Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Religion

Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Religion

Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Religion

Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Religion


An exciting introduction to the contribution which the later Wittgenstein made to the philosophy of religion. Although his writings on the subject have been few, Wittgenstein developed influential and controversial theories on both religion (and magic) which emphasize the distinctive nature of religious discourse and how this nature can be misunderstood when viewed in direct competition with science.The contributors of this collection shed new light on the perennial debate between faith and reason. The result is a collection that is both informative and stimulating.


Wittgenstein’s remarks on religious belief have had an influence quite disproportionate to their number. He wrote very little on the subject, and much that we have from him on the topic comes from brief collections of remarks, notes others made of his lectures, and records of snippets of thought. in his later period, there are primarily the ‘Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough,’ the ‘Lectures on Religious Belief,’ and occasional remarks in Culture and Value. Nevertheless, most anthologies in the philosophy of religion and many collections of essays designed for introductory philosophy courses will have sections on the Wittgensteinian approach to religion (usually referred to as a form of fideism). His thought in this area has also had an impact in cognate areas such as religious studies and theology.

In this volume our hope is to convey some of the excitement about Wittgenstein’s later thought on religion. We want to show how stimulating and suggestive Wittgenstein’s remarks can be—how they can lead to a totally new perspective on religious belief, to new ways of understanding specific topics such as creation and freedom of the will, and to a new focus for debating the issue of faith and reason. We also want to demonstrate how very controversial these remarks are. Wittgenstein scholars are not of a single mind regarding the significance of what Wittgenstein had to say on the subject, as will be readily apparent on reading several of the following essays. Moreover, some Wittgenstein scholars reject what appears to be the central philosophical message found in the few remarks on magic and religious belief—even while they accept what Wittgenstein has to say about language in other areas of discourse. and there are, of course, non-Wittgensteinians who forcefully repudiate the implications of his approach to religion.

John Hyman gets us off to a good start with a brief introduction to Wittgenstein’s overall philosophy—both his early thought in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the later thought as found in Philosophical Investigations. After this survey and a brief treatment of the main themes in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of religion, Hyman raises some questions about the acceptability of Wittgenstein’s remarks on religion. the doubts expressed in his questions will resonate with many philosophers.

Brian Clack’s essay consists of an interpretation of Wittgenstein’s

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