religious language

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  • Created by: Em_ily2
  • Created on: 25-05-17 16:48
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  • religious language
    • what is religious language?
      • Religious language is concerned with asking 'what can be said about God?'
      • It is not concerned with whether God exists or what God is like or why there is evil in the world.
      • Religious language talks about religious and spiritual concepts such as the nature of God and the afterlife - things outside our senses.
        • This poses a problem because, if God is infinite, then words used to describe humans who are finite might not adequately describe God.
      • In the debate about religious language it is important to know that, broadly speaking there are two types of language.
        • The first is cognitive language which is concerned with facts.
        • The second is non-cognitive language which is not subject to truth or falsity.
    • logical positivism
      • Logical positivism refers to a movement in philosophy that believed that the aim of philosophers should be the analysis of language.
      • Logical positivists believe that statements only have meaning if they can be verified empirically or are tautologies.
      • Logical positivists would argue that statements about God have no meaning because they don't relate to facts.
      • the verification principle: strong verificaiton
        • In Vienna in the 1920s a group of philosophers known as the Vienna Circle gathered around philosopher Moritz Schlick to give rise to the logical positivist movement.
        • In order to distinguish what is meaningful and what isn't, the logical positivists came up with the verification principle.
          • This says that a statement is only meaningful if it is able to be verified by an actual experience or tautology.
            • A tautology is a logical statement that we can know to be true by definition.
          • In other words, the statement must be verified via the senses.
      • the verification principle: weak verification
        • Weak verification refers to statements that can be shown to be probable by observation and experienced (as opposed to strong verification which demands conclusive verification).
          • The verification principle would therefore hold that non-cognitive statements about God, life after death etc. are meaningless as they can't be verified.
        • The weak verification principle says that two types of statements are meaningful.
          • Analytic statements are statements that contain all the information within itself that we need to verify it. e.g 'blue is a colour'.
          • Synthetic statements are statements that can be confirmed through the use of the senses. e.g 'it is sunny today'.
        • A.J Ayer was a famous advocate of the verification principle who argued that any sentence about God is meaningless.
          • This means that both accepting and denying God is meaningless.
            • He argues that a statement can only be meaningful if it is a tautology (a priori) or verifiable in principle (a posteriori).
    • evaluating the verification principle
      • It could be argued that the phrase 'statements are only meaningful if they are verified by sense experience' as the statement itself cannot be verified by sense experience.
        • John Hick supported the concept of eschatological verification; a statement can be verifiable if true but not falsifiable if false.
      • It is possible for statements to be meaningful without being verified.
        • Swinburne gives the example of toys in a cupboard that come alive at night when nobody can see them. It is a meaningful statement because it can be understood but is also unverifiable and fictitious.
    • the falsification principle
      • The falsification principle originates in Karl Popper's philosophy of science: that statements are scientific if our empirical experiences could potentially falsify them.
      • The falsification principle aims to improve upon the apparently limited verification principle.
      • It suggests that a statement is factually meaningless if there are no falsification criteria.
      • Anthony Flew applied this principle to the use of religious language. Flew applies Popper's idea that science works by hypotheses which are tested attempting to falsify.
        • Flew adapted John Wisdom's parable of the gardener to illustrate this. In the parable, two explorers find a jungle clearing where weeds and flowers grow. One explorer believes there is a gardener and the other does not.
          • In spite of many attempts to find the gardener, none is seen. The explorer who believes there is a gardener doesn't give up his belief.
            • One of the explorers says 'just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?'
              • Flew argues that sometimes believers can be seen to continually qualify their beliefs in the light of contrary evidence.
                • Flew refers to this as 'death by a thousand qualifications'.
                  • Flew argues that believers end up modifying their statements about God so much when challenged that the statements no longer resemble the original claim about God.
      • R.M Hare's theory of 'bliks'.
        • He used the parable of the lunatic who believed that all dons were about to murder him.
          • A blik is a particular view about the world that may not be based upon reason or fact and cannot be falsified or verified.
            • Hare said that people either have the right/sane blik or the wrong/insane blik.
              • The lunatic has the wrong 'blik' about his university dons. For Hare then, religious belief would be a particular blik.
                • Theologian John Hick criticised this idea. He argued that religious beliefs are based on reason.
                  • Hick goes on to add that there is an inconsistency; Hare claims that there is a distinction between insane and sane bliks but also claims that bliks are unverifiable and unfalsifiable.
                    • If we cannot prove or disprove religious bliks, we cannot call them right or wrong, sane or insane either.
    • the via negativa
      • the 'negative way'; a way of talking about God which says what he is not rather than what he is.
      • Attempts to address the issue that God is transcendent so we cannot say what God is.
      • Our understanding of the word 'good' is usually linked to what it is for a human to be 'good'.
        • God is not human so what can this word mean when it is applied to him?
      • evaluating the via negativa
        • It recognises the problem that it's difficult to imagine what our concepts can mean when applied to God.
        • Avoids anthropomorphism and supports ideas of God's transcendence.
          • How can we be sure there is anything to be talked about? (Flew's gardener analogy).
        • Does it actually get us any closer to understanding the nature of God?
  • evaluation of the falsification principle
    • Swinburne says that factual statements can be falsified but existential statements cannot.
      • This is supported by Hare's 'bliks'.
    • Ayer also argued against falsification, saying that statements cannot be conclusively falsified any more than they can be verified.
      • He argues for weak verification.
    • Is it right to compare religious language with scientific statements?
      • Perhaps both verification and falsification are wrong?
        • Religion is not to do with assertions but rather it should be understood as symbolic.

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