To what extent does the Theory of Language Games satisfactorily do justice to the potential of Wittgenstein’s contribution to the debate about religious language? In his first book, the ‘Tractatus’, Wittgenstein praises his friend ‘Mr Bertrand Russell for much of the stimulation of [his] thoughts’. In understanding his theory of logic games it is therefore necessary to understand the context of its origin and thus the implications of his theory as Wittgenstein saw them.
While the division of analysis into separate areas or games has far reaching ramifications, of particular interests are the implications the theory has on metaphysics and religious language. The Tractatus was defined as an attempt to ‘draw a limit to thought’1, to state clearly what could be asserted and the means by which these ‘facts’ could be represented. While his later works digress from this basic assumption remains in terms of language games.
These do not directly affect these assertions however it is his statement that ‘what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence’, that Wittgenstein essentially revokes. In talking of language games Wittgenstein asserts that scientific and religious statements, for example, cannot be mutually exclusive as they are of a different nature. The implications of the theological assertion that God created the world in seven days thus cannot be judged to contradict scientific beliefs such as the big bang theory as he sentences do in fact have different meaning and relevance.
Wittgenstein thus analyses the relations of philosophy to science and the world in terms of language. In order to avoid being ‘perplexed’2 by different value statements one must view philosophical statements as ‘description’ and ‘do away with all explanation’. As alluded to earlier this explanation of ordinary language being convoluted by the combination and confusion of separate language games has particular importance for the significance of religious language when it is seen as non-cognitive.
Figures such as Braithwaite and Randall are exponents of variations in the theory of language games in portraying religious assertions as performing ethical functions of expressing the speaker’s adherence to certain policies of action. Here Braithwaite asserts that it is not even necessary to fully believe in the myths of religions as factual but rather one must view them as parables, moments of enlightenment, which establish an example. Thus as Randall states such myths and prophets ‘teach us how to find the Divine; they show us visions of God’, however this ‘God’ is of a different nature to that of theological belief.
Randall does not mean to assert his belief in God as an external reality but rather as a kind of conscience as ‘our ideals, our controlling values, our ultimate concern’. This logic is however complex in relation to language games. The categorisation of religious language as establishing ’empirical psychological fact’3 is essentially a translating out of religion as contributing to human society as a necessary aid to the psyche. In this way as Jung put it is possible to ‘know God’ as a necessary reality in the psyche without the ‘non-cognitive symbols [of religious language] symbolizing some external thing.