Religious language

  • Created by: livvvx
  • Created on: 29-04-19 18:34

Religious language

The philosophy of religious language looks at the meaning of both religious concepts  (such as God, omnipotence, Father) and at religious propositions. A proposition is an assertion or statement about the world, we all express our beliefs in the form of propositions e.g. 'The world is round', 'I am a student'.

Religious propositions reveal themselves to have features that make them rather different from those of ordinary lang:

  • Religious propositions are often contradictory or paradoxical. To say that 'God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost' is to say that he is at once one and three: a claim that is rather puzzling.
  • The word that is most central to RL, 'God', refers to a being that lies beyond human experience. Many theologians have held that 'God' is a concept beyond our understanding, and that our language is woefully inadequate when it comes to talking of God. 
  • RL is also peculiar in that it often describes God in human terms. In Genesis, for example, we are told that God walked in the GoE. Does this mean that God has legs? God also spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. Does this mean he has a tongue and lips? How are we to make sense of such talk if God is a being who is outside of space and time. 

Ogden and Richards in the 'Meaning of Meaning', identified sixteen different meanings of the word 'meaning', which shows how ambiguous the meaning of the word can be. However, it seems that although we may be able to use words happily enough, and can even explain what most words mean, it is much harder to say what it is for a word to have meaning in the first place. 

If we can establish whatever it is that all meaningful sentences have in common and meaningless sentences lack, then we should have a good idea of what makes them meaningful. Constituent parts of any sentence must be recognisable words for the sentence to be meaningful. 

Meaningfulness seems to require at least two conditions: that the words used are themselves meaningful and also that they are combined in ways that follow certain rules (rules such as grammar). However, to be meaningful a sentence needs more than to be composed of proper words arranged grammatically. 

It seems that there are three identified features that meaningful sentences must have: they must use real words, they must be arranged grammatically, and they must be trying to communicate something. 

There are many diff theories concerning what makes a sentence meaningful, and they broadly fall into two types: Cognitive and Non-cognitive

Some philosophers (e.g. Wittgenstein and A.J.Ayer) have argued that sentences are only meaningful if they are connected in some identifiable way to the world. Such sentences describe the world either truly or falsely e.g. 'Socrates was executed in 399 BC' this is meaningful because, it tries to tell us something about the world.  It is irrelevant for this theory of meaning whether a sentence…

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