According to a common reading in the Wittgensteinian literature, William James’s writings, especially the psychological ones, were for the Viennese philosopher a paradigmatic example of conceptual confusion. This chapter argues against this reading, although without minimizing the criticism that Ludwig Wittgenstein leveled against James. More specifically, rather than ascertaining whether Wittgenstein was right or wrong about James, the aim is to figure out what picture of James Wittgenstein offers, and if and in what terms anything specifically Jamesian remains in Wittgenstein’s work. Since it was through the Varieties of Religious Experience that Wittgenstein first came into contact with James, religion is the starting point for this reflection. I will then focus on the pragmatic maxim and Wittgenstein’s comments about the pragmatist conception of truth. The three central sections of this chapter deal with psychology. I will then broaden the discussion to the theme of aspect-seeing, and finally, in the last section, examine Wittgenstein’s observations about the “good” in pragmatism in order to draw some concluding remarks.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition that has shaped much of Western thought, we find an insistence on love as a requirement. Many points of philosophical interest arise from this injunction to love, irrespective of whether one is a religious believer. This chapter begins by asking if it makes sense to suppose that love can be commanded, and moves on to examine various “demandingness” objections to the commandment to love one’s neighbor. The chapter then considers, and rejects, the possibility of purely a secularized interpretation of the Christian ethic that dispenses with the religious framework altogether. The concluding section looks at how various religious conceptions of love connect up with certain fundamental assumptions about the nature of the cosmos we inhabit and the meaning of human life.
Most people exhibit resilience in the face of losing those they love most. Three views have been put forward concerning this pattern. First is the conventional view that this response gets things just right. Second, the quasi-medical view is that grief represents a pathological disorder. And third, the minority view is that our typical grief responses are in fact insufficient. This chapter explores this terrain by examining the surprisingly strong case to be made for the eccentric-sounding third view in light of the mismatch between the massive loss that is suffered and the relatively muted response that most people muster.
This chapter traces some main lines of Jacques Lacan’s interpretation of religion and divinity, which differs significantly from Freud’s critique. Orienting ourselves with respect to what Lacan calls das Ding, the enigmatic desire of the Other, it is possible to sketch a Lacanian analysis of religion parallel to that offered by Kant in Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone. The difference is that where Kant looked to find in religious representations, especially those of Christianity, the underlying dynamics of pure rationality and of a morality founded upon it, Lacan discerns the very structure of subjectivity and its relation to the unknown Other. New perspectives are thereby opened up on a whole series of problems, including the unconscious dynamics of enjoyment, practices of sacrifice, the structural differences between various religions, and Christian doctrines of incarnation, love, and mystical unknowing.
Acknowledging the layers of the mind below the level of overt consciousness can lead to very divergent accounts of religious belief. One response—taken by Freud himself—argues that religious belief should be abandoned as unavoidably contaminated by unconscious motivations (e.g. an infantile longing for security) that distort our rational judgement. By contrast, Jung maintains that religious thinking is shaped by unconscious structures (the ‘archetypes’), which can play a vital role in the development of an integrated human personality. This chapter examines these contrasting psychoanalytic interpretations of religion, and then explores more recent accounts of the workings of the human psyche and how they affect the status of religious belief. A concluding section discusses some general implications of all this for the epistemology of religious belief and the way in which philosophy of religion should be conducted.
Rachel B. Blass
While Freudian psychoanalysis is famous for its negative evaluation of religion, many contemporary analytic schools reject this view, regarding religion positively. Interestingly, both critical and positive psychoanalytic approaches to religion are based on the idea that religious belief is an illusion. This chapter explores these approaches, their development, and the thinking that underlies them especially in relation to the notion of truth and the personal quest for it. It sheds light on the complexity of Freud’s thinking on truth and conviction and draws attention to a neglected dimension that is crucial to his understanding of religion. The chapter points to the fact that despite fundamental differences, the Freudian world view has more affinity with that of the religious believer than commonly thought. In turn, the world views of the psychoanalytic schools which have regarded religion positively are actually opposed to those of most believers.
Michael Lacewing and Richard G.T. Gipps
This introduction provides an overview of the chapters in this section, which explores some of the important contributions of psychoanalysis to our understanding of religion, with particular emphasis on Sigmund Freud’s views. In The Future of an Illusion (1927), Freud argues that religion—or more specifically, beliefs in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and its prehistory—is an ‘illusion’, an idea that is not necessarily false, but one that is produced by the wish for it to be true. Each of the chapters agrees with the notion that there is a close connection between religious belief and desire, and addresses Freud’s account of the origin of religion in structures of subjectivity. Topics include Jacques Lacan’s theory of religion, the implications of psychoanalytic theories of subjectivity for philosophy of religion, the epistemology of religious belief in relation to the epistemology of psychoanalysis itself, and Freud’s supposed view that religion expresses a ‘historical truth’.