Religious Language- Memory revision

  • Created by: melisa
  • Created on: 10-06-16 16:22


Univocal= literal + cognitive

Equivocal= Metaphoric + non-cognitive


  • verification principle
  • weak verification principle
  • Falsification principle


  • via negativa
  • analogy
  • symbol
  • myth

2 problems- describe god / meaningless

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The Verification Principle

Group called the Vienna Circle/logical positivists

A statement is only meaningful if it can be verfied empirically or tautologically

Influenced by Wittgenstein- emp reality

'whereof we do not know, thereof we cannot speak'


1. Too rigid. Statements about history cannot be verifed, no emp observation e.g JC

2. Scientific laws are mutable + cannot be verfied absolutely e.g. gravity in all places

3. Swinburne- universal statements cannot be verified e.g. all ravens are black

4. works of art is nonsense- non empirical

Conclusion- weak/ fail own test/ own idea is non-empirical

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The Weak Verfication Principle

A.J.Ayer- major advocate

Aware of the problem- too rigid although valid in intention; failed when being applied

Easier to verify empirical statement e.g. sun is shinning than 'soul is immortal'

Focuses on the criteria of statements, in that a sentence is factually significant in what is observed, instead on demanding conclusive verification

e.g. Mountains on the other side of the moon- reasonable/ sufficient evidence


  • John Hick- eschatological verification (2 travellers). All religious statements as meaningless
  • Verified in principle but not empirically
  • End becomes conceptual
  • Truth is always self-authicating
  • Unverifiable- concept
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The Falsification Principle

Aims to improve limited verification principle

Science based on falsification- meaningless without

'Any theory impossible to disprove is no valid theory at all'- Karl Popper

1. Karl Popper

  •  science tests/ high probability/ no absolute but highly likely
  • e.g. all ravens are black- corrigibility

2. Anthony Flew

  • 'Parable of the gardeners' to support the F.P.
  • religious language cannot be verified/ falsified
  • e.g. God acts in mysterious ways/ teddy bear
  • modify their statement- 'death by a thousand qualifications'
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The Falsification Principle- Criticisms + response

1. R.M.Hare

  • Parable of the lunatic- nothing would alter the belief
  • Theory of 'blicks'- root of being/ cannot be changed e.g. i am a girl
  • View of the world that cannot be verified / falsified- basic belief despite empirical evidence
  • Religious ideas are blicks

2. Basil Mitchell

  • Disagreed with 'blicks'
  • Accept various forms of evidence will count against their belief
  • BUT will not allow it to decisively count againist it
  • e.g. Parable of the partisan + stranger
  • Continue to maintain trust- partisans belief is based on reason + fact
  • Religious belief does have some grounding in reason
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Via Negativa

Aims to use the methods of the task to make statements about God

God is transcendent, only say what God is NOT- Apophatic way

Pseudo-Dionysius- Christian Theologian

  • God is 'beyond assertion'
  • human language is inadequate

Positive Statements- anthropomorphic idea of God e.g. 'God is good' limits his goodness in our mind

Moses Maimonides

  • importance of via negativa
  • only option available
  • + statements are disrespectful + improper
  • only positive statement- 'he exists'
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Via Negativa- Strengths + Weaknesses


  • Prevents anthropomorphic statements about God. Not left with an inadequate idea
  • More respectful- Maimondies
  • Supports the view of many. God is beyond description / experience- ineffable
  • Only the via negativa adquately conveys the transcendence of God


  • Result is very limited understanding of God
  • Not a true reflection of how religious people speak of God. Seek positive knowledge
  • If we say something negativa, we are implying the positive statement as well
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Using a comparison with something familiar and easier to understand

Bridge between the univocal + equicoval

Thomas Aquinas- 'no word can be used literally of God'

  • Rejects v.f. + via negativa / univocal + equivocal
  • language doesnt mean the same applied to God
  • humans only describe the world experienced by humans

Analogy reveled through creation attritubes- e.g. Justice

Used analogy in 2 ways

1. Analogy of attritubtion

  • Qualities we ascribe are a reflection of God. Elements of God revealed in others e.g. love
  • e.g. Baker + Bread/ Bull's urine/ Master + dog- epistemic distance
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Analogy continued- strengths + weaknesses

2. Analogy of proportion

  • types of properties depend on nature
  • measures up to God's standard e.g. Guitarist + professional
  • God's knowledge is greater than ours e.g. cake helps put epistemic distance into proportion


  • Religious Language is not absurd + can provide some understanding
  • Avoids agnosticism + anthropomorphism
  • Duns Scotus- too vague + leaves us unable to understand

John Hick realises the problem but still argues for analogy- not invalid

  • Hick- some statements about God + preserve the degree of mystery
  • Hick- Christian idea, stories enable us to make statements about God
  • Assumes similarity between God + humans
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Paul Tillich- Religious statements are symbolic but cognitive e.g. Flag

Symbol evokes participation e.g. The cross- learn about God

Appreciation of the arts- deep + powerful level (not always visual)

Symbols unlock things deep from within the soul, linking to the ultimate

God as 'the ground of being'- only non-symbolic statement

alternative to analogy

symbols both positive + negative

Gustav Jung- psychoanalyst

  • explored use of symbols within religions
  • conclusions- collective unconscious', prototypes of our personality (archtype)
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Symbol Critcisms

Tillich's idea seem a little vague

J.H.Randall- agrees language is symbolic but is non-cognitive. Function similar to art. Tells us nothing about external reality, but tells us about our own human experience.

Not literally true, then its difficult to see what content they may have

Difficult to be clear on what it is meant by the idea of the symbol participating in something

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Cognitive knowledge about God

Widely held, but NOT true

  • Conveys the communites values + beliefs
  • Expressing truths about religions
  • Depends on interpretation (objective truth)

e.g. Noah's Flood- faith opinion

Meaningful statement about God e.g. creation stories

Typically supernatural e.g. Rama + Sita

Rudolf Bultmann

  • Effective. Not literal but deep truth- requires an existential response
  • 'the use of imagery to express the other worldly in terms of this world'
  • Bible- mythological, demythologise. If taken literally- loses its significance
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Myth Difficulties

Its difficult to see the interpretation of myths can be straight forward

Interpretations depends on culture

How do we distinguish between fictional story + myth? Real truth?

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Developed the 'picture theory of language'- transcends the limitations of the empirical approach

Restricted by empiricism- think in images, empirical senses, convert images to vocabulary

'Whereof we dont know, thereof we cannot speak'

No right + wrong BUT two different ways of viewing the world

Interested in analysing words used in various life/settings e.g. 'gay' / 'wicked- not fixed

'let the fly out the fly bottle'

Language games

  • Language operates according to rules
  • different religious groups have different language games
  • e.g. 'God allows suffering to develop character'
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Wittgenstein + Religion

  • Not religious BUT respected it cannot be analysed through narrow criteria of verification
  • Not subject to critcism
  • Powerful + importance of human life
  • Fideism- religion does not have rational foundations + removed from criticism


  • How is it possible for discussion about faith to make sense, if everyone is playing their own language games
  • Not exclusive + counters could be valid
  • Non- believers might have a better understanding. They have an objective view


  • Witt approaches prevents philosophy no one outside the game can critcise
  • BUT agrees, not literally but still have a profound meaning. Understood in context
  • e.g. 'Soul' problematic
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