Natural Thoughts and Unnatural ‘Oughts’: Lessing, Wittgenstein, and Contemporary CSR

In Duncan Pritchard, Nina Venturinha & Robert Vinten (eds.), Wittgenstein and Cognitive Science of Religion. Bloomsbury (forthcoming)
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Wittgenstein’s “Lectures on Religious Belief” (LRB) provide a source for as yet unexplored connections to religious ideas as treated in Robert N. McCauley’s book Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not (2013), and to other CSR scholars who focus attention on how “cognitively speaking it is religion that is natural and science that is largely unnatural.” Tensions are explored in this paper between our “maturationally natural” religious inclinations to adopt religious ideas and the “unnatural” demands sometimes made upon people, either a) by imposition of evidentialist norms over religious utterances, or b) by an agent’s adherence to perceived demands of theological correctness and to a particularly demanding conception of genuine or authentic faith. Wittgenstein uses Bertrand Russell and Father O'Hara to articulate these two tensions, and to offer alternatives which to some degree assuage them. I argue that such tensions are not only illuminating of the more and less helpful models of the relationship between reason and faith, but also open up new research questions which connect contemporary CSR and Wittgensteinian (or more broadly Continental) approaches to philosophy of religion.

Author's Profile

Guy Axtell
Radford University


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