Theory of Analogy

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Overview of The Theory of Analogy

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  • Created by: Courtney
  • Created on: 19-11-11 22:33

Aquinas (1225-1275)

Aquinas was the first notable proponent of analogy when talking about God:

  • An analogy attempts to explain something complex in terms of what we know. I.e Paley's Watch Analogy

Assumed God existed and created everything. Starts from a confirmed rel. belief and works backwards to prove God.

  • In Aquinas' time, there was nothing to question this approach. I.e Big Bang Theory or evolution to question religion
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Aquinas & Religious Language

Aquinas rejected two types of language when used in relation to God:

Univocal (Uni=One) 

Words that mean the same things in all situations. E.g. "Black", Black Board, Black Cat


Words that have different meanings in different contexts. I.e "Gay" has several meanings..Jolly, Homosexual or Rubbish.

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Aquinas & Religious Language Continued

Religious Language tries to explain God.For example, 'God is good'. The word 'good' can be univocal or equivocal:

(1) If we were speaking univocally this means God is good in the same way as humans.

(2) If we were to speak equivocally, this would mean God is good in a completely different way to humans.

Problems (1) God has to be perfect. Imperfect humans cannot be the same as God. (2) If God is good in a different way to humans, then we cannot know anything about him as the language we use to describe the world and humanity don't apply to God.

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The Middle Way

Despite rejecting univocal and equivocal language when talking about God, Aquinas theorised that there was a middle way, which could talk meaningfully about God. Through Analogy

Aquinas described 3 types of analogy:

(1) Analogy of Attribution

(2) Analogy of Proper Proportion

(3) Analogy of Improper Proportion

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Analogy of Attribution ( is the source of all things in the universe.

Using the analogy of a Bull's urine, Aquinas showed how an order of reference meant that we could have the same attributes as God:

A Bull's urine can be used to determine its health. If the urine is healthy, we can determine the bull is healthy. But, it is in the bull itself which retains the complete, perfect health.

Aquinas showed that although the urine reflects health only the Bull has the 'full picture'. This is the same with Humans & God. Humans= Urine, God= Bull: we inherit Gods qualities, secondarily or analogically. Only God retains the full, perfect quality.

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The Analogy of Proper Proportion

Aquinas said that we have qualities like God. As we are created in his image. However, because we are inferior to God, we possess those qualities in a lesser proportion to God.

Hick provided the example of the term 'faithful'. Faithful can be used to describe a behaviour of a man or woman. However, the same word is also used to describe a dog.  There is a difference between a persons faithfulness and a dogs. Yet there is "a recognisable similarity or analogy, otherwise, we would not think of a dog as faithful"

We know what true faithfulness is. But the imperfect likeness of this in a dog is "known by analogy". 

Dog=Human, Human=God

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Aquinas based his middle way on assumptions, which if you don't agree with in the first place demoralise his whole Analogy Theory.

'Humans created in the image and likeness of God'- Really? Darwin and evolution. Dawkins.

Humans can also be evil, does God posses these qualities also?

Swinburne- We don't really need analogy at all. 'God is good' and 'Humans are good'  although applied to different things it still means the same thing- I.e still univocal

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