Religious Language

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The logical positivists

  • Developed from the work of The Vienna Circle
  • Included Moriz Schlick & Rudolf Carnap
  • didnt seek to understand how we gain knowledge of the external world but how we use language as the means of convaying knowledge.
  • the fundemental principle was that only those propositions which can be verified empircally (or logically) have meaning.
  • the logical positivists only accepted two forms of verfiable language
  • 1) Analytic propositions (a priori) - knowledge is gained through logical reasoning. these are true propositions by definition
  • for example 'all bachelors are unmarried.' we know this is true because bachelor means an unmarried man. it would be a contridiction to deny an analytical truth - to refer to a married bachelor for example.
  • 2) Synthetic propositions (a posteriori) - by which knowledge could be proved true or false (verified) by an experience or knowledge.
  • for example 'john is a bachelor' could be verified by discovering whether he is a bachelor or not.
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The Verification Principle

  • Developed by the Logical Positivists
  • it states that 'we know the meaning of a statement if we know the conditions under which the statement is true or false.'
  • if it isnt possible to know how to prove a statement true or false, using empirical evidence, then the logical positivists consider it to be meaningless.
  • if they knew the conditions under which it could be proven true or false then they could also be considered meaningful
  • for example- 'the moon is made of green cheese' if false. it would be meaningful to the logical positivists as it is known how to prove the statement to be false - going to the moon and taking rock samples.
  • they argued it was pointless to talk about God, ethics, art and metaphysics as these cannot be verified using senses or experiments. it isnt possible to know the conditions under which these could be proven either. therefore it would be meaningless
  • it opened debate over the function of religious language.
  • some philosophers claimed it served a different function from normal everyday speech and in this context, that is meaningful.
  • other philosophers, including the Logical Positivists, claimed that religious language has no meaning at all because it talks about things which cannot be proved using empirical evidence.
  • they considered it meaningless because it considers things beyond human understanding and it leads to problems in understanding the meaning of any assertions made.
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The Verification Principle (cont) -AJ Ayer

  • He was a logical Positivist.
  • He believed that empirical metods have to be used to assess whether a propostion is verifiable in principle, therefore making it meaningful.
  • it is the steps you take to verify a statement that make it meaningful.
  • A proposition needs to be analysed to find out what is meaningful and what isnt. a physicist makes propositions about the universe that could someday be challenged and proven untrue.
  • he considers such propositions meaningful because the physicist bases his findings on experiences. a scientific theory may not be verifiable in practice but because the scientists know how to verify it in principle, it is considered meaningful.
  • if it is not known how to prove it true or false then it is considered meaningless.
  • according to the Logical Positivists, as religious propositions cannot be analysed using emprical methods, they are meaningless.
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The Verification Principle (Cont.) - Strong & Weak

  • Ayer realised that we accept some scientific and historical propositions that have not been verified with certainty.
  • To solve this problem, he introduced strong and weak verification.
  • Strong Verification - This occurs when there is no doubt the statement is true. we can verify it using senses (an observation.)
  • for example - 'mary has red hair' can be strongly verified as you can prove it true or false once you see Mary.
  • Weak Verification- This occurs when there are some observations that are relevant by proving a proposition true or false, but not enough to prove it conclusively.
  • For example- 'Columbus discovered America' is accepteed as verifiable because people stated this happened at the time. similarly, scientific propositions are accepted as meaningful on the basis of weak verification.
  • Ayer considered that empiricalism cannont account for our knowledge of necessary truths. He accepted analytical propositions because it would be illogical to reject them.
  • he accepted A priori truth in both mathematical and linguistic statements because they add nothing to out knowledge.
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The Falsifaction Principle - Anthony Flew

  • This is a responce to the Verification Principle.
  • Anthony Flew developed it.
  • Flew applied the falsification to religious language and concluded that it is meaningless.
  • He argued that this is because there is nothing which can count against religious statements.
  • Religious statements can not be proven or disproven because religious believers do not accept any evidence to count against (falsify) their beliefs.
  • For Flew there is no difference between non-falsifiability and meaninfulness.
  • He argued Christians always believe that God is good regardless of what arguments are put against their beliefs.
  • He used the example of a human father desperate to save his child from dying from innoperable cancer; the heavenly father appeard indifferent to the childs suffering. to account for God's indifference the believer allows nothing to count against the idea that 'God loves us as a father'
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The Falsification Principle (Cont.) -John Wisdoms

  • The believer gives reasons why God remains Good and Flew stated that these constant qualifications make religious statements meaningless
  • they die the death of a thousand qualifications.
  • He developed a tale based on John Wisdom's Parable of the Gardener to prove his point that religious statements are meaningless because a religious believer will allow nothing to count against their belief's.
  • Parable of the Gardener
  • Once upon a time two explorers came across a clearing in the jungle. in the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. one explorer says 'some gardeners must tend to this plot.' the other disagrees 'there is no gardener.' so they pitch their tents and set a watch. no gardener is ever seen. 'But perhaps he is an invisible gardener?' so they set up a barbed wire fence. they electrify it. they patrol with bloodhounds but no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has recieved a shock. no movements of the wire ever betray an invisible cliber. the bloodhounds never give a cry. yet the believer is still not convinced. 'but there is a gardener, invisible, intangiable, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes to secretly look after the garden which he loves.' at last the sceptic dispairs, 'but what remains of your original assertion? just how does what you call an invisible, intangiable, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?'
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Differences between verification and falsification

  • The falsification principle differs from the verification principle in two ways-
  • it depends on falsification rather than verification to decide whether or not a statement is meaningful.
  • Falsification stops short of saying that we need proof that a statement is true, but demands that we know what kind of evidence we could accept to make us reject it as false. if we didnt know this then the statement would be immune from factual knowledge, so it would be factually meaningless.
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Challenges to the Verification principle

  • the principle itself is not meaningful because it cannot be verfied using the verification principle
  • the 'weak' form of verification woulds support some religious statements. there is some sense experience that could count towards them. for example 'god is the creator' could be supported by evidence of possible design in the world. there is historical evidence which counts towards propositions such a s 'mohamed is the prophet of Allah' or 'Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday.'
  • it doesnt allow for the fact that the limitations of verifying an experience may result from limitations of the person attempting to verify it. for example, it would be difficult for a blind man to verify that the sky is blue, therefore this statement is meaningless to him. yet for a sighted person this statement can be verified. it could be claimed that statements about God cant be verified by a none believer but are meaningful to those who have a shared experience of God. Flew uses the parable of the Gardener to explain why a believer will not accept that religious statements are meaningless because a religious statements are meaningless becuase they will allow nothing to go against their beliefs. Empirical evidence is used to seek the 'gardener' whereas a religious believer would argue that God is found through faith.
  • philosophers then tried to prove religious language meaningful even if it couldnt be verifiied or falsified. they argued that religious statements are not cognitive and it is wrong to treat them like they are.
  • RELIGIOUS STATEMENTS ARE NON-COGNITIVE. They do not contain facts that could be proven true or false.
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Religious Language as a 'blik' - R.M Hare

  • he agreed with Flew that the falsification principle could help decide the meaningfulness of cognitive statements.
  • although religious language cant make factual claims it still has meaning because it influences the way in which people look at the world.
  • Hare used the University Don example.
  • the student would not accept any evidence to show that his university Dons were not plotting to kill him. The student wouldnt accept anything that would falsify his belief, but the belief was meaningful for the student even if it was not true as it influence the way he saw the university. the way the student looked at the university was signifiicant for him.
  • Hare called this way of looking at something a 'blik.'
  • A blik is a way in which evidence is interpreted.
  • the blik is not based on the evidence and cannot be contradicted by evidence.
  • the university student was convinced the Dons were plotting to kill him so every action of the Dons was interpreted within that frame of reference by the student.
  • religious beliefs are 'bliks' because of the impact they have on people in the way they look at the world and the way they live their lives.
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Basil Mitchell - believers do allow things to coun

  • he wanted to show that religious statements are meaningful even if they are not verifable or falisifiable easily.
  • (part way between Flew and Hare's opinions)
  • He argued that Flew was wrong in thinking that believers never allow anything to count against their beliefs.
  • He claimed that Flew missed the point hat believers have a commitment to trust in God based on faith and this is the reason why they dont allow anything to count against their beliefs.
  • They have to look for qualfiications that can explain why there is evil in the world (for example) and still accept 'a God who loves us'.
  • He agrees that Bliks exist but holds that a believer will allow a gradual set of evience to overturn or remove a blik.
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Religious Responces to the Verification Principle.

  • it is developed by non-believers. in seeking to demonstrate why religious language is meaningless they have not been able to grasp the meaning and purpose of religious language for the believer.
  • often the beiever is trying to convey revelations that are ineffable (unexplainable) and therefore know that meaning is not convayed using verifiable language.
  • Mysics such as ST JOHN OF THE CROSS believe it isnt possible to talk about God by not saying what he is, but by what he isnt. - this is known as the VIA NEGATIVA.
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The Via Negativa - St Augustine

  • the scholars argued that every positive quality attributed to God such as that God is all loving, all knowing and all good, must always be balanced by the recognition that human language is inadequate when trying to describe ineffible and indescribable attributes of God.
  • Swinburmes Toy Cupboard example supports this. Even if we cannot verify or falsify whether or not the toys come out of the cupboard when not watched w can still understand the meaning behind it.
  • Verification by its nature rules our many statements that we accept as meaningful, so Ayer introduced his 'strong' and 'weak' versions. Many philosophers would not consider the principle to be discredited when applied to religious language as its generally accepted that the aim of religious statements is not to impart knowledge about the world but to influence the way in which people look at the world, as explained by Hare's blik.
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Importance of Faith

  • The verification principle has ignored the importance of faith.
  • as mitchell points out, a believer does not reject their beliefs even when presented with evidence against them as it is an important part of faith to retain trust that God is always working for our good.
  • Mitchell points out that once committed to his faith, a christian is precluded from discarding his faith 'if experience tells against' it.
  • the believer must allow such experiences to make a difference in their lives and not to ignore them; to do this would be a 'faliure in faith as well as logic.'
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ANALOGIES - Aquinas' analogical view

  • he developed an analogical view of religious langauge.
  • he argued that we only have our day to day language to talk about God.
  • we understand that a word, when applied to God, has different meaning from its everyday use because we understand that God is perfect. We are therefore using Analogies.
  • an analogy- a comparason between two things, whe a similarity between two things is suggested by the use of the same word.
  • Some philosophers have rejected the view of Analogies. they argue that an analogy has to have shared understanding, a basis for comparison.
  • this isnt possible when speaking about God because God is beyond Human understanding.
  • they believe that the use of analogies within religious langiage is meaningless.
  • Aquinas disagrees. he argued that there is a relationship between the world and God. God created the world and sustains it so tere is a point of comparison.
  • Aquinas developed two forms of analogy to talk about God-
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Anology of Propotion

  • Analogy of proportion occurs when a word is used to refer to a quality that a thing has in proportion to the kind of reality is has.
  • for example, A dog is loyal in the way in which dogs are loyal. Humans are loyal in proportion to the loyalty of being a human. similarly we can understand God as all powerful as we have the human idea of power. God is proportionally more powerful than humans so although we cannot completly understand the idea of God's omnipotence we can have an insight into Gods power because of our human experience of power.
  • Analogy of Attribution applied when a term, originally used concerning one thing, is applied to a second thing because the one cause the other.
  • for example, 'the bread is good' because the baker is good.
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Ian Ramsey - Models and Qualifiers

  • Ian Ramsey developed the theory of analogy.
  • he refers to models and qualifers.
  • a model is an analogy to help us express something about God.
  • for example - God is Good. the model is Good. when applied to God it is a model for understanding God's goodness.
  • Ramsey states that we need to adapt the model to qualify it so that we realise that is not literally what God is like.
  • to the statement 'God is good' we need to add the Qualifier 'infinately'. this will make us think of God's goodness in greater depth until we have a better insight into God's goodness. we will then respong with awe and wonder.
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Paul Tillich - Religious Language is metaphorical

  • an argument that supports the idea of religious language being meaningful is through Metaphores and Symbols. This way we are helped towards an understanding of God.
  • Paul Tillich believed that its through metaphores and symbols that religious language communicates religious experiences.
  • religious langiage tries to interpret that experienc and it is therefore-
  • 1) closer to poetry than prose
  • 2) mythical, heroic and imaginable
  • 3) evocative of the experience it seeks to describe.
  • he believed that religious language is symbolic because it 'opens up' new levels of reality.
  • he argued that symbols go beyond the external world to when he described as their 'interal reality.'
  • religious symbols open up levels of reality which otherwise were closed to us.
  • when the bibe speaks of 'the kingdom of God'. we understand a kingdom on earth, and by thinking of an earthly kingdom, we can go beyond to understand the ultimate reality of the power in the universe that is God.
  • he believed that a symbool unlocks dimentions and elements of our soul.
  • Tillich suggest that this power of symbols to direct ways of thinking changes through time. this is because the impact and meaning of words change, and the symbol is no longer able to direct us towards what 'concerns us ultimately' as it did in the past.
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Arguments opposing religious language as symbolic

  • Tillich argued that symbols direct people to things beyond the symbol and can lead to revelations about one's faith. However the truth of revelation cant be verified or falsified using empirical evidence. Edwards therefore did not believe that symbols convey any factual knowledge.
  • Some philosophers that the use of symbols might not be appropriate. there is no way of knowing which religious symbols are appropriate to transfer the ultimate truth through things, persons or events.
  • Tillich stated that symbols can lose their value over time. some philosophers would argue that this means it loses its original meaning over time and the meanings convayed may have changed from what was originally intended.
  • a symbol is intended to point the way to understanding something but some philosophers argue that it is not possible for religious symbols to successfully point the way to that which is beyond human experience. we dont know if symbols give the wrong idea off about God and there is no way of knowing. symbols are about the real world. yet Tillich doesnt apply symbols to an objective reality, and this might lead to a missunderstanding of the way in which religious symbols are understood.
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Arguments supporting religious langiage as symboli

  • J.R. RANDALL has similar ideas to Tillich and sees religious language as a human activity which makes a special contribution to human culture. Religious language is able to stir strong emotion and is able to bind communities together through a common response to their faith - a unique function.
  • Carl Gustav Jung argues that several basic archetypes emerge as we delve into the relms of the unconscious.
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The function of Symbols

  • The functions include-
  • 1) Identifying the concept that they are conveying
  • for example, the use of water in Christian baptism conveys the concept of cleansing the individual of Sin.
  • 2) Sharing in some way the meaning of that concept.
  • for example, Baptism participates in the Christian belief that through the sacrifice of Jesus it is possible to remove original sin.
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Religious Language as a myth

  • Myths are storys that use symbol, metaphore and allegory to convey a religious truth.
  • the story isnt true although a religious truth is conveyed.
  • many christians believe the old testement (especially the book of genisis) is a myth.

the distinctive use of symbolic language

  • they convay ideas beyond our own understanding.
  • metaphores are often used to help convey the meaning behind the story as can be seen in creation myths that seek to explain the origin of the universe (created by God.)
  • myths convey understanding of how things came about - these are called Aetiological myths and these can be used as examples of how myths are used to convey religious truths.

Aetiological myths

  • provide foundation ideas for religious approaches.
  • creation myths are amonst man kind's earliest attempts to explain some of the most profound questions about the nature and origin of the universe.
  • there are common themes included in myths.
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Views of the use of religious language as a mth

  • Rudolph Bultman argued that the language and imagery of the Gospel accounts were outdated and it is only by rejecting this mythological language that the true message of the New Testement can be found.
  • other philosophers believe that to reject mythological language would mean rejecting much of the religious beliefs underlying it.
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Wittgenstein's Language Games

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein originally supported the logical positivists but came to reject the verification principle.
  • he said that the meaning of words is in their use, the funtion they perform as agreed by the particular group or society using them.
  • he pointed out that each activity has its own language for example, language in a toolbox- hammer, pliers, a screwdriver ect and each of the functions of these words are as diverse as the functions of these objects.
  • the items in the toolbox are all tools but without knowing the different roles of each tool, understanding is only superficial.
  • Wittgenstein regarded this kind of language rather like a game with its own set of rules.
  • People in the game will be unable to understand the use of the language
  • for example, without knowing the purpose of the tools in the toolbox we cannot be a builder. if people do not understand the langiage then it will seem to be meaningless.
  • religious belief has its own language.
  • a non-believer will find religious language meaningless because they are not in the religious language game. but an outsider cannot claim that the language used in a particular game really is meaningless just because it doesnt make sense to them.
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Private Languge

  • Rene Descartes believed he had proved his own existence because of his private thought 'i think therefore i am.'
  • Wittgenstein argued that individuals could not create a private language, how would individuals know that they were using words correctly?
  • language is a social product and any thoughts are not in private but in public language, and socially agreed rules on how it is used and understood.
  • Wittgenstein denied the first-person certainty which had underlined both rationalist and empiricist approaches to philosophy.
  • this suggests that talk about God is meaningul only in the context of the community that uses the religious language game.
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Criticisms of Language Games

  • if people in diffferent faiths are playing their own language game, how is it possible for there to be discussion between the different faith traditions about God?
  • Religious believers are involved with other language games because they are involved in other aspects of life. this shows that religious language isnt completely isolated. there are common grounds between religious language and other 'language games.' the common ground means non believers are able to understand religious language and decide whether it has meaning for them.
  • non believers may be able to understand religious language better than believers. this is because non believers have an objective vew of the use of religious language.
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Religious language as moral discourse.

  • R.B Braithwaite pointed out that the error of the verification and falsification principles had been to treat religious language as cognitive language when in fact it is non-cognitive.
  • its moral discourse because its about the way in which people should behave towards each other.
  • Braithwaite argued that religious claims are meaningful because-
  • 1) a religious claim is primarily a moral claim expressing an attitude. it expresses an intention to follow a specified code of behaviour
  • 2) it is different from a moral claim, however in a religious claim will refer to a story as well as an intention.
  • 3) it is not necessary for the religious person to believe in the lieral truth of the story referred to in order to resolve to live in a vertain way of life.
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