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Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard on Religious Belief. Wittgensteinian Perspectives Sub Specie Aeternitatis.

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A logical picture of facts may represent existing or non-existing state of affairs, but should be compared with reality to determine its trueness or falseness; a thought is true when it agrees with reality and vice versa. The same holds for language, which is defined by Wittgenstein as an expression of thoughts in propositions. The configuration of the most primitive parts of language, namely names, should correspond to the configuration of objects in order to be true. To understand the sense of a proposition thus means to know what is the case in reality.

This implies that the limits of meaningful language what can be said are the limits of the world what we can talk about. From this more or less follows: what can be said at all can be said clearly and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence. As a consequence religious statements and theology, although Wittgenstein does not makes this explicit, are meaningless Bedeutunglos and nonsense Unsinn. They do not refer exclusively to the empirical reality and lie partly on the other side of the limits of language. But even if the lack of linguistic counterparts in reality would be acceptable, there is another difficulty for religion.

At the end of the Tractatus Wittgenstein states that the sense of the world itself lies outside it and in the world no values exist. Nevertheless he maintains that metaphysical propositions lack a meaning in the Wittgensteinian sense as they do not refer to verifiable in-the-world facts. But a simile must be a simile for something and is not independent.

In order to be justified to describe facts by means of a simile one must also be able to drop it and describe the fact without it.

Wittgenstein however admits that the nonsensicality of religious expressions is their very essence as they go beyond the world and significant language. This means that an attempt to write or talk about religion makes it run against the boundaries of language, which is absolutely hopeless.


Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religious Belief

In about the same period of the lecture Wittgenstein read parts of J. Religion can only be mistaken if it is presented as science. Religious practices simply are there and can only be described as expressions of human life. In sum, Wittgenstein depicts religion and theology as non-scientific, meaningless and nonsensical in his early work. Ultimately religious language does not refer to observable, empirical facts and goes beyond the limits of proper language.

Latter Wittgenstein and Religious Belief

God does not reveal himself in the world. Since there stand no facts behind it, religion is unscientific. This means, although religion shows itself or makes itself manifest, it cannot be talked about. Therefore the position of the early Wittgenstein can be summarized as religion as the non-scientific unspeakable. Nevertheless, he states that the nonsensicality of religion is its very essence and the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life should be respected.

This can of course be understood as a first move towards his later work. After all, though he still compares religion to science, there is already a clear focus on the practices of religion. The later Wittgenstein: religion as a practice and language game. After introducing several religious statements and possible responses in the first lecture, Wittgenstein raises the question how we are to know whether a believer believes something, say the existence of a Last Judgement. He will probably say he has no proof.

A different conversation: Wittgenstein and a new type of atheism | Religion and Global Society

But he has what you might call an unshakeable belief. It may involve giving up certain things or even risking our lives on the ground of this belief. Wittgenstein states this kind of belief is normally not based on scientific evidence and accordingly will normally not be refuted by counter-evidence. After all, religious beliefs are usually called dogmas, faith or convictions rather than opinions.

Nor about knowing. Not because it is unreasonable, but not obviously reasonable and religion has even no pretentions to be so. Although they may try to explain the same things, science and religion have a different criterion of meaning. God is for example represented in pictures.

Bertrand Russell's view of Wittgenstein

However, that which the picture of God pictured is something we merely believe in. One merely believes in the existence of God. Wittgenstein argues believe is used in an extraordinary sense here since we cannot test it or even find means of testing. The picture of God, or any other picture of a Biblical subject, cannot be compared to something in our reality. That is to say there is no evidence.

We even do not know the technique of using such a picture.

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This implies we can only express ourselves by means of such unverifiable pictures in religion. In the third lecture Wittgenstein adds that knowing certain religious ideas is like having certain pictures of them. However, it remains difficult to find out what they mean or what their consequences are. Wittgenstein for example imagines.

Are you a sceptic? Do you know whether you will survive death? The philosophical remarks of Wittgenstein in the Philosophische Untersuchungen are the precipitate of his own philosophical investigations. He believes the book is an unsuccessful attempt to present the results as a whole and still consists of sketches.

But as said, references to God, religion and theology are scarce. Basically language games themselves form a figurative family. I think the main reason Wittgenstein introduces the game theme is there are analogies between games and language. As he makes clear throughout the book, both language and games rely on rules — either constitutive or regulative — and their techniques can be learnt.

Language games can thus be regarded as practices or even customs that can be mastered. Wittgenstein explicitly states that linguistic activities are as much a part of our natural, cultural and social history. What does the above discussion of language games imply for the meaning of language? Words should be brought back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. Meaning is not determined by interpretation, but follows from practice. This implies trueness or falseness in language is not based on agreement in opinions, but rather the form of life in which it is embedded.

Let us now try to reconstruct the status of religion in the Philosophische Untersuchungen further. It goes without saying that religion and its linguistic activities like praying, singing, preaching, etcetera can be regarded as language games or even a form of life. The same holds for theology, which is sometimes aptly defined as speaking about God.