Language is a cage which resists attempts to talk significantly about things outside the factual realm. Still, the thrust of this tendency ‘points to something.’

Charles L. Creegan, Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality, and Philosophical Method

The following are some notes on the chapter Implications for Religion from the book Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality, and Philosophical Method by Charles L. Creegan. This chapter attempts an integration between the work of the two major philosophers (one a logician and one a theologian). I think he brings up some very helpful points.

In this post I will focus on his discussion of Wittgenstein’s view on religion.

The Tractatus conception of the ‘mystical’ is connected with Wittgenstein’s understanding of the self as transcendent. Only something outside the world can have a full view of it. The self marks the limit of the world. The world is mirrored in language. The self’s transcendence of language implies a transcendence of the world, and the possibility of new understanding not bounded by language.

ibid, p. 77

This coincides with the sayings and writings of pretty much all mystics throughout history. The cool thing about Wittgenstein’s addition to it is that he reaches this point via a strict logical analysis!

Wittgenstein … explains the function of religious language as akin to that of a simile… A simile is an explanation of one structure by means of another… In the case of religion … the object of the simile is not describable otherwise than by the simile. Nor is this a contingent fact which is subject to remedy by further scientific investigation; rather the ‘simile’ is in this case an attempt to use language to express something beyond the linguistically definable world. Insofar as ethics and religion are attempts to get beyond language … they will never be scientific.

ibid pgs 77-78

Thus, facts have no bearing whatsoever on religious belief, or faith. All religious language is by necessity metaphorical, and so what matters is the message, not the ‘facts.’ Only people without faith need facts. It’s easy to misinterpret this statement as “science denying”, but one needs to read it with context.

Image from the book Just the Facts Ma’am.