Philosophy

Agency and autonomy IV: Agency and religion

So, let’s go back to Wittgenstein’s quote. In the second part of the investigations, now called Philosophy of Psychology, a fragment, chapter iv section 22 he writes: “My attitude towards him is an attitude towards a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul.” In section 23 he continues: “Religion teaches us that the soul can exist when the body has disintegrated. Now do I understand what it teaches? – Of course I understand it – I can imagine various things in connection with it. After all, pictures of these things have been painted. And why should such a picture be only an imperfect rendering of the idea expressed? Why should it not do the same service as the spoken doctrine? And it is the service that counts.”

Here, I believe, Wittgenstein is trying to point out that there is after all something fishy about this notion. The “of course” shows how we slip, how we let ourselves be led astray, and he sort of confirms that in section 25 where he simply states: “The human body is the best picture of the human soul” – something can read to mean that we have an attitude towards a soul to bodies.

Now, the importance of these sections to our examination of agency is two-fold. First it shows how agency is determined by an attitude to a soul, that we in many ways ascribe agency not through analytical approaches, but in the adoption of an attitude (which is quite different from the coming to a conclusion). It seems to suggest that we cannot discover agency through reasoning, but reason only about agency after we have indeed adopted that attitude towards a soul that Wittgenstein points to.

The second observation, however, is equally interesting, and that is the strong relationship between agency and religious thought. We already discussed the relationship between agency and punishment, and it now seems obvious, or likely, that agency actually follows the application of a language game based on concepts like soul. Agency is connected with an old language game, and ultimately perhaps connected with the notion of sin – just as it is connected with the notion of will.

Agency follows duties, and establishes rights. If we ever say of a system that it can sin, we have established agency beyond a doubt.

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