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This guide accompanies the following articles: Stig Børsen Hansen, ‘Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Religion’. Philosophy Compass 6/2 (2011): pp. 142–151, doi: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00374.x; Stig Børsen Hansen, ‘The Later Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Religion’. Philosophy Compass 5/11 (2010): pp. 1013–1022, doi: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00339.x

Author’s Introduction

Wittgenstein has had an overarching influence on the philosophy of religion in the latter half of the 20th century. One can discern three strands of influence: First, there are the application of themes from Wittgenstein’s later philosophy of language to central questions in the philosophy of religion, such as the question of the existence of God or the role of rationality in religion. Secondly, there is the exploration of Wittgenstein’s own interest in the understanding of ‘primitive’ religions, as conveyed by his reflections on James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Finally, there are interpretations of Wittgenstein’s early work that emphasize its relevance to religion. Within the latter category, we can further distinguish between approaches that emphasize the logico-mystical themes explicitly contained in the work, and approaches that emphasize the context of the work, such as Wittgenstein’s Jewish heritage or his wish to level a cultural criticism by way of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Author Recommends

Clack, Brian R. An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Religion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

In addition to a brief introduction to themes in Wittgenstein’s early philosophy, this work offers an overview of central themes in Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion, including a novel contribution to our understanding of Wittgenstein’s reflections on primitive religions.

Arrington, Robert L. and Mark Addis, eds. Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Religion. London: Routledge, 2001.

A collection of articles that offers a contribution to most areas of Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion. Wittgenstein is placed in the wider area of philosophy of religion and some of the essays take a distinctly critical stance on Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion.

Egan, David. ‘Pictures in Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy.’Philosophical Investigations 34.1 (2011): 55–76.

This article contributes to the ongoing exploration of Wittgenstein’s later thought by elucidating the Wittgensteinian term of art, ‘picture’, and how he uses it to describe religion.

Hansen, Stig Børsen. ‘Metaphysical Nihilism and Cosmological Arguments: Some Tractarian Comments.’European Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming), doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0378.2010.00409.x.

This article places Wittgenstein’s early thought in the context of current discussion of metaphysical nihilism and assesses the relevance of Wittgenstein’s early work for cosmological arguments for the existence of God.

Hansen, Stig Børsen. ‘Unrestricted Quantification and Natural Theology: Is “The World” On The Index?’European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 2.2 (2010): 89–110.

Here, Wittgenstein’s early thought is placed in the context of current discussion of unrestricted quantification and its relevance to cosmological arguments is assessed.

Nielsen, Kai and D. Z. Phillips, eds. Wittgensteinian Fideism? London: SCM Press, 2005.

This collection traces the development from an early critique of Wittgensteinians, offered in Kai Nielsen’s 1967 article ‘Wittgensteinian Fideism’. The article is reprinted here, along with further exchanges between D. Z. Phillips – probably the most influential interpreter of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of religion – and Kai Nielsen.

Phillips, D. Z. and Mario von der Ruhr, eds. Religion and Wittgenstein’s Legacy. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005.

A collection of essays that discusses Wittgenstein’s contributions to, and reception in, the philosophy of religion. The collection treats of both ‘primitive’ and Western religion, and covers Wittgenstein’s early as well as later thinking. Gareth Moore’s contribution in particular offers an insightful criticism of Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. ‘Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough.’Philosophical Occasions 1912–1951. Eds. James Carl Klagge and Alfred Nordmann. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1993. 119–55.

Frazer’s treatment of the magic and the religion of primitives was the focus of most of Wittgenstein’s own discussion of religion.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Culture and Value, revised ed. Ed. G. H. von Wright. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief. Ed. Cyril Barrett. Oxford: Blackwell, 1966.

Much of Wittgenstein’s probing material on religion that has been subject of development by Wittgensteinians are found in these two collections.

Sample Syllabus

Book on Syllabus

Clack, Brian R. An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Religion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

Week 1: Introduction to Early Wittgenstein

Clack, Brian R. An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Religion. Chapters 1–2.

Hansen, Stig B. ‘Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Religion.’Philosophy Compass 6.2 (2011): 142–51, doi: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00374.x.

Week 2–3: Early Wittgenstein: Themes in Logic and Religion

Armstrong, David. A World of States of Affairs. Chapter 13. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Hansen, Stig Børsen. ‘Unrestricted Quantification and Natural Theology: Is “The World” On The Index?’European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 2.2 (2010): 89–110.

Cameron, Ross. ‘Much Ado About Nothing: A Study of Metaphysical Nihilism.’Erkenntnis 64 (2006): 193–222.

Hansen, Stig Børsen. ‘Metaphysical Nihilism and Cosmological Arguments: Some Tractarian Comments.’European Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming), doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0378.2010.00409.x.

Shields, Philip R. Logic and Sin in the Writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Chapters 1–3. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Week 4: Wittgenstein as a Jewish Thinker

Stern, David. ‘Was Wittgenstein a Jew?’Wittgenstein: Biography and Philosophy. Ed. James C. Klagge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 237–72.

Chatterjee, Ranjit. Wittgenstein and Judaism: A Triumph of Concealment. Chapter 3. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.

Labron, Tim. Wittgenstein’s Religious Point of View. Chapter 4. London: Continuum, 2006.

Week 5: The Later Wittgenstein: Magic in Primitive Religion

Clack, Brian R. An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Religion. Chapter 3.

Clack, Brian R. Wittgenstein, Frazer and Religion. Chapters 4, 5, 8. Hampshire: Palgrave, 1999.

Hansen, Stig Børsen. ‘The Later Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Religion.’Philosophy Compass 5.11 (2010): 1013–22, doi: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00339.x.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. ‘Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough.’Philosophical Occasions, 1912–1951. Eds. James Carl Klagge and Alfred Nordmann. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1993. 119–55.

Week 6: The Later Wittgenstein: Language Games and Fideism

Clack, Brian R. An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Religion. Chapter 4.

Nielsen, Kai and D. Z. Phillips, eds. Wittgensteinian Fideism? Chapters 1–2. London: SCM Press, 2005.