Against Explanation: Wittgenstein on Frazer
One of the few truly great thinkers of the last century, Wittgenstein’s genius is perhaps nowhere more fully on display than in the collection of strange, enigmatic, and provocative comments published under the title, “Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough.” For Wittgenstein, it was Frazer’s great error to have believed that one can and should “explain” ancient religious rites and rituals at all, when in fact what they demand, in his view, is something like a “perspicuous representation,” one which allows us to make connections between and among them, as well as to our own deepest needs, dispositions, and aspirations. Students will benefit from a general familiarity with Frazer’s argument (and we supplement the discussion with short excerpts from this text), but the text should be accessible to anyone willing to wrestle with it.
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