Ludwig Wittgenstein once believed that language's function was to name
objects and the meaning of language was found in the objects for which
it stands. He later rejected this and centred on how language works
and is used, believing that problems of religious language come from
misunderstanding its usage. Wittgenstein was no longer concerned with
the truth or falsity of language but the way it is used and the
functions that it performs, as he said 'Don't ask for the meaning ask
for the use.'
Wittgenstein recognised that language is equivocal as words have many
different meanings, such as the word 'pen' whose meaning changes in
He saw language as a game, which like all games had its own set of
rules. Different contexts or 'forms of life' are like different
language games with their own self contained rules. Those not involved
in a particular language game effectively become 'non-players' and so
the language holds no meaning for them, however, this does not give
the non-believer the right to dismiss religious language as
Wittgenstein used the example of 'soul' to illustrate the problems of
trying to use words in the wrong language 'game'. He felt that the
problems stemming from the word 'soul' are caused because people try
to see it as a physical object. Such problems would disappear if
people realised that the 'physical object game' didn't apply in this
It was argued that language is a social product, therefore individuals
could not have their own private language as one could not be certain
that language was being used correctly. Wittgenstein therefore
rejected Descartes view that he had proved his existence because of
his private thoughts 'I think therefore I am'.
Wittgenstein believed that only solutions to language were possible.
The term 'language games' implies that it is part of an activity. He
argued that is usage and meaning is dependent upon its function and
society uses language in a specific and agreed way. Wittgenstein
called these rules 'grammar', for example, to say that 'God has big
feet' is not playing to the rules of the game because a convention
says it is inappropriate to God.
Wittgenstein said that 'philosophy may in no way interfere with the
usage of language only describe it'. However, to change the
description of a language game can have dramatic effects. D.Z.
Phillips used the example of 'God is love', which he argued was not a
description but a rule for how the word 'God' is to be used.
Statements about religious belief are actually descriptions of the
grammar of the religious...