June 18, 2013

Quote of the Day: D. Z. Phillips on the Christian 'Image'

Consider the following example. There is a gentleman who appears advertising cigars on television. No sooner does this immaculate man light up cigars than women come from all quarters to gather round him. We can imagine people reacting in certain moods by saying, 'What a man!' Here, 'man' is clearly not a purely descriptive term. They are extolling, praising, wondering. A cluster of images influence their attitude: success, flair, charm, panache, the great seducer, etc., etc. At the heart of Christianity is a very different event. It is that of a torn body on a cross. Here, too, it was said, 'Behold, the man!' Do we need anything other than these two images to explain why they should be at war in the human soul?

- D. Z. Phillips, Belief, Change, and Forms of Life (1986), p. 87

It has been widely remarked that Berkeley's discussion of religious language in Alciphron VII anticipates, in certain respects, the philosophy of the later Wittgenstein, but there has not been a detailed exploration of how far this anticipation goes. With this in mind, I've been reading up on Wittgensteinian approaches to philosophy of religion. D. Z. Phillips is the leading practitioner of Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion today, and I find his work both fascinating and frustrating. His work is interesting in part because his philosophy of religion is actually just that - a philosophical account of religion - rather than a philosophical theory of God, or a rational reconstruction of religious belief, or something. Furthermore, sometimes, as in the quote above, his first-order religious remarks (that is, those remarks which he makes from 'inside' a Christian language-game, as he might put it) come across as quite insightful. His work is frustrating because he always seems to be refusing to give straight answers to crucial questions - but then, one could say the same thing about the later Wittgenstein. Phillips is often characterized as a fideist and a theological anti-realist, but he rejects both of these labels. He got labelled in this way due to rejecting evidentialism and realism. It seems that he thinks the fideist-evidentialist debate and the realist-anti-realist debate are somehow confused, but I've read quite a lot of his work (and some other Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion stuff) over the last couple of weeks, and he hasn't unconfused me so far. It certainly seems correct that his view cannot be stated in a way that satisfies him in terms of the way the issues are framed in mainstream analytic philosophy of religion, but what I haven't been able to find is an alternative way of framing the issues. Either God-talk is about an independent reality or not, and either religion is answerable to evidence or not. Of course there are intermediate positions, but Phillips doesn't seem to want to develop an intermediate position, he seems to want to reject these oppositions, and how that's supposed to work I just can't see. Posted by Kenny at June 18, 2013 11:48 AM
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