Reading Wittgenstein (on Belief) with Tillich (on Doubt)by Gorazd Andrejč

Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie


Philosophy / Religious studies


Gorazd Andrejč

Reading Wittgenstein (on Belief) with Tillich (on Doubt)

Summary: In this paper, I explore the possibility of reading Wittgenstein’s understanding of religious belief with Tillich’s concept of existential/religious doubt, especially as developed in his Dynamics of Faith. I argue, first, that Wittgenstein’s understanding of religious belief as a deep certainty of a grammatical remark is not the same as his understanding of hinge-certainty of “hinge propositions”, and that the relevant difference is that Wittgenstein leaves room for the possibility of doubt in the former but not in the latter. Second, I argue that Tillich’s concept of dynamic faith by which Tillich explicates the role of doubt internal to religious believing can enrich the Wittgensteinian conception of religious belief. Despite the notable differences between Wittgenstein’s thoughts and Tillich’s overall system of theology, Tillich’s treatment of the concept of “faith” signals a possibility of a more positive way of relating Wittgenstein’s grammatical investigation and Tillich’s mature understanding of philosophical theology. At the end of the essay, responding to D. Z. Phillips’ negative assessment of Tillich’s theology in the name of Wittgenstein, I suggest what such positive way of relating the two might look like.

Zusammenfassung: In diesem Artikel erkunde ich die Möglichkeit des Lesens von Wittgensteins Verständnis des religiösen Glaubens in Bezug auf Tillichs

Begriff des existentiellen/religiösen Zweifels, vor allem in seiner Dynamik des

Glaubens. Als Erstes werde ich argumentieren, dass Wittgensteins Verständnis des religiösen Glaubens als eine tiefe Gewissheit einer grammatischen Bemerkung nicht das Gleiche ist wie sein Verständnis von Angelsicherheit der »Angelsätze.« Der Unterschied ist, dass Wittgenstein ein Raum für die Möglichkeit von Zweifel im ersten Konzept lässt, aber nicht im Zweiten. Ich werde dann argumentieren, dass Tillichs Konzept des dynamischen Glaubens – in welchem er die Rolle des internen Zweifels am religiösen Glauben expliziert – Wittgensteins Konzeption des religiösen Glaubens signifikant bereichern kann. Trotz der bemerkenswerten Unterschiede zwischen den Gedanken Wittgensteins und

Tillichs Gesamtsystem der Theologie, signalisiert Tillichs Behandlung des Begriffs des »Glaubens« eine Möglichkeit eines positiven Bezuges zwischen Wittgensteins grammatischer Untersuchung und Tillichs reifer philosophischer TheoNZSTh 2015; 57(1): 60–86 

Gorazd Andrejč: Junior Research Fellow, Woolf Institute, 12–14 Grange Road,

UK-Cambridge CB3 9DU, E-Mail: logie. Am Ende des Aufsatzes, als Reaktion auf D.Z. Phillips negative Beurteilung von Tillichs Theologie im Namen von Wittgenstein, werde ich einen

Vorschlag machen, wie die positivere Art der Beziehung der Beiden aussehen könnte.

DOI 10.1515/nzsth-2015-0004

I Introduction

It is not common to see the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein combined with the theology, or philosophy, of Paul Tillich. With a few exceptions, theologians usually see Wittgenstein’s thought as positively compatible either with Barthian or neo-Barthian (i.e. post-liberal) theologies (e.g. George Lindbeck, Hans Frei), or with Thomas Aquinas (e.g. Grammatical Thomists such as David Burrell and

Fergus Kerr). Similarly, when Wittgensteinian philosophers look for a theological partner, they tend to take Barth, Aquinas or others, almost never Tillich. For example, while D.Z. Phillips described Barth as “the guardian of the grammar of the Faith”,1 he was sometimes ambivalent and at other times openly critical of Tillich.2 More recently, Stephen Mulhall has not only embraced Grammatical

Thomism but suggested significant fresh developments within this school of thought.3 In the light of all this, it may seem at least unusual if not misguided to try to combine Wittgenstein with Tillich.

Nevertheless, I will argue that reading Wittgenstein and Tillich together can be meaningful and theologically fruitful. By relating Wittgenstein’s thoughts on religious belief to Tillich’s on doubt, I am not attempting to say that Wittgenstein and Tillich were engaged in the same, or even very similar projects. To an extent, their investigations were guided by disparate guiding concerns. They wrote in markedly different styles and made different conceptual moves on  1 D. Z. PHILLIPS, “Philosophy and Theology: Too Close for Comfort: A Reply to Tage Kurten”,

D. Z. Phillips’ Contemplative Philosophy of Religion: Questions and Responses, ed. by Andy

F. SANDERS (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 115. 2 D. Z. PHILLIPS, “Philosophy and Theology: Too Close for Comfort: A Reply to Tage Kurten”, 114–118, 122–123. 3 Most recently and elaborately, Stephen Mulhall exposited his work on Grammatical Thomism in his Stanton Lectures at Divinity Faculty, Cambridge, between January and March, 2014. Stephen MULHALL, The Great Riddle: Wittgenstein and Nonsense, Theology and Philosophy. Stanton

Lectures 2013–14, Divinity Faculty, Cambridge. Available online in Audio format: http://sms., [Last Accessed 18.07.2014].

Reading Wittgenstein (on Belief) with Tillich (on Doubt)  61 some vital topics for both: Wittgenstein’s austere approach to philosophy and life, and his style of writing in ‘gnomic remarks’, contrast sharply with Tillich’s lavish and sometimes poetic theological prose. Wittgenstein’s anti-Platonist and anti-metaphysical remarks, too, appear to be at odds with at least some important aspects of Tillich’s thought: for example, his claim that “metaphysics cannot be avoided in any theology”,4 as well as with the philosophical background which influenced Tillich, namely German idealism (predominantly Shelling, his understanding of philosophy and the grand, systematic ways of combining philosophy and theology).5 These important differences constrain any attempt to relate constructively the thought of Wittgenstein to that of Tillich.