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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion

Current Postgraduate Research Students

Publication details for Professor Christopher Insole

Insole, Christopher J. (2007). The Truth Behind Practices Wittgenstein, Robinson Crusoe and Ecclesiology. Studies in Christian Ethics 20(3): 364-382.

Author(s) from Durham


The Wittgensteinian claim that meaning is immanent to 'practices', influential in contemporary theology, is capable of two readings: the first takes `practice' to refer to the social activities of actual communities; the second implies no more than a way of going on that is in principle communicable. The first reading is palpably unattractive, both philosophically and exegetically; the second reading is much less ambitious, providing a plausible critique of empiricist theories of meaning. I suggest that it is the first implausible reading that is often at work in theological appropriations of Wittgenstein, such as we find in Stanley Hauerwas. I fill-out this claim by exploring — with an ear to Scripture — the implications for ecclesiology of adopting either of the two readings. I conclude by raising the alarm about two dangers: of being too Wittgensteinian in some respects, and not Wittgensteinian enough in others.