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Theology after Wittgenstein Paperback – August 21, 1997

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Paperback, August 21, 1997
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: The Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge; 2nd edition (August 21, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281050635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281050635
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.7 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #768,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Fergus Gordon Thomson Kerr, OP, FRSE, a prominent scholar, widely recognized for his contributions in the areas of philosophy and theology, is a Scottish Roman Catholic priest of the English Dominican Province.

Customer Reviews

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Scott Cowan on May 8, 2013
In Theology after Wittgenstein Fergus Kerr argues that Wittgenstein's writings--particularly his later work--have strong religious significance and are of great importance for Christian theologians today. His purpose is also to show that theologians are in a good position to understand them (vii). A primary concern for Wittgenstein was overcoming Augustine's theological rendering of the nature of language and, similarly, Descartes' philosophical rendering of the self (40). Descartes' turn to the first-person--"I think, therefore I am"--shifted the terms of what it meant to be human: from being rational animals, to being consciousness (4). From this point of view, the subjective self is autonomous and egocentric; the sole referent of the word "I" is privately hidden in the mind and is the best guarantor of valid experience. Such a conception creates the illusion that our souls are bodiless, yet sit within our bodies (94). To resist the influence of these metaphysical ways of thinking we must watch our use of language about ourselves (187).

The presumption of a Cartesian ego, which Kerr sees permeating theology in the 20th century, cultivates a disregard for the communal interactions that shape the limits of our speech and actions, and a disregard for the value of our bodies. Therefore, Kerr highlights the theological significance of Wittgenstein's attacks on the assumptions of the modern mentalist-individualist premise: we do not begin with meanings in our heads, but with a social and historical world. By taking Wittgenstein's reformative claims seriously, we are provided new ways of expressing what it means to be human (170): our souls are not hidden in the depths of ourselves, but are on display in the actions we perform in the world.
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By toronto on January 30, 2014
As with other of Kerr's books, this one is clearly written, and operates from a Catholic (Aquinas, mostly) perspective. The book is mostly a pretty good introduction to the later Wittgenstein -- but there isn't really much theology in it, just the recurring theme of moving past Cartesianism as a necessary move for contemporary theology. Perhaps the best material in it is the discussion of the quote from Augustine that kicks off the Philosophical Investigations.

The surprising omission is Tolstoy, since a crucial transformative moment in Wittgenstein's life was the discovery of Tolstoy's Gospels in Brief during World War One. Also Dostoyevsky: how can one talk about Wittgenstein's religiosity without Dostoyevsky?
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7 of 38 people found the following review helpful By trini on July 15, 2011

[[[[ (11th Dec. 2011: Updating note.) Near the end of this review I refer to Anthony Kenny's book Philosophy in the Modern World. I have now had published on amazon UK and USA a review of Kenny's book which gives at some length my views on Wittgenstein and the retreat of 20th century philosophy as a whole into mere linguistic analysis. I sum up the work of very many of the philosophers discussed in Kenny's book by adapting St Augustine's dictum: "Bene cucurristis sed extra viam - you ran (or talked) well and had a lot of fun, but you weren't doing real philosophy at all". ]]]]

I cannot be brief, because Kerr's book really calls for very extensive comment.

Kerr's book fails. Its title implies, and Kerr explicitly claims, that Wittgenstein has inaugurated a new era in the study of theology. I reject this. The very first words of his book (Preface, p.vii) are: "The purpose of this book is to show students of theology that they have much more to gain from reading Wittgenstein's later writings than is commonly supposed, and, secondly, that they are in a good position to understand them." I give a 1-star rating to the book because, although I suppose that Kerr gives an accurate evaluation (is that possible?) of Wittgenstein's thought, Kerr does not see the significance of, or even mention, a crippling lacuna at the heart of Wittgenstein's `theology'. In Kerr's book, we get something on Frazer's Golden Bough, but no index references to or treatment of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. This recalls the appalling section in The God Delusion where Dawkins compares the rise of Christianity to the emergence of the `cargo cults' in Polynesia in the 19th and 20th centuries.
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