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Religion and ‘Really Believing’: Belief and the Real

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Part of the Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion book series (CSPR)

Abstract

In his later years Wittgenstein made a comment about religious belief which I have always found intriguing: namely, ‘“I never believed in God before” — that I understand. But not: “I never really believed in Him before.”’1 I begin my reconsideration of the reply D.Z. Phillips makes to his ‘realist’ critics (focusing on the essays ‘On Really Believing’ and ‘Sublime Existence’2) by taking a second look at Wittgenstein’s comment about ‘really’ believing.

Keywords

Religious Belief Language Game Metaphysical Realist Religious Language Religious Truth 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Culture and Value, ed. G.H. von Wright, trans. Peter Winch (Oxford, 1980), p. 53.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, eds. G.H. von Wright, et al., trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), VI, 23, p. 325.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    Remarks on FrazersGolden Bough’, ed. Rush Rhees, trans. A.C. Miles (Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1979), p. 5.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett (Berkeley, 1972), pp. 56, 58; ‘where that practice and these views go together, the practice does not spring from the view, but both of them are there’ (Remarks on Frazer …, p. 2).Google Scholar
  5. 26.
    David Burrell elaborates this contrast in ‘Religious Belief and Rationality’, in Rationality and Religious Belief, ed. C.F. Delaney (Notre Dame, 1979), p. 107; pp. 98–112 passim.Google Scholar
  6. 29.
    Newman, Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London, 1901), pp. 396–8; Philosophical Notebooks, vol. II (Louvain, 1970), p. 125; Theological Papers (Oxford, 1976), p. 156.Google Scholar
  7. 33.
    While denying that interpretation is arbitrary (either indistinguishable from invention, or simply emotional response), Ronald Dworkin holds a position which in crucial respects parallels Phillips’s. See ‘Law as Interpretation’ and ‘My Reply to Stanley Fish: Please Don’t Talk About Objectivity Any More’, in The Politics of Interpretation, ed. W.J.T. Mitchell (Chicago, 1982, 1983), pp. 249–70, 287–313. He writes, for example: ‘I have no arguments for the objectivity of moral judgments except moral arguments, no arguments for the objectivity of interpretive judgments except interpretive judgments, and so forth’ (p. 297).Google Scholar
  8. 38.
    See my discussion of the paradoxicality of value-change, especially Steven A. Edwards’s account of paradoxes of motivation and learning, in Transforming Vision: Imagination and Will in Kierkegaardian Faith (Oxford, 1991), chapter 3, passim, and esp. pp. 60–1.Google Scholar
  9. 42.
    Michael C. Banner, The Justification of Science and the Rationality of Religious Belief (Oxford, 1990), pp. 91, 93.Google Scholar
  10. 49.
    See, for example, John Churchill, ‘Wittgenstein on Faith and Wisdom’, Southern Journal of Philosophy 23 (1985), pp. 419–21, 427–8. Phillips cites S. Sutherland’s charge in ‘Religion in Wittgenstein’s Mirror’, Wittgenstein and Religion, p. 242. A recent lengthy discussion of ‘the claim of expressivism to be descriptive’ is found in Banner’s The Justification of Science … (pp. 73–95); Banner suggests that Phillips’s account is ‘peculiarly unconvincing’ concerning its description of loss of faith (pp. 89–93).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 61.
    Friedrich Waismann, ‘Notes on Talks with Wittgenstein’, Philosophical Review LXXIV (1965), pp. 12–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 64.
    ‘Faith, Scepticism, and Religious Understanding’, p. 20. For a similar rejection, see Phillips’s ‘William James and the Notion of Two Worlds’, in Religion, Reason, and the Self, eds S. Sutherland and T.A. Roberts (Cardiff. 1989). pp. 129–44Google Scholar
  13. 65.
    Cora Diamond, ‘Throwing Away the Ladder’, in The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind (Cambridge, Mass., 1991), ‘Ethics, Imagination, and the Method of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus’, in Wiener Reihe: Theman der Philosophie, Band 5, eds R. Heinrich and H. Vetter (Vienna, 1990); James Conant, ‘Throwing Away the Top of the Ladder’, Yale Review 79 (1990), ‘Must We Show What We Cannot Say?’ in The Senses of Stanley Cavell, eds Richard Fleming and Michael Payne (Lewisburg, 1989), ‘Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, and Nonsense’, in Pursuits of Reason, eds Cohen, Guyer, and Putnam (Texas Tech University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  14. 69.
    See Zettel, eds G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Berkeley, 1967), esp. §§ 247–75.Google Scholar
  15. 76.
    Rush Rhees, ‘Some Developments in Wittgenstein’s View of Ethics’, Philosophical Review LXXIV (1965), p. 24.Google Scholar
  16. 83.
    G.E.M. Anscombe, ‘The Question of Linguistic Idealism’, The Collected Papers of G.E.M. Anscombe, Vol. One: From Parmenides to Wittgenstein (Minneapolis, 1981), p. 115.Google Scholar
  17. 84.
    Ibid., pp. 113, 114; also p. 121.Google Scholar
  18. 97.
    J.M. Soskice argues that ‘depiction’ is possible without ‘exhaustive’, ‘definitive’, or ‘unrevisable description’ (Metaphor and Religious Language [Oxford, 1985], pp. 131–4). The problem for the critic, however, is not that we lack ‘exhaustive’ or ‘unrevisable’ description.Google Scholar
  19. 103.
    Summa Theologiae, 1a, Question 12, a. 8 and a. 13. Denials that Kierkegaard is a ‘foe of reason’ themselves often depend on the assumption that God is seen as the ‘unknown’ (see C. Stephen Evans, ‘Is Kierkegaard An Irrationalist? Reason, Paradox, and Faith’, Religious Studies 25 [1989], pp. 352–3).Google Scholar
  20. 104.
    T.W. Adorno, for example, criticises such a notion of love as ‘callous’, ‘flippant’, ‘abstract’, and ‘unbiblical’ (‘On Kierkegaard’s Doctrine of Love’, Studies in Philosophy and Social Science VIII [1939], pp. 416, 418, 421–3).Google Scholar

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© Timothy Tessin and Mario von der Ruhr 1995

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