Friday, June 23, 2017

Wittgenstein, Religion, and the Problem of Life

If this post title doesn't bring in readers...

"The way to solve the problem you see in life is to live in a way that will make the problematic disappear.
     The fact that life is problematic shows that the shape of your life does not fit into life's mould. So you must change the way you live and, once your life does fit into the mould, what is problematic will disappear.
     But don't we have the feeling that someone who sees no problem in life is blind to something important, even to the most important thing of all?"(CV 27e)

Seems to me we have two things going on here:
1. Your problem is a lack of alignment with life. The problem is to get in alignment.
2. The problem is something important about life itself.

Does 1 contradict 2? Wittgenstein goes on to say that if you see the problem correctly it isn't a sorrow but a joy. So the problem exists, but is a good thing?

Well, what to make of that? A little later we get:
"In the course of our conversations Russell would often exclaim 'Logic's hell!'...
      I believe the main reason for feeling like this was the following fact: that every time some new linguistic phenomenon occurred to us, it could be retrospectively show that our previous explanation was unworkable....
     But that is the difficulty Socrates gets into trying to give the definition of a concept."(CV 30e)

This makes it sound hopeless, that is, trying to fit everything into a conceptual scheme that satisfies you logically, much less existentially.

     So, what does this have to do with religion? Well, we can try to solve our existential worries by bringing our thinking into alignment with life, but it seems to be impossible on two counts: the problem is in life itself, every solution produces other problems. If religion is a system of reference, perhaps a system of reference trying to solve the 'problem of life', does the above mean that these schemes are destined to fail? Or that they can only succeed by ignoring the problems they give rise to logically or otherwise? How can ANY system satisfy every question? I've met people, religious and not religious, who seemed to have an answer to everything. And while I did come way from these conversations unable to refute their position based on what I could figure out about their presuppositions,  I also came away feeling they were missing something. Something big. The problem of life. In fact, it seemed a kind of insanity.

What's the answer here? No answer? Serial answers? Distracting myself with questions? Politics? My whole life there's seemed to be a problem, but my experience has revealed thus far that there is no answer, at least for me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Wittgenstein and Religious Reference

Wittgenstein writes in Culture and Value:

"It strikes me that religious belief could only be something like a passionate commitment to a system of reference. Hence, although it's about belief, it's really about a way of living, or a way of assessing life."(CV 64e)

So, what is a 'system of reference'? Let's see, I suppose words are supposed to refer to things and if you have a system of those you have locutions, games, patterns of speech. So, the word God, while not referring to something empirical, has its use in the center of a religious system of reference that has empirical consequences. These consequences involve how one spends their time, their money, how one evaluates life situations, talks themselves into various emotional states, copes with life's stresses, thinks about the future, in many cases provides a community. A religious system of reference can accomplish all of these things.

He further says in 64e:

"It would be as though someone were first to let me see the hopelessness of my situation and then show me the means of rescue until, of my own accord, or not at any rate led to it by my instructor, I ran to it and grasped it."

The system of reference presents as a solution to hopelessness the adoption of a religious system of reference. For a system of reference to be able to do this it has to present hope and ways of responding within oneself and to others that reinforce the reference system, and thus the hope, even in the face of opposition, or, especially in the face of opposition. A system of reference is thus not merely an abstract set of game, but very practical, real-world games, where hope is at stake.

When people 'lose their religion', or regain and then lose it again, they have a rather difficult relation to the hope these reference systems, and the ways of life they create and embody, proffer. If one has felt the hope, had it taken away, regained it, and then lost it again, is there a 'diminishing return' in trying to regain it again? A loss of  emotional credibility, perhaps.

This approach to religion suggests the possibility of new systems of reference, without the dogmatic aspects of religion, that can play a similar role in restoring hope to the hopeless to religion. For many of us the widely available 'systems of reference' do no work. Thus we have to devise our own in the meantime. Is such a thing possible without a community? Or is it impossible for a solitary individual to do this?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wittgenstein and Religion 2

Quoting from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy quoting from Culture and Value:

"Rules of life are dressed up in pictures. And these pictures can only serve to describe what we are to do, not justify it. Because they could provide a justification only if they held good in other respects as well. I can say: "Thank these bees for their honey as though they were kind people who have prepared it for you"; that is intelligible and describes how I should like you to conduct yourself. But I cannot say: "Thank them because, look, how kind they are!"--since the next moment they may sting you." p. 29e

While this is not directly a religious statement, I think for Wittgenstein ethics and religion both involve language games that exceed what I'll call the "Logical Positivists' theory the of Legitimate Use of Language"(LPL for short). But for Wittgenstein it seems, the most important things are beyond LPL.

And it is difficult for me not to agree with this. Having passed the midpoint of my life, I find I am looking more and more for things beyond LPL, probably because of fear of death, but also a sense that LPL and those things within its confines do not give me the degree of peace I want; sorry, it doesn't, might as well be up front about it. I don't have any tricks up my sleeve or anything. I'm not going to spring something on you, like, "the answer was Jansenism all along".

But where can I turn? The vexing thing with this view is that there doesn't seem to be anywhere to go within this gloss on Wittgenstein. I call it a gloss because maybe someone out there has something better to say.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wittgenstein and Religion 1

I've been reading, here and there, parts of Culture and Value, and just got another book on Wittgenstein's lectures and conversations on a variety of topics. I thought I would focus my thinking on some of his remarks on religion. I come to it with the thought that Wittgenstein, kind of a mystic, would not apply standard empirical blahblahblah to religious thinking, but would focus on parts of religious practice, language games, and emotions.

One remark that has me thinking is when he wrote that when a believer in God asks "where did it all come from" s/he is NOT asking for a causal explanation, but is expressing an attitude toward ALL explanations.

I think he is on to something here. In my religious periods I would have agreed with that. This suggests that a Wittgensteinian gloss on religious talk is that there are language games that practitioners engage in, the features of those games are different than other types of games; but, and this is what I would add and maybe he thought or maybe he didn't, the fact that these games are not like math or science or history, does not mean we should necessarily denigrate all of them.

I read a book by Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing,  and, interesting though the book was, I felt like Krauss was missing the whole point of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' And I feel like Wittgenstein is pointing at part of my dissatisfaction with the book.

At another place he says that if Jesus did not resurrect, then he could help (italics in original). He said we would be trapped down here in 'hell'. Again, it's something I understand in some way, otherwise how to explain my love of Dante?

I've also been re-reading Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You (Wittgenstein was very moved by Tolstoy) and I want to agree with him so much but I can't.

This is the how I am responding to this so far, we'll see where it goes. In further posts I will have my copy of Culture and Value with me, so the posts will be better, I hope.