Can a Purely Grammatical Inquiry be Religiously Persuasive?

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


D.Z. Phillips’s work in the philosophy of religion represents the extension of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s approach to conceptual problems to religious ideas. The same kind of conceptual inquiry which is illustrated in the Philosophical Investigations also shows up in The Concept of Prayer, for example, and in Phillips’s other writings on religion. Since these conceptual, or ‘grammatical’, studies aim solely at the clarification of what believers mean by the things that they say, they do not exhibit their value in the criticism of religious claims. Such studies aim only at the understanding of religious conceptions as they are, not as one might wish them to be. For that is the business of a purely grammatical inquiry in Wittgenstein’s sense, to show what understanding a concept means in case after case, not by defending general theses but by dispelling the fog that often distorts our conceptual reasoning.1


Religious Belief Good Judgement Religious Idea Religious Concept Persuasive Effect 
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  1. 1.
    See, for example, D.Z. Phillips, ‘Advice to Philosophers who are Christians’, in New Blackfriars, vol. 69 (1988), Wittgenstein and Religion, (London: Macmillan and New York: St. Marti s Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (New York: Harper, 1969), entry numbers 611–12.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    William James, ‘The Will to Believe’, in Essays on Faith and Morals, ed. Ralph Barton Perry (New York: Longmans, Green, 1947), pp. 33–4.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    For example, Culture and Value, ed. by G.H. von Wright and trans. by Peter Winch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Ibid., p. 67. Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Ibid., p. 86.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Ibid., pp. 50, 64.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (New York: Free Press. 1990), p. 24.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Ibid., p. 474; see also Culture and Value, p. 38.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Ibid., p. 475.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    James C. Edwards, Ethics Without Philosophy (Tampa: University Presses of South Florida, 1982), esp. the last chapter.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, in Martin Luther, ed. John Dillenberger (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1961), p. 185.Google Scholar

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© Timothy Tessin and Mario von der Ruhr 1995

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