Overview of Religious Language for EdExcel A2 Philosophy development paper

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  • Created on: 21-05-12 14:31


Religious Language is a method of trying to communicate a religious experience

Because religious experience is often percieved as ineffable (WILLIAM JAMES) it follows that the method of expression of that experience will also cause problems

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- Religious Language lacks meaning 

- Lead by CARNAP AND SCHLIK who gathered to discussed WITTGENSTEINS book 'Tractatus' in a group called the Vienna Circle

- The group were interested in how language was used as a method of conveying experience and knowledge rather than trying to understand the way we gain knowledge from the world

- Accepted only 2 forms of language:

ANALYTIC: (Apriori) gained through logical reasoning, mainly definitions and mainly trivial exept from mathematics

SYNTHETIC: (Aposteriori) by which knowledge can be proved true or false. Verified by sense experience

- Postulated the VERFICATION PRINCIPLE: 'We know the meaning of a statement if we know the conditions under which the statement can be proved true or false'

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- To the Logical Positivists it was pointless discussing concepts like God, Ethics, Art and Metaphysics because they can't be verified by sense experience and are open to different interpretation e.g. parable of the Gardener

- Religious Language has no meaning as it cannot be verified using empirical evidence

A.J. AYER joined the logical positivists some time after the Vienna Circle and developed the verification principle in light of criticisms levelled against it

- VERIFICATION IN PRINCIPLE AND VERIFICATION IN PRACTICE: A statement may not be verifiable in practice but if it is known what steps could be taken to verify it in principle  (maybe at a later date) then a statement may have meaning.

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PART A: Further developments from AYER

- Later Ayer realised that we accept some scientific and historical propositions which have NOT been VERIFIED with CERTAINTY.

- From this he developed the strong and weak verifications

STRONG: identical to the verification principle

WEAK: follows on from verification in principle and verification in practice . If possible to render it probable. Could include historical statements and could allow for some biblical data e.g. building of the jerusalem temple but not that Jesus is the son of God

Ayer continued to uphold the verification principle 'til the 1950's when he received support from ANTONY FLEW with his FALSIFICATION PRINCIPLE. 

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- Based on same concept as verification principle

'We know the meaning of a statement if we know the conditions under which the statement is true or false' 

- ANTONY FLEW stated that if a person will not allow anything to count against their beliefs  e.g. God is good- believers will not accept evidence that goes against this concept and will qualify their concept to continue to believe in the goodness of God

- 'Die a death of a thousand qualifications'

- Flew used a variant of the parable of the gardener to show that religious statements are meaningless

DIFFERS FROM VERIFICATION: Depends on falsification

The challenge of falsification is based on the insight that to assert something is to deny something else. Flew is asking that the proof of God must be based on the believer is in a position to KNOW not BELIEVE.

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- Main strengths of Verification Principle were that it injected a new lease of life into philosophy which had been stuck in the doldrums of the 'death of God' movement by NIETZCHE. Although based on an earlier positivist idea of COMTE and the even earlier ideas of HUME. The vienna circle looked at language which became a large role in philosophy throughout the 20th century

- The verification and falsification principle both rely on empiricist ideas and must be objectified and experienced and be experienced by the senses but supporters of these arguments fail to notice the complexity of language as it includes concepts, emotions and commands.

- The verification principle cannot be verified under its own criteria but this didn't stop Ayer from developing his weak and strong verification

- JOHN HICK stated that under the weak verification we will know the truth of Gods existence when we die (estachological verification) and used in the parable of the celestial city. This is weak as even if there is an afterlife this doesn't mean there is an empirically viable God.

- Main support for verification principle comes from the falsification principle :mutual admiration society.

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- Other philosophers believe that religious language does have meaning and all try to show the difference between cognitive and non cognitive language

- RICHARD SWINBURNE used 'toys in the cupboard'. We can never falsify or verify that the toys do not move when nobody is looking, but due to anthropomorphic films like toy story we can understand Swinburne's idea.

- BASIL MITCHELL believed there was a reason that believers might not think to falsify their faith because they had already made a prior commitment to God and for this reason will not let anything count against their faith. Used 'parable of the stranger'

- R M HARE agreed that falsification could be used to decide the meaningfulness of cognitive statements because they influence the way we view the world but don't necessarily impart knowledge. BLIK: dynamic and based on experiences . Our religious beliefs feed into our bliks and out bliks govern the way we interpret religious and other non cognitive statements; 'parable of the students and the dons'. 

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