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Two problems with religous language?
- - Is the language univocal?
- - Is the language equivocal?
brings God down to human level
Can never know what a word means when applied to God
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.
A statement is only meaninggul if verified by an actual experience or is a tautology.
Logical statement that is true by definition.
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.
Weak verification principle
- 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
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
- 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.
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.
- 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
Strengths of the via negativa
- Prevents anthropomorphic statements from being made
- More respectful
- Supports the idea of God as ineffable
Weaknessess of the via negativa
- Limited understanding of God
- Not a true reflection of how believers speak about God
Analogy. What is it?
Describing something unfamiliar to us by making a comparison with something we already know.
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.
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?
Paul Tillich: religious statements are symbolic but also cognitive. We can learn about God but our words are not literal.
Criticisms of symbols
Tillich is too vague- Randall argues language is symbolic but non cognitive; symbols function like art
Stories that convey values and beliefs of communities that tell them
Myth- Rudolf Bultmann
We should demythologise the New Testament to arrive at the essential message
Difficulty with myths
The interpretations of myths are not straight forward and are extrememly subjective.
- '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.
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.