Mario Von Der Ruhr
Swansea University
This work is intended to shed light on the nature of ritual conduct, both within and without a religious context, by critically examining positivist construals of such conduct and showing them to be inadequate. The discussion consists of three parts. Part 1 sketches out the central features of Vienna Circle positivism and looks at what the leading members of the Circle had to say about magic, mysticism, the miraculous, prayer, and immortality. The author concludes that the Circle's commitment to a problematic theory of meaning results in a distorted, reductivist account of religious belief and practice, imposing on religious discourse a grammar that is foreign to its subject matter. In this connection, the author also argues that, unlike the Vienna Circle's writings, Wittgenstein's Tractatus is not open to the charge of reductivism, and that its influence on the Circle was far more limited than is commonly thought. Part 2 works out the implications of the positivist approach for an understanding of (i) 'superstitious' beliefs and practices, and (ii) animistic beliefs and rituals. It is argued that, in so far as the positivist fails to understand non-religious ritual conduct, he is bound to misunderstand religious ritual conduct as well. Part 3, which works out the similarities and differences between Kant's and Wittgenstein's views on religion, is designed as a philosophical counterpoint to the positivist picture developed in Part 1. it is claimed that, while a Kantian analysis of religious belief is superior to a positivist account of it, its emphasis on the claims of reason, its conception of worship, and its view of the significance of the historical Jesus in the history of Christianity are ultimately incompatible with the Christian faith, and thus inferior to a Wittgensteinian construal, which eschews a general theory of religion and instead pays proper attention to particular manifestations of it
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