends this is to spare us the endless pursuits of proof and evidence, of sense datum or ideas in the mind, of disputes over realism and anti-realism, and replace these with a kind of new innocence for what is before our eyes — ‘Look, don’t think’


Religious Practice Language Game Ancient City Religious Language Religious Concept 
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  1. 2.
    Kai Nielsen, ‘On There Being Philosophical Knowledge’, Philosophical Investigations 15:2 (April 1992).Google Scholar
  2. Kerr, p. 151. It should be noted that this remark of Kerr’s is far short of Cyril Barrett locating Wittgenstein in the history of Christian thought and reconciling his views with Christian doctrine. (Barrett, Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religious Belief, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992) Wittgenstein’s ‘theological considerations’ are not confined to, nor intended to be an expression of, a particular theological tradition. One might think of Simone Weil’s work as equally pervaded, if not more pervaded, by theological considerations, but the dispute would turn on what Kerr counts as a great philosopher.Google Scholar
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    Focusing on the Lebensformen theme in Wittgenstein was believed by Kerr to be of such great importance that in my conversations with him at a conference in Lampeter, Wales, in June 1990 he said that he wanted to write his next book on that subject except for the fact that Stephen Mulhall had just written his book for him. Mulhall’s book is On Being in the World: Wittgenstein and Heidegger on Seeing Aspects (London: Routledge, 1990). Mulhall’s book is clearly focused on Wittgenstein’s later writings and particularly Part II of the Philosophical Investigations. Heidegger and Donald Davidson are more like supporting cast than co-stars in this book.Google Scholar
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    One example is: ‘If I see a book bound in black, I do not doubt there is something black there — except in order to philosophize. If I see on the top of a newspaper: June 14, I have no further doubt that what was printed there was June 14. If a person I hate, fear, despise, love approaches me, I have no further doubt that there is something hateful, dangerous, contemptible, lovable in front of me. If someone, looking at the same spot on the same newspaper, were to seriously insist, repeatedly, that he reads not June 14, but June 15, I would be disturbed; I would not understand…. But just as in the case of a threatening letter this danger I read catches hold of me from outside and strikes fear into me.’ [Simone Weil, ‘Essay on the Notion of Reading,’ trans. Rebecca Fine Rose and Timothy Tessin, Philosophical Investigations 13 (October 1990), pp. 298ff.]CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Timothy Tessin and Mario von der Ruhr 1995

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