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Philosophie, Religionsphilosophie


Sass, Hartmut von


Sprachspiele des Glaubens. Eine Studie zur kontemplativen Religionsphilosophie von Dewi Z. Phillips mit ständiger Rücksicht auf Ludwig Wittgenstein.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2010. XVI, 454 S. m. Abb. gr.8° = Religion in Philosophy and Theology, 47. Kart. EUR 80,00. ISBN 978-3-16-150460-0.


Asle Eikrem

Together with P. F. Bloemendaal’s Grammars of Faith (Peeters, 2006), Sprachspiele des Glaubens represents the only systematic ap­proach to the remarkable philosophy of D. Z. Phillips. Considering the important impact Phillips’ thinking has had in much of contemporary philosophy of religion, these works are most welcome.
V. S.’ study has three main aims. First of all, it endeavors to analyze the way in which Phillips and (partly) Wittgenstein set out to reorient philosophy (of religion) both methodologically and conceptually. Secondly, internal inconsistencies and unclarities in Phillips’ philosophical conception are sought to get rid of. Thirdly, v. S. attempts, through critical dialogue, to develop the insights offered by Phillips and Wittgenstein in directions which offer new philosophical insights on religion.
By virtue of him being a philosophical »heir« of Wittgenstein, one of D. Z. Phillips’ main strategies as a philosopher of religion consisted in addressing the presuppositions upon which classical theist philosophies and natural theologies formulated their problems and articulated their solutions. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that v. S. starts out by discussing the methodological strategies of Phillips’ philosophy of religion. Here v. S. pays nuanced critical attention to the, often quite subtle, distinctions between a descriptive, contemplative, therapeutic-interventive and imaginative philosophical approach to religion. While he his sympathetic to the philosophical mindset contemplating the conceptual possibilities of religious discourses, he is also adamant in spotting the shortcomings of Phillips’ way of carrying through such a program. Both his critique of the »positivistic remnant« in both Wittgenstein’s and Phillips’ descriptive ideal, and his argument that Phillips’ way of doing philosophy of religion is lacking an aspect of contempla­tive self-reflection, is convincing. This chapter is a worthwhile read, and v. S. succeeds well both in capturing the gradual shift of attention occurring in Phillips’ later writings as well as critically further utilizing the methodological direction taken in Phillips in order to shape a path of his own to follow.
In part two we are introduced to the accusations of fideism often directed towards philosophers of religion of wittgensteinian cast, as well as the responses to these on behalf of the latter. Though admitting that Phillips at times articulated views containing seeds of fideism, v. S. finds enough resources in Wittgenstein-inspired approaches to counter these accusations. Although v. S.’ analyzes are still very accurate, and although I agree with him that Phillips’ authorship, taken as a whole, is not fideist, I am more doubtful if his arguments succeeds equally well in this context. Even if it is true, as v. S. states, that Phillips’ is occupied with depth-grammatical clarifications of single concepts (such as God, reality, immortality, etc.), these clarifications depend on a philosophically clarified notion of what a context amounts to. On this issue, I am not able to find the needed philosophical resources in v. S.’ study. In this chapter we are also introduced to a discussion of how the unity of lan­-guage should be understood. Although I agree with v. S.’ claim that the unification of language is constituted in and through dialogical intelligibility, this does not preclude systematic reconstructions of the unity of language. What the unity of language may amount to depends on the purpose of a philosophical investigation, whe­-ther it being to »keep the conversation going«, as Rorty suggests, or to articulate subject matters in relation to a notion of truth not reducible to its communicative function.
The following part three deals with the way in which the mean­ing of the word »God« is established in, respectively, contemplative and theistic philosophies of religion. V. S. rejects Phillips’ claim that the latter are grammatically confused, arguing rather that they simply rely on a different depth-grammar of the concept of God compared to that of Phillips, recognizing the potential exis­tential value each alternative may have for reorienting the self-understanding of religious believers. In it I think we find a bal­anced appre­- ciation of Phillips’ philosophy of religion, freeing his contemplative contributions from his self-defeating polemics against a theist way of construing the reality of God. What is missing, however, is an indication of what kind of discourse is available in order to ex­- change reason for which conception of God is the more reasonable. This is necessary if we are to avoid it being completely arbitrary.
In part four v. S. attempts to critically reconstruct Phillips’ movement from what he terms an »internal realism« toward that of an »ordinary realism«. In it we find the theoretical underpinning of his contemplative-imaginative approach to the language-games of Christian faith. The central question guiding the discussion is if, or better: in what sense, we can speak of language-games as constitu­tive of a conceptual scheme distinctive of Christian faith. V. S. follows Phillips in stating that the ordinary realism of Christian faith comes to expression in the fact that the language-games of Christian faith do not describe reality, but constitutes the way in which certain constellations of people express reality religiously. This is indeed true, but what kind of thinking do these expressions exclude/include? Being religious undoubtfully includes being engaged in some kind of cognitive activity. V. S. would of course agree, and nod approving­ly to the contention that while cognitive activities are manners in which (human) being expresses itself religiously, not all are equally constructive for every purpose. What remains to be asked then is what the legitimate/non-legitimate purposes of philosophical re­flection are, and why. It is obvious that v. S. recognizes the value of a (revised) contemplative approach, but does he share Phillips’ exclusivist attitude in relation to other modes of philosophical reflection? Sometimes v. S. sounds just as methodologically reductionist as Phillips himself, while at other times he expresses himself somewhat more carefully. To my mind a methodological pluralism is to be preferred, because it is only through a variety of modes of reflective thinking that we are able to distance ourselves from the prejudices of common sense as they come to expression in our ordinary realisms. We can, and indeed should, pursue different philosophical purposes differently. To my mind a philosophy of ordinary realisms does not fulfill all legitimate philosophical purposes, and indeed will be a hindrance for understanding various aspects of religion if practiced in a methodologically reductionist manner. Even if I agree with his cri­-tique of foundationalist manners of thinking, there is a tendency in v. S.’ study also to exclude other theoretical alternatives only because of them being theoretical (i.e. metaphysical generalized accounts of reality), leaving too few modes of thinking philosophically available for understanding religion.
While the late Phillips gradually shifted his attention from curing confused thinking about religion, to curing our blindness of religious possibilities of sense, v. S. further develops this approach in the last part of his study. It consists in an endeavor not only to curing such »aspect-blindness«, but doing so by offering contemplative-imaginative »interventions« into religious self-understandings. While Phillips always expressed skepticism towards a philosophy being creative and existentially »therapeutic«, v. S. recognizes these aims as philosophical values to be pursued. With the reservations towards the reductionist tone of his procedure, I find his imaginative »sketches« rich and illuminating.
Moreover, Sprachspiele des Glaubens is an intellectually stimulating and carefully argued work. The title of v. S’ book is, however, quite misleading. The employment of the concept of »language-game« itself is not central to the analyses and arguments presented. V. S. is less occupied with offering a portrayal of the way in which D. Z. Phillips makes use of Wittgenstein’s notion of »language-games«, and more concerned with reconstructing the important philosophical insights offered through the heuristic (or analogical) and crea­tive use of this concept. V. S. thus follows D. Z. Phillips in his attempt to leave a concept – so clouded by repeated misunderstandings – behind in favor of focusing on clarifying the concrete philosophical gains of a Wittgenstein-inspired approach to religion.
V. S.’ dealings with Phillips’ writings are important in the sense that they make all the more clear to me that reading Phillips is most rewarding when knowing what to expect, and what to not expect, from his enquiries. Reading v. S.’ study is interesting when expecting to be offered methodological and conceptual means to recognize the particularities of religious sense, and by these means also to imagine religion differently. When confused about religious discourses a contemplative hermeneutics, like the one v. S. develops, might provide new ways of looking at things that resolves philosophical problems. It might as well not. It depends on what we hold to be satisfying solutions, i. e. on what we come to see as fa­cil­itating our understanding of religion. It is not altogether easy to see in what way v. S.’ development of a contemplative philosophy of religion excludes, or includes, other philosophical approaches to religion. While I find good sense in v. S.’ argument for the philosophical gains a contemplative-imaginative approach might have, I am left somewhat in the dark as to the philosophical purposes for which a contemplative approach might be found insufficient. It remains a question to me if not v. S., as was also the case among most others heirs of Wittgenstein, ends up in an aspect-blindness comparable to what he himself finds in the theist thinkers.