Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Ratio: Vol. 20, No. 4, December 2007

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Ratio: Vol. 20, No. 4, December 2007

Article excerpt

Wittgensetin's Critique of Frazer, JACQUES BOUVERESSE

This paper provides a systematic exposition of what Wittgenstein took to be the fundamental error committed by James George Frazer, author of the classic anthropological work The Golden Bough, in his account of ritual practices. By construing those rituals in scientific or rationalistic terms, as aimed at the production of certain effects, Frazer ignores, according to Wittgenstein, their expressive and symbolic dimension. It is, moreover, an error to try to explain the powerful emotions evoked even today by traditions such as fire festivals (which may once have involved human sacrifice) by searching for their causal origins in history or prehistory; the disquieting nature of such practices needs to be understood by attending to the inner meaning they already have in our human lives. Certain important general lessons are drawn about the necessarily limited power of scientific and causal explanations when it comes to alleviating many of our fundamental perplexities not just in the area of anthropology but in philosophy as well.

Relativism, Commensurability and Translatability, HANS-JOHANN GLOCK

This paper discusses conceptual relativism. The main focus is on the contrasting ideas of Wittgenstein and Davidson, with Quine, Kuhn, Feyera-bend and Hacker in supporting roles. Glock distinguishes conceptual from alethic and ontological relativism, defend a distinction between conceptual scheme and empirical content, and reject the Davidsonian argument against the possibility of alternative conceptual schemes: there can be conceptual diversity without failure of translation, and failure of translation is not necessarily incompatible with recognizing a practice as linguistic. Conceptual relativism may be untenable, but not for the hermeneutic reasons espoused by Davidson.

'Back to the Rough Ground!' Wittgensteinian Reflections on Rationality and Reason, JANE HEAL

Wittgenstein does not talk much explicitly about reason as a general concept, but this paper aims to sketch some thoughts which might fit his later outlook and which are suggested by his approach to language. The need for some notions in the area of 'reason' and 'rationality' are rooted in our ability to engage in discursive and persuasive linguistic exchanges. But because such exchanges can (as Wittgenstein emphasises) be so various, we should expect the notions to come in many versions, shaped by history and culture. Awareness of this variety, and of the distinctive elements of our own Western European history, may provide some defence against the temptation of conceptions, such as that of 'perfect rationality', which operate in unhelpfully simplified and idealised terms.

Worlds or Words Apart? Wittgenstein on Understanding Religious Language, GENIA SCHONBAUMSFELD

In this paper the author develops an account of Wittgenstein's conception of what it is to understand religious language. She shows that Wittgenstein's view undermines the idea that as regards religious faith only two options are possible--either adherence to a set of metaphysical beliefs (with certain ways of acting following from these beliefs) or passionate commitment to a 'doctrineless' form of life. She offers a defence of Wittgenstein's conception against Kai Nielsen's charges that Wittgenstein removes the 'content' from religious belief and renders the religious form of life 'incommensurable' with other domains of discourse, thus immunizing it against rational criticism. …

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