The Fideism of the Wittgensteinians

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Bottone, Angelo
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Among the various English philosophical currents that have dealt with religion, “Wittgensteinian fideists” have, more than anyone else, stressed the relativity of beliefs and their relation to the forms of life in which they originate. The term “Wittgensteinian fideism” belongs to Kai Nielsen, who attributed a fideist position to pupils or followers of Wittgenstein, philosophers such as Winch, Hughes, Malcolm, Cavell, Phillips, and later to Wittgenstein himself.1 What these thinkers have in common is the idea that theological discourse is sui generis and therefore cannot be understood and judged in terms other than its own; the truth and meaning of a religious world view should not be understood on the basis of the object that it wishes to represent but only on the basis of the tradition or the community within which the view has emerged and in which it has its function. In the present article, we shall examine the positions of Norman Malcolm and D. Z. Phillips, the most representative of this line of thought, as well as Kay Nielsen’s critique of their positions and the position of Yong Huang.