Wittgenstein and Religious Language

Discuss the relationship between Wittgenstein’s rejection of the anti-metaphysical stance of logical positivism and his account of religious language in his later philosophy

Wittgenstein’s thought in both its phases represented a radical assault on the central understanding of what philosophy is and how it should be undertaken and this can be problematic when using his work philosophically but there are reasonable grounds to assert that he is sensibly described as a “philosopher of language”. Wittgenstein’s central concern was with the nature of language, including the special case of mathematical language, and its relationship with philosophy. This essay proceeds on the basis we can class Wittgenstein’s philosophy as within the analytical tradition and so his principle ideas can be identified and understood. The essay first investigates why his early work, which was so hugely influential for the positivist movement such that he was once described by the leader of the Vienna Circle as the “founder of positivism”, proved to be a complete misunderstanding of it and in the context of this discussion, a complete misunderstanding of Wittgenstein’s view of religious language and belief. It then examines some of the concepts of the later philosophy, the “language game”, “forms of life” and “private language” and why these were so significant for a more accurate perception of his view of religious discourse and finishes by discussing whether his views constitute a legitimisation of a spiritual way of knowing.

You can view a PDF of the essay here.

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