The Unity of Language and Religious Belief: Gadamer and Wittgenstein

Dissertation, The Claremont Graduate University (1999)

The primary aim of this work is to pursue an understanding of the unity of language and its significance for philosophical accounts of religious belief. The issue is investigated by means of a critical evaluation of Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics and Paul Ricoeur's appropriation of philosophical hermeneutics in philosophy of religion. Ludwig Wittgenstein's work in language and understanding informs the direction of the evaluation. ;Beginning with Gadamer's well-known characterization of "prejudice," I trace his thinking to Heidegger's concept of historicity and the notion that all understanding is interpretation. We soon see that Gadamer's theory requires a transcendent, metaphysical concept in order to make sense of the notion that language is an interpretation of the world. However, this conflicts with his insightful observation that language is constitutive of one's world. The result is that we are left with a confused concept, namely, being that is prior to language. ;In an examination of Ricoeur's work, I show that this concept of being holds devastating consequences for philosophical accounts of religious belief. Misleading comparisons are made between being and God such that genuine religious concepts are ignored for the sake of philosophical concepts of transcendence. Thus, the unity of language espoused by philosophical hermeneutics lures the philosopher away from the contexts in which religious beliefs arise. ;Rather than abandoning altogether the notion of a unity of language, I turn to the writings of Rush Rhees, who relies heavily upon the work of Wittgenstein while offering criticisms of Wittgenstein's language game analogy. Rhees's account of the unity of language focuses on the notion of what it means to say something. He discusses the relationship between what is said and the life in which it is said. I argue that this account of the unity of language brings clarity to three issues in the philosophy of religion: discussions about which religious beliefs are true, attempts to relate religious beliefs to reality, and the role of the philosopher of religion
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