Positively beyond expression

“There are two atheisms of which one is a purification of the notion of God.”
― Simon Weil

It occurred to me recently, in thanks to a conversation with a friend of mine, that perhaps there is a theistic stream among the Logical positivists. Obviously the first name which might come to mind is Kurt Friedrich Gödel, famous for his incompleteness theorum(s), and also for his Ontological argument for the existence of God. However, it seems absurd to suppose any kind of theism in Quine, Carnap or A. J. Ayer. In fact, it seems like the whole Vienna circle is as guaranteed to be atheistic as the Jesus Seminar is guaranteed to be unorthodox. However, given Carnap’s unique ability to negotiate the use of entirely different ‘languages’ (given his appraisal of the realism vs antirealism debate) and to prefer to use that which is useful in place of that which is not, it seems as though in some logically possible worlds ‘Carnap-ians’ could semantically assent to Theism. What is more interesting: their semantic assent, as genuine as it would be, might simply hide a semantically inexpressible atheism. What, then, if the opposite were true? Supposing one were to read some parts of Wittgenstein as though it pointed towards a semantically inexpressible theism – what then? I have always thought that Wittgenstein sounds very similar to Simon Weil (and I LOVE Simon Weil). For instance, consider what she says in the following samples:


“We have to believe in a God who is like the true God in everything except that he does not exist, since we have not reached the point where God exists.”
― Simon Weil

“One can never really give a proof of the reality of anything; reality is not something open to proof, it is something established. It is established just because proof is not enough. It is this characteristic of language, at once indispensable and inadequate, which shows the reality of the external world. Most people hardly ever realize this, because it is rare that the very same man thinks and puts his thought into action.”
― Simon Weil

“It seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.” ― Simon Weil


Though obviously there are seminal and shocking differences:

“A mind enclosed in language is in prison.”
― Simon Weil

While this is an interesting thought, I think it ultimately leaves anyone in the position of the theistic-positivist in a dangerous place. Consider, for instance, that this position makes sincere liturgical worship of God, which may be a moral duty and prerogative of man, impossible. Moreover, it makes Wittgenstein a sort of philosophical equivalent to Karl Barth, and that comparison may seem unfair if not ‘paradoxical‘ (joke intended). Although he starts out sounding Barthian, he ends up sounding quite unhappy with theism in general:

It is a dogma of the Roman Church that the existence of God can be proved by natural reason. Now this dogma would make it impossible for me to be a Roman Catholic. If I thought of God as another being like myself, outside myself, only infinitely more powerful, then I would regard it as my duty to defy him. ~Ludwig Wittgenstein

Nevertheless, there is perhaps something to this suggestion of a semantically unacknowledgeable Theism. Whether Wittgenstein was or was not in some way a Theist is a question which itself smacks of blasphemy to Positivists, but is also difficult to ever really know. All we have are the clues he left behind in his Tractatus and life.

 Proposition 6.522: “There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.”

About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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