Wittgenstein and the Language of God Part 3 – Re-evaluations and Conclusions

Re-evalutation of the Tractatus

These essential points about Wittgenstein’s religious background and understanding of the world are mostly ignored in the Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus. As one can observe, to say that Wittgenstein denies the existence of God or religious beliefs is simply wrong. All of his prior religious education must have had an influence on Wittgenstein, or else this volume would have never come to pass. What the majority of persons have found is a language of purity in the Tractatus, I believe Wittgenstein actually discovered that he did not describe the way language actually works. Instead, he had actually discovered the language that God speaks, what explicates God’s will. The reason Wittgenstein abandoned the Tractatus lies in this problem; he had certainly proved something, but something beyond the scope of what he declared he could even speak. Thus, the work had to be abandoned to set human language and study aright; the Tractatus is a perfect language in itself, the language of God; why would it need any explaining by Wittgenstein?

To understand why it is the language of God, there are several essential reasons to be examined. We know that the early Wittgenstein conceived of a purely pictorial language. The pictures arise out of propositions; the sense that a proposition gives can create any number of pictures in the mind.30 These pictures must correspond with reality like a model, or a scale.31 The correlation is close, but not perfect; however, both share the same logical structure that the world retains.32 The facts lay within this logical space, and thus everything explicated about the facts shows this same logical structure. The key component of this set is thought – the picture is, quite literally, formed by thoughts. It is only thought where the picture comes into being and passes away, and only within my own mind. I can attempt to communicate it, but a person will come up with an entirely different picture, even if it is changed to the most infinitesimal level. When humans attempt to communicate this description language to each other, the result will never ascend to perfection..

However, a perfect being could certainly take advantage of such a language. Since God lies outside the world, as Wittgenstein stated (He lies within the mystical), it cannot be said that He is made of physical materials; God must be solely spirit. Spirit is simply the word used to convey that God is not material; this term is itself imperfect as well. God, in addition, does not reveal himself in the same way that language does not reveal its logical structure; one can talk about concepts in the mystical, but most language about the divine will not have any sense. As God is solely spirit, God must also be purely thought. There is no way to say that God has a body (except, perhaps, in the form of Jesus Christ) for otherwise He would not be God; God would suddenly be contained within a tiny sphere of influence, and given the omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience of God, this would be impossible for Wittgenstein to understand. If God is a purely spiritual being, He is pure cognition. In what other way could spirit exist but as pure thought? Consciousness is as close as humans can get to accepting something with a purely immaterial form, and this is thought incarnate.

These statements have staggering implications for the picture theory of language. If the Tractatus is actually the language of God, this means that God’s thoughts actually determine the facts. God’s thoughts cannot simply lay within the logical realm of the facts; God thinks outside of the world, and in doing so determines the facts. His pictures are not a scale or model applied to reality; they are the reality. His pictures determine what is true and what is false. When Wittgenstein talks of agreeing with the alien will, he wishes to agree with the reality of God’s facts. To be like God is to be happy, to be content with the facts. To be like God is also to eternally live in the present as God lives in the present. The problem lies in believing in a world beyond. To yearn for the afterlife, for Wittgenstein, is a yearning for something beyond the world, not an acceptance of facts. This does not preclude the actual existence of an afterlife, but to strive toward that goal in everything that must be done on earth cannot be the right approach. Doing good actions in view of the afterlife does not do good deeds intrinsically, but only for a specified end goal. To speak the language of God, one shows what they are, they do not say it. When a person says “I am a Christian”, it should show in everything they do. It is not something one simply declares to the world and acts a completely opposite way. It must be something that is willed, just as good and evil are willed, continually. There is no time that a Christian cannot be a Christian, or live without constant consciousness of accepting the facts as they are.

To speak the language of the Tractatus is to act as God acts, to think as He thinks and to attempt to mimic Him. There are several lines that may be interpreted in a different fashion that may counter this arguments, however. When Wittgenstein says that the solution of the problem of life occurs when the question disappear, this is much the same as living in the present. Questions about metaphysics are not senseless statements but questions that cannot be answered by mere words. Their answers can be shown, of course, as those who live eternally in the present do not ask these questions any longer. In addition, when Wittgenstein states that ethics and aesthetics are one and the same, he is right. What is good is also beautiful; what is evil could easily be considered ugly. That does not mean that humankind will always be able to make the distinction between what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly. Imperfections in our language cause an inevitable mistake, and sin occurs as a result of these mistakes. Sense and value lay outside the world because aesthetics and ethics could not be one otherwise; from our perspective, such a combination of seemingly disparate elements sounds impossible, but in the realm of the mystical it makes perfect sense. Ethics shows its structure when someone does a good or bad deed; though the act has no value in and of itself, if it is determined by God (morality and the Ten Commandments), its value lies outside the world. Aesthetics works in much the same way. I cannot quantify how something or other is beautiful, but it shows its beauty.

The say-show distinction cannot be understated; it is key to understanding Wittgenstein’s religious view. He must believe that God shows and does not speak in the sense that we imagine speech. For example, when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, His command made it true; Abraham did attempt to sacrifice his son, but was stopped by divine intervention. Job, as well, shares this showing distinction; God says that Job is a good and faithful servant who would never turn against Him, and in the end He is correct. Job might be extremely angry at God, but obedience resumes after Job is taught his lesson. These stories, especially the Abraham one, might seem completely bizarre from our perspective; Abraham, for one, willingly attempts to murder his son to please God. From Wittgenstein, however, if the ethical acts have no value outside the world, whatever God commands is the ethical, the aesthetic, the way the world is. Thus, these actions make perfect sense as they lived eternally in the present, living their lives in light of what the current context brought, not a far distant future or a terrible past. The problem for humans lies not in the referent but in the sense. The sense that perfect language gives (as in divine revelation) does not follow the rules of logic, nor the facts of the world. That is because they are the mystical; they reach towards something outside, and do not fit within the facts we perceive. That does not preclude their truth and falsity, but prevents humans from understanding the sense of these phrases in their true form. They do not fit the propositional forms because they cannot be explicated like facts in the world. Propositions are pictures of reality, not the mystical. Wittgenstein was engrossed in distinguishing reality and the mystical, and thus religious texts also fit within the Tractatus.


The Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus was an attempt on the part of Wittgenstein to limit the expressions of thought, not thought itself. In fact, what is most important about this work is what is not directly stated in the Tractatus; the most important things in life, such as meaning, God, religion, ethics, and the like are simply things that can be shown. They lie outside the world like foreign agents, and they are not a part of the world like a fact or proposition. For Wittgenstein, the religious life cannot be contained in a philosophy text nor within the boundaries of language; it lies beyond the logical space of our language. If something has any meaning, it cannot be found in the facts of the world but beyond the boundaries of the box that humans have been placed. As a result, Wittgenstein found that the Tractatus described the alien will, and allowed him to be in agreement with it. Wittgenstein found that acting in accordance with this will was not an easy task; it would go against social norms and lead him into philosophical conflict, but he accepted the charge anyway. The later works of Wittgenstein exist not as a rejection of the pure language, but simply for the pure language as part of human usage – all that needs to be known about it is that it must be shown, and not said. Wittgenstein scrapped the original document to show that what the Tractatus declared was not useless, but bringing other persons (like the logical positivists) into confusion. Language must exist for humanity as a communication device, as pictorial language alone does not satisfy the needs of a community. Not every person can grasp the unsaid meaning of the Tractatus, but to comprehend its words requires the religious viewpoint of Wittgenstein – to ignore God and what cannot be said in the study of this early work ignores the life experience of the author. Wittgenstein never divorced his emotions or feelings from his writings – his life is integrated with his philosophical world – and for philosophers to analyze this work without the religious point of view misses the point. What is unsaid is the true magic of the Tractatus – do not say, just show, what you mean. Proposition 6.54 of the Tractatus displays this beautifully: “My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.”33


30Ludwig Wittgenstein., Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003), 3.13.

31Ibid, 2.1523.

32Ibid, 2.161.

33Ibid – 6.54.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.