Wittgenstein and Religion

This page is about works that discuss Wittgenstein's influence on Religion and Philosophy of Religion as well as works that discuss the influence of religion on the work of Wittgenstein. We have also included texts relevant to religion from Wittgenstein himself that we could not include anywhere else.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett, Oxford: Blackwell, 1966.

Harré Rom, `Wittgenstein: science and religion’. Philosophy. 76 211 – 237. (2001).

Brief Discussion
Harre in this influential paper advances a series of theses for the proper interpretation on Wittgenstein's early views on science and religion. As he writes: 'In the first part of this paper I will be advancing some arguments to try to show that more of the Tractatus than has yet been realized can best be understood as a generalization of a number of impor- tant theses and doctrines developed in the writings of Helmholtz, Hertz and Boltzmann, apropos of the nature of physics as a way of creating a symbolic representation of the world. This interpretation stands over against the common view that the Tractatus is a highly refined version of logical atomism.' In the second part he discusses in detail Drury's and Malcolm's claims about Wittgenstein's views on Religion. He concludes: 'I believe that 'external', that is extra-philosophical, influences were very important in shaping the course of Wittgenstein's philosophi- cal ruminations. In the case of the Tractatus I am fairly sure that it is massively misunderstood unless it is seen as derived more or less directly from the pre-Machian philosophy of physics of the German tradition adapted to the problems that Russell confronted him with. In the case of the later philosophy the two major themes are common to the insights that lead to dissolutions of the problems posed by the outward forms of religious discourses. There is the theme of meaning as something created in the course of a person acquiring the ability to successfully perform all sorts of tasks. There is the theme of rules as determining values but not the actions that might or might not conform to them. These themes shaped the way that the problems that occupy the surface of the Investigations were dealt with. The problems that shaped these treatments were deeper. They lay in Wittgenstein's very soul.'

Pritchard, Duncan, 'Is "God Exists" a "Hinge" Proposition of Religious Belief?', International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 47 (2000), 129-40.

Brief Description
There are parallels between certain responses to local epistemological scepticism about religious belief and an influential reply to radical epistemological scepticism. What ties both accounts? together is that they utilise, either implicitly or explicitly, a 'hinge proposition' thesis which maintains that the pivotal beliefs in question are immune to sceptical attack even though they lack sufficient epistemic grounds. It is argued that just as this strategy lacks any anti-sceptical efficacy in the context of the radical sceptical debate, so it offers no defence against a localised scepticism regarding religious belief either. What the defender of religious belief should do, it is claimed, is re-examine the manner in which a commitment to the doctrine of epistemological internalism underlies the sceptical attack.
[Available at: http://www.philosophy.ed.ac.uk/new/staff/full-academic/documents/HingesAndReligiousBelief.pdf]

Arrington, Robert and Addis, Mark (editors), Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Religion, Routledge, 2001.

Book information:
Hardback, 224 pages
ISBN: 0-415-21780-6 (hbk); 0-415-33555-8 (pbk)

Brief Discussion
This work provides an introduction to the influential and controversial contribution which the later Wittgenstein made to the philosophy of religion. Although his writings on religion have been few, he nevertheless developed a distinctive way of understanding religious belief which holds an enormous appeal for many readers and philosophers, especially those who do not view theistic religion as simply a form of superstition or irrationality. Wittgenstein's views on religious belief have not been without their opponents. They have successfully antagonized philosophers who believe that philosophical inquiry can undermine the various traditional justifications that religion offers on reality. This collection brings together leading Wittgenstein scholars with varying views on what the proper interpretation and acceptability of Wittgenstein's writings are on religion. The essays show how Wittgenstein's comments on religion and magic stress the distinctive nature of religious discourse and emphasize how we can misunderstand its theoretical assumptions if they are viewed in competition with scientific ones.

Addis, Mark, 'D.Z. Phillips' Fideism in Wittgenstein's Mirror', in Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Religion (2001), pp.85-100

Brief Discussion
Discussion of many of the topics on which some Wittgenstein scholars would take issue with D.Z. Philips and their reasons for doing so.

Bloemendal, P. F., Grammars of Faith: A Critical Evaluation of D. Z. Phillips’s Philosophy of Religion, Leuven: Peeters, 2006.

Burley, Mikel, ‘Phillips and Eternal Life: A Response to Haldane’, Philosophical Investigations 31 (2008), 237–51.

Brief Description
This paper responds to a recent paper by John Haldane in which he puts forward some criticisms of D. Z. Phillips’ Wittgenstein-inspired treatment of the Christian belief in eternal life. Burley argues that Haldane’s attempt to show that Phillips only partially elucidates, and hence misrepresents, this belief is unsuccessful. It is unsuccessful because the biblical and theological passages cited by Haldane are amenable to plausible elucidation in the sorts of terms of which Phillips would have approved. Haldane makes three points to support his main claim, and Burley endeavours to show that none of these points has significant force against Phillips’ position unless we presuppose the truth of some realist account of meaning, which Phillips would, of course, reject.

Burley, Mikel, 'Phillips and Realists on Religious Beliefs and the Fruits Thereof', International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 64 (2008), 141–53.

Brief Description
This article addresses some issues concerning the relation between religious beliefs and the fruits of those beliefs, where ‘fruits’ implies certain relevant forms of behaviour and affective attitudes. The primary aim is to elucidate the dispute between, on the one hand, the Wittgenstein-inspired philosopher of religion D. Z. Phillips and, on the other hand, theological or metaphysical realists, emphasizing the extent to which this dispute is symptomatic of a deeper disagreement over how words acquire their meanings. In the course of doing so, an important difference between two alternative realist claims is highlighted, these being exemplified by Roger Trigg and John Hick respectively, and attention is drawn to an infelicity in Phillips’ way of presenting his case.

Geach, Peter, God and the Soul, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.

Haldane, John, ‘Philosophy, Death and Immortality’, Philosophical Investigations, 30 (2007), 245–65.

Haldane, John, ‘Phillips and Eternal Life: A Response to Mikel Burley’, Philosophical Investigations, 31 (2008), 252–60.

Keightley, Alan, Wittgenstein, Grammar and God, London: Epworth, 1976.

Messer, Richard, Does God’s Existence Need Proof?, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Phillips, D. Z., The Concept of Prayer, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965.

Phillips, D. Z., Death and Immortality, London: Macmillan, 1970.

Phillips, D. Z., Faith and Philosophical Enquiry, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970.

Phillips, D. Z., Religion without Explanation, Oxford: Blackwell, 1976.

Phillips, D. Z., ‘Dislocating the Soul’, Religious Studies 31 (1995), 447–62.

Phillips, D. Z., Faith after Foundationalism: Plantinga–Rorty–Lindbeck–Berger—Critiques and Alternatives, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.

Phillips, D. Z., ‘Philosophers’ Clothes’, in Charles M. Lewis (ed.), Relativism and Religion, London: Macmillan, 1995, pp. 135–53.

Phillips, D. Z., Philosophy’s Cool Place, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Phillips, D. Z., Religion and the Hermeneutics of Contemplation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Phillips, D. Z., The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God, London: SCM Press, 2004.

Rhees, Rush, Without Answers, ed. D. Z. Phillips, New York: Schocken Books, 1969.

Rhees, Rush, Rush Rhees on Religion and Philosophy, ed. D. Z. Phillips and Mario von der Ruhr, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Richter, Duncan, ‘Missing the Entire Point: Wittgenstein and Religion’, Religious Studies 37 (2001), 161–75.

Runzo, Joseph (ed.), Is God Real?, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993.

Thomas, Emyr Vaughan, ‘D. Z. Phillips, Self-Renunciation and the Finality of Death’, Religious Studies 28 (1992), 487–93.

Fronda, Earl Stanley B., Wittgenstein's (Misunderstood) Religious Thought Leiden and Boston: Brill Academic Press, 2010.
Hardbound, xxi+242pp
ISBN 978 90 04 18609 5
Description of the work:
Wittgenstein's religious thought is not well-understood. And Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion is charged with fideism, religious non-realism, and even crypto-atheism. These charges, however, are borne of misunderstandings that are a result of the critics' being oblivious of apophatic theology. This book is intended to help clear some of these misunderstandings and neutralize the above-mentioned charges. It argues that Wittgenstein's religious thought shares kinship with the thought of apophaticists in Christendom such as the Pseudo-Dionysius and St. Thomas Aquinas. What appears to be fideism, non-realism, or crypto-atheism to the critics appear differently to those who see Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion from the apophaticists' point of view.
Key words: Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion, negative/apophatic theology

Kober Michael, "Wittgenstein and Religion", in Grazer Philosophische Studien 71, 2006, 87-116.

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