Religious Language

HideShow resource information

Via Negativa

- People can only talk about God in negative terms. God is transcendent so you cannot say what God is because no human words can describe God. However, you can understand what God is not; for example God is not a human being because he is divine and transcendent so doesn't have a body. Christians believe that God is good so therefore, God is not evil. 

- Via Negativa doesn't say that you cannot make statements about what God is, instead, it says that the language does not tell us about God because our knowledge of attributes and qualities is that of a human being and God is greater than human conceptions. If we talk about Go being all-knowing we can debate what it means, but in the end, we cannot know what it is to be all knowing. 


- Does saying what God is not really say anything about what God is? For example, if a rug is not black it could be grey, pink, blue, yellow and so on.

- Even using words to describe what God is not is a human conception. 'God is not evil' - evil is a human conception. 

1 of 3

Language Games

- Wittgenstein suggested that the meaning of words is determined by the Language Game in which the words are a part of. By this he meant a words meaning comes from the circumstances or context it is used in. 

- He compared language to the game of chess. 

2 of 3

Religious Language Games

- Religious terminology is a language game, and words like 'God', 'perfection' and 'omniscience' are words part of the language game. They are understandable and meaningful to people who participate in the religious language game. If a religious believer said 'God exists and this is a reality to my life' - a non-believer could not understand nor believe this because they are not part of the same language game. Wittgenstein did not argue whether language games exist in a hierarchy, he simply stated they all exist - but to different people. 

- He argued that the problem with Ayer's verification approach is that he was using the wrong language game to investigate religious language. Instead of using a language game of belief, Ayer uses a language game that is more appropriate for discussing the physical world than believer's statements about God. 


- Gives believers a way to express the meaningfulness of religious language at the same times as explaining why talk of God's love or God's existence does not have the same significance for atheists.

- It could be argued that Wittgenstein's views lead to religious beliefs being understood in an anti-realist manner. Clearly many believers would claim that some statements they make are true propositions that refer to how things are empirical or metaphysical. COUNTER ARGUMENT: it could be argued that religious belief is an activity since it involves sharing a way of life. In this case, Wittgenstein has captured the essence of what it is to be religious: for many believers religion isn't a philosophical enquiry into the nature of belief but a shared community life. culture and identity.

3 of 3


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Philosophy resources »