5. Religious Language: Via Negativa/The Apophatic Way

  • Created by: Alasdair
  • Created on: 17-06-17 13:54
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  • 5. Religious Language: Via Negativa/The Apophatic Way
    • Positive statements about God will be inaccurate as we cannot comprehend Him.
      • Language is too weak (against via affirmativa/the cataphatic way)
      • Describe God in terms of what he is not, e.g. God is not malevolent
    • 1. Psuedo Dionysius the Aeropagite
      • God doesn't exist, as exist is a physical object disciption
      • God doesn't exist in the same way we do, exist is the wrong word
      • 'God is the universal cause of existence, while itself existing not, for it is beyond all being' - On The Divine Names
      • Used via negativa to emphasise the transcendence of God
    • 2. St John of the Cross
      • A mystic, emphasises non-verbal experiences of God (mysticism)
      • Tried to express in words the experience of mystical communication with Christ in poetry form
    • 3. Moses Maimonides
      • A Guide for the Perplexed
      • "God has no positive attributes...the negative attributes of God are the true attributes"
      • "There is no similarity in anyway whatsoever between Him [God] and his creatures....the difference between them....is absolute"
    • 4. Plotinus
      • A Neo-Plationist suggests God is ultimate and indescribable, only experienced by a mystical experience
      • Experience of the One is self-attesting
      • No logical reasoning or  evidence is applicable/needed
    • Strengths
      • Gives a language that can be used to talk about God, as saying what God is may cause dispute
      • Doesn't give false certainties
      • It avoids being anthropomorphic (human-based) and focuses on a transcendent God
    • Weaknesses
      • Brian Davies
        • Talking in negative terms opens up numerous possibilities of what God could be
          • Not defining at all
      • Univocalists
        • Talk of God must be literal and used in the same way as ordinary language to avoid agnosticism


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