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Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 4, 1978

Ronald E. Hustwit
Pages 329-347

Understanding a Suggestion of Professor Cavell's
Kierkegaard's Religious State as a Wittgensteinian 'Form of Life'

The aim of the paper is to follow a lead of Prof. Stanley Cavell's in his paper, "Kierkegaard's On Authority and Revelation." The lead is: "to understand an utterance religiously you have to be able to share its perspective . . . The religious is a Kierkegaardian stage of life; and I suggest it should be thought of as a Wittgensteinian form of life." I try to present "form of life" as a larger picture sometimes necessary for understanding language-games, and to suggest that what counts as a form of life will depend upon what particular language-game one is trying to understand. Sometimes then, a person's religious belief might figure into this process as a relevant form of life. I then try to represent Kierkegaard's religious stage by discussing three related concepts: paradox, ideal interpretation, and subjectivity. Paradox is one criterion for marking off the religious stage from the ethical and the aesthetical stages. In the religious stage, the talk of believers about God is such that it interprets the events in one's life according to that belief. In calling this an "ideal interpretation" Kierkegaard is calling our attention to the difference between this and the scientific talk of hypothesis, observation, and evidence. The religious stage is subjectivity—a way of life. In it, the truth of what one says is measured by how one lives in relation to it. This, I suggest, is quite close to Wittgenstein's idea of a form of life being important for understanding the language used within it. My conclusion is that Prof. Cavell's suggestion is a helpful lead in thinking about the connection between Wittgenstein's "form of life" and Kierkegaard's religious stage.