Via Negativa

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  • Created by: Chantal
  • Created on: 02-04-14 12:03

Via Negativa

  • Since God is not in the universe he can only be spoken of in terms of what he is not
  • Based on the principle of negation
  • Speaks indirectly about God
  • Uses equivocal (different meanings- subjective) language
  • Lessens risk of anthropomorphism
  • God is transcendent so you can’t say what he is
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Pseudo- Dionysius

  • God is ‘beyond assertion’ and ‘beyond denial’ therefore whatever you say about God doesn’t tell us about him
  • God is beyond all categories of human thought
  • Three states of knowledge in which we can know and say about God:
    • Via negative
    • State of affirmation
    • Qualifying what we say about God (Ramsey)
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  • Like the form of the good God is metaphysical and perfect
  • The world, in contrast, is physical and imperfect
  • The soul can contemplate the Form of the good (anamnesis) so we can know what cant be described
  • Religious language is non cognitive (proposition neither true/ false)


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  • Neo- Platonism
  • Reality is derived from a single supreme something known as the good (form of good)
  • The good:
    • Transcends existence
    • Is unknowable
    • Emanates into a persons soul
  • It’s only by mediating on higher things that one can encounter God
  • Apothetic mediation= imageless
  • No language that uses material images can describe God (renders myth, symbol and analogy useless)
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Peter Cole

  • ‘By denying all descriptions of God, you get insight and experience of God rather than unbelief and scepticism’
  • Denies the possibility of describing God in concrete terms
  • Concrete terms reduce God to human level (anthropomorphism)
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  • God is wholly other, not to be comprehended by the finite mind
  • The most of what we can say is metaphorical, allegorical or untranslatable
  • We can know that God is but not what God is


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  • Negation emphasise the unknowability of God
  • Avoids anthropomorphism
  • We aren’t left with inadequate ideas of God formed using limited language
  • Supports the view that God is ineffable
  • Conveys the transcendence of God


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  • Says nothing about God
  • Cannot describe God
  • The result is a limited understanding of God
  • Not a true reflection of how religious people speak of God
  • Claims no positive  statement can be made about God (theists disagree therefore myth/ symbol/ analogy more appealing)
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