- Religious Skeptic1
The importance of Tim Labron’s Wittgenstein and Theory arises from two sources. It attempts to articulate the revealed truth about theology presented in the life and work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951). Then it broadens the argument from a truth-searching experiment to a “hard” version of theological foundationalism. The author singles out the worldwide philosopher of language’s religious beliefs together with what is known of his rational or intuitive formulation of God and his relationships to man and the world. The differences between Wittgenstein and theology is a logical difference between Wittgenstein’s soul-searching writings, including the adventures of his private life, placed within Labron’s Lutheran Protestant thought about the professional value of theology. In the introduction, the author spells out the differences between the two approaches, telling that “Wittgenstein’s philosophy through the lens of theology and the philosophy of religion” seemed hard to understand “in light of the multitude of voices and contradictions” (3). Did Wittgenstein believe in God, or was he an anxiety-ridden atheist or agnostic, or speculating as a mystic?
Considering the different voices of philosophy and religion, Labron proceeds with a short biography of Wittgenstein (10–19). The stories are depicted as anecdotes of his life and practices. The brutal trajectory of Wittgenstein’s life was full of personal crises. Coming from a wealthy Austrian family of Jewish-Christian creed, he saw reflected in his own life the fate of political absurdities and ideological problems. Wittgenstein experienced the collapse of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. He volunteered for military service in the First World War and at the end was exiled in Italy. Afterwards, he escaped from the Austro-German Anschluss (1938) by settling in England, thereby fleeing the Holocaust during the Second World War.
The biography of Wittgenstein and Theology does not bring out into the open a significant chunk of Wittgenstein’s personality as a homosexual male. In an orthodox Europe between the political struggles of the World Wars, homosexuality was considered illegal in both Austria and England, where [End Page 305] Wittgenstein lived. In the public, homosexuals experienced an extreme fear or disgust because of the medical or sexual “pathology” they suffered. In Labron’s rather conservative view, the dogmatic struggles of Wittgenstein’s emotional response seem to direct (or redirect) him towards a hidden but non-conformist Christian faith. Indeed, Wittgenstein repudiated his mother’s Catholic Church (although he was buried in a Catholic ceremony), but the Wittgenstein family was regarded as Jewish without actively taking part in the Jewish communal life of Vienna. Wittgenstein embraced religious doubts about his personal identity and adopted an errant tendency of modern, metaphysical inquiry including Buddhism and mythology. Indeed, Wittgenstein was an unorthodox man with a rich cluster of meanings—but a man of mystery.
Wittgenstein’s voice came from a sensitive and creative outsider. In Wittgenstein’s early philosophy, his dissertation Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1923) is his only book-like volume. It contains a sequence of elementary propositions in numbered and subnumbered order, inviting reader involvement to come to an understanding. However, the other writings are “broken down into smaller pieces” starting with “false propositions” (35). Wittgenstein’s small (and also large) elements are the connected and disconnected fragments of The Blue and Brown Books (1933–1935), Philosophical Investigations (1953), Culture and Value (1977), On Certainty (1969), and other works. The broken and unbroken flow of fragments—almost biblical Proverbs, with questions and answers of the commands—composes the moral judgment of Wittgenstein’s new philosophy. In practical philosophy, the meaning of Wittgenstein’s fragmentary style of writing remains unclear and subject to speculation and interpretation—or maintaining as skeptical or mystical reaction Wittgenstein’s silence.
After the chapter on Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, this book comes full circle to the concluding part in which the content is theological philosophy. Labron seemed to expect “criticism from many angles given the variants in interpreting Wittgenstein compounded by various theological points of view” (61). This criticism would create Wittgensteinian certainties and uncertainties as to accepting the Lutheran Protestant truth claim underlying the ground of Labron’s book. Rather, Wittgenstein and...