Religious Language

HideShow resource information


This is a philosophical movement that claims language is only meaningful if it can be verified by sense-observation or is a tautology. 

If was influenced by science which emphasises the importance of confirming any statement by observation. Verficationists try to apply the same approach to all use of language when making statements facts. Moritz, Schlick and other supporters of it point out that the meaningfulness of statements is shown by the method which you verify the statement. 

In other words, you can't demonstrate how a statements is true using sense observations, then the statement is factually meaningless.
     Language tells us something about the way the world is. Statements that don't do this are factually meaningless, or tautologies.
     One of the aims of verificationism was to indicate which areas of philosophy or science are factually meaningless and thus pointless to investigate. 

E.g. If I say 'my car is red' this is meaningful as it can be proven by looking at the car, however 'I love my car' cannot, so is meaningless. 

Language used to talk about God is seen as meaningless as there's no way to prove it true or false with experiment or observation.  

The problem with the strict, scientific approach of verificationism is that many statements people make are seen as meaningless, even when they think they're making sense. 
      Swinburne gives the example of 'all ravens are black' - while people believe this statement to be true generally, there's no way to prove that all ravens are black so according to verficationists it is meaningless. 

Secondly, no statement can be made about history. If i say 'the battle of Hastings was in 1066' there's no way to verify it by observation. 

A.J. Ayer and Verification

  • Ayer supported this - "the criterion we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion of verifiability".
  • ^ If a statement isn't verifiable then it's meaningless or a tautology. 
  • By meaningless he meant not "factually significant".
  • He wasn't denying people make other statements significant to them, just that they aren't factually significant. 
  • "the sentence expressing it may be emotionally significant to him; but is not literally significant" 

How do you verify a proposition?

Ayer called the statement being tested a 'putative proposition'

He first distinguished between 'practical verifiability' and 'verifiability in principle'. The former meant statements that could be tested in reality. e.g. 'The cardiff football team wear blue' is verifiable in practice - they can be observed. However 'there's life on other planets' is verifiable in principle, but in practice we can't do it as we lack the needed technology. 

He then distinguished between 'strong' and 'weak' verification. Strong is anything that can be verified conclusively by observation and experience, and weak is statements that can be shown probable by observation and experience.

Ayer argued verificationism in the weak sense as he said strong verification "had no possible application". E.g. you couldn't say 'all humans are


No comments have yet been made

Similar Philosophy resources:

See all Philosophy resources »See all Ideas of gods resources »