Religious language

  1. Two problems with religous language?
    • - Is the language univocal?
    • - Is the language equivocal?
  2. Univocal
    brings God down to human level
  3. Equivocal
    Can never know what a word means when applied to God
  4. Vienna Circle
    1920-30s. Built on Hume and Locke who thought religion and ethics should be avoided- the existence of God is a meaningless issue as it cannot be discussed in a meaningful way.
  5. Verification principle
    A statement is only meaninggul if verified by an actual experience or is a tautology.
  6. Tautology
    Logical statement that is true by definition.
  7. Difficulties with verification principle
    • Too rigid; suggests we cannot make statements about history as we did not make observations.
    • Scientific laws become meaningless; we cannot verify gravity is constant everywhere.
  8. Weak verification principle
    • A.J.Ayer.
    • We do not have to directly prove something by observation for it to be verified- we just need to suggest how it could be verified. For example, suggesting how to verify 'there are mountains on the far side of the moon.'
    • We can make statements about the past and people's emotions
  9. Criticisms of weak verification principle
    • Hick: religious statements are not meaningless- we can verify whether God exists after death via eschatological verification.
    • Some philosophers argue some religous statements are verifiable. e.g. accounts of the life of Jesus
  10. Falsification principle
    • Uses John Wisdom's parable of the gardener.
    • Karl Poppers: A theory is only an established theory in science when it can be falsified
    • Anthony Flew applied this to religious language- language cannot be falsified and so it is meaningless and not a genuine statement. Believers shift the goalposts so claims become 'watered down' and 'die a death of a thousand qualifications'
    • Flew doesn't state religious language is meaningless- others believe it proves this point.
  11. Criticisms of the falsification principle
    • R.M.Hare stated that Flew doesn't understand religious belief. e.g the man who thought professors were trying to kill him. This 'blik' was neither verifiable or falsifiable. Just like religious ideas.
    • Basil Mitchell- believers know the problem of faith- have some grounding in reason.
    • Hick- eschatological verification and religious beliefs can only be verified in principle if true but never falsified if false.
  12. Via negativa
    • Statements about God cannot be accurate as He is ineffable- negative statements can be made. Language applied to God is equivocal.
    • Came from followers of Plato:
    • Plotinus; describing the Form of the Good as separate and unknowable
    • Pseudo-Dionysius; God is beyond assertion. Postitive statements give an anthropomorphic idea of God
    • Moses Maimonides; making positive statements is improper and disrespectful
  13. Strengths of the via negativa
    • Prevents anthropomorphic statements from being made
    • More respectful
    • Supports the idea of God as ineffable
  14. Weaknessess of the via negativa
    • Limited understanding of God
    • Not a true reflection of how believers speak about God
  15. Analogy. What is it?
    Describing something unfamiliar to us by making a comparison with something we already know.
  16. Analogy and Aquinas
    • Language cannot be used literally to talk about God. Two different ways of analogy:
    • analogy of attribution: qualities we apply to each other are a reflection of the qualities of God e.g. Brian Davies and the baker and the bread. Aquinas and the bull with urine.
    • Analogy of proportion: Meaning of words changes in proportion to the nature of the being that is being described. John Hick uses's Hugel's example of 'faithfulness'- dogs and God.
  17. Assessment of analogies
    • We have some understanding of God
    • Duns Scotus argues its too vague and that we cannot understand God.
    • Assumes similarity between God and humans- God is different?
  18. Symbol
    Paul Tillich: religious statements are symbolic but also cognitive. We can learn about God but our words are not literal.
  19. Criticisms of symbols
    Tillich is too vague- Randall argues language is symbolic but non cognitive; symbols function like art
  20. Myth- meaning
    Stories that convey values and beliefs of communities that tell them
  21. Myth- Rudolf Bultmann
    We should demythologise the New Testament to arrive at the essential message
  22. Difficulty with myths
    The interpretations of myths are not straight forward and are extrememly subjective.
  23. Wittgenstein
    • 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.'- interpreted by the logical positivists that religous language is meaningless
    • Saw his role as to let the fly out of the bottle: the fly being the philosphers stuck trying to understand religious language.
    • Saw words as tools and language as a game- different places have different rules.
  24. Criticism of Wittgenstein
    • D.Z.Phillips said it prevents any criticism of philosophy of religion
    • Also, that some problems exist because the language is taken literally.
Card Set
Religious language