Wittgenstein and Religion

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It will be shown that Wittgenstein's philosophical approach to religion is substantially shaped by William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience. For neither during the Tractatus period nor later does Wittgenstein thematise religious doctrines, but rather struggles to determine what it means for a sincere person to have a specific religious attitude (James called these attitudes "experiences"). Wittgenstein's almost exclusive focus on attitudes explains, (i) why he is able to strictly discriminate between scientific and empirical claims on the one hand and religious utterances on the other, (ii) why religious and mythical narrations should not be understood as promoting (pre-scientific) theories, (iii) why Wittgenstein non-cognitively interprets religious utterances such as "This is God's will" as avowals, and (iv) why he seems to promote fideism. Wittgenstein's one-sided way of reflecting on religious matters, however, should not be understood as adumbrating or even promoting any more specific account of religion, especially bearing in mind that many of his remarks concerning religion are connected to or motivated by reflections on his own life. This thesis is meant to imply that Wittgenstein does not, as the usual understanding holds, offer a theology for atheists.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 24, 2006

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