Wittgenstein, Faith, and Cognitive Science of Religion
This course wil be taught on-line
- Gain an understanding of the way in which Richard Dawkins understands faith;
- Gain an understanding of the way in which Pascal Boyer explains religious belief in terms of ‘inference systems’;
- Gain an understanding of what Daniel Dennett means when he says that religion is a natural phenomenon in Breaking the Spell and an understanding of Dennett’s conception of consciousness and how it is related to his understanding of religious belief;
- Develop a critical examination of the work of Dawkins, Boyer, and Dennett in the light of Wittgenstein’s remarks about scientism (PI, §109), the ascription of psychological predicates to human beings (PI, §§281, 283), and about religious belief (in the ‘Lectures on Religious Belief’ and in On.
In this course we will look at the work of a biologist (Richard Dawkins), an anthropologist (Pascal Boyer), and a philosopher (Daniel Dennett) who each think that the way to understand religion is to either (i) understand it as being in competition with science or (ii) to understand it using the tools of science (or both). We will examine Dawkins’s understanding of religious belief and its relationship to evidence, and then look at Pascal Boyer’s understanding of religious belief in terms of ‘inference systems’ in the mind/brain, and then look at Dennett’s understanding of religion as a natural phenomenon, as well as at his understanding of consciousness.
As a way of critically examining the accounts of religion given by Dawkins, Boyer, and Dennett we will use the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein did not think of religion as being in direct conflict with science and was critical of ‘scientistic’ understandings of religion. His work can be used to criticise cognitive scientists as being scientistic. Wittgenstein’s philosophical remarks also provide us with tools to critically examine the conceptual frameworks deployed in cognitive science of religion. In the Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked that “…only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves like) a living human being can one say: it has sensations; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious” (§281). The Philosophical Investigations was first published in 1953 but his ‘reminder’ about the correct ascription of psychological predicates has not been heeded by many of those working in psychology, neurophysiology, biology, anthropology, and philosophy in the time since then. In 2009 Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker noted that it is common for scientists to ascribe psychological predicates to minds, brains, or parts of brains (and not to the human being) and they called this ‘the mereological fallacy’. We should note that it is also common among cognitive scientists of religion to ascribe psychological predicates to minds, brains, parts of brains, or to ‘inference systems’ in the mind/brain.
The five seminars will be divided up as follows:
- Dawkins on faith, evidence, and religious belief;
- Pascal Boyer on how inference systems can help us to understand religion;
- Daniel Dennett on religion as a natural phenomenon and on consciousness;
- The later Wittgenstein’s understanding of religious belief;
- Scientism and the mereological fallacy.
- Dawkins, R. The God Delusion (10th Anniversary edition), London: Penguin, 2016.
- Boyer, P. Religion Explained, New York: Basic Books, 2001.
- Dennett, D. Breaking the Spell, London: Penguin, 2007.
- Wittgenstein, L. Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.
- Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
For more details see table in informações úteis
Robert G. Vinten. Education: (1) PhD in Epistemology, ‘Muito Bom’ (Very Good) – unanimous, Nov. 2018 (Universidade Nova); (2) Post Graduate Certificate in Education 2008 (a teaching qualification I received from Oxford Brookes University, UK); (3) MA in Philosophy, May 2000, Grade Point Average 3.92/4 (Georgia State University, U. S. A.); (4) MA in Philosophy, July 1997, Upper-class second (University of Glasgow. The theses that I wrote at the University of Glasgow, Georgia State University, and Universidade Nova all concerned the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Employment: I am currently employed as a postdoctoral research fellow within the FCT Project: Epistemology of Religious Belief: Wittgenstein, Grammar, and the Contemporary World. I have quite a lot of teaching experience. In 2020 I delivered three seminars via Zoom about Wittgenstein and Hinge Epistemology for the University of Porto. Between 2006 and 2013 I worked as a Lecturer in a college in the United Kingdom, teaching philosophy and critical thinking to 16-18 year old students. Between 2003 and 2007 I worked as a seminar tutor at the University of Reading, giving seminars on a wide variety of topics: Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Religion, Logic, Early Modern Philosophy. In 2000 I worked as a Lecturer at Georgia State University and taught
classes on Critical Thinking. I had a book published in 2020 by Anthem Press – Wittgenstein and the Social Sciences – and I have had many articles published in academic journals (mostly concerning Wittgenstein’s philosophy). I have given many presentations at conferences in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, and the United States.