Philosophy of Religion - Religious Language (traditional)

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What is religious language?
Communication of ideas about God, faith, belief and practice.
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What is the religious language debate concerned with?
Whether or not we can use religious language to effectively communicate ideas relating to God.
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What does paradox mean?
A paradox is a statement which contradicts itself.
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Give an example of a paradox:
E.g, describing something infinite (God) in finite language.
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What is Hick's analogy for explaining why religious language makes little sense?
Boyfriend/girlfriend analogy.
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What is the boyfriend/girlfriend analogy?
A boyfriend tells his girlfriend he loves her. When she asks - ''do you really'' the boy replies ''no''.
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Define univocal:
Something which only has one meaning, e.g the word dressing gown can only mean dressing gown.
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Define equivocal:
Something which has more than one meaning, e.g pen - can be one you write with, or one for a goat.
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Define cognitive:
A fact, e.g London is the capital of England.
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Define non-cognitive:
A matter of opinion e.g Immigration is bad for society.
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Give examples of cognitive language in scripture/religion:
Emphasis on scripture as being literal and real - Traditionalists, Christians, Fundamentalists.
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Give examples of non-cognitive language in scripture/religion:
Scripture is viewed as metaphorical rather than literal. E.g Gospel of John Chapter 2 when Jesus turned water into wine.
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Why is it difficult for religious language to be cognitive?
Because it is definite and absolute. It means it is less believable.
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Why is it difficult for religious language to be non-cognitive?
Believers find it offensive that their religion is metaphorical rather than literal. Atheists would take the view that when a believer says that God exists they mean it literally.
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What are the main problems associated with religious language?
Paradoxical. Describing the indescribable: ''No one has ever seen the Father'''/fish and the turtle. Esoteric (only open to a small no. of people). Religious language is too patriarchal and power-based. Doesn't refer to things in modern day society.
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What are some solutions to the issues concerned with religious language?
Via-Negativa/Via-Positiva. Saying God is NOT evil cannot be bad.
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Who is known for being associated with the Via-Negativa?
Thomas Aquinas (Moses Maimonides, Pseudo Dionysius).
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What is the Via-Negativa?
Attempts to solve the issue of indescribable language in saying what God is NOT rather than what He is. By negating the possibilities of what God is - learn more about what he could be. We are limited in our lang. as human lang. isn't enough f. God.
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What does Pseudo Dionysius say about God?
He is ''beyond all being and knowledge'' - He is the ''perfect and unique cause of all things''.
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What does Moses Maimonides say about the Via-Negativa?
Strong supporter of the VN. Argued that by speaking of God in positive terms we don't learn anything about what he really is. We come closer to knowledge of God through negative attributes. Example of a ship
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What is another word for the via-negativa?
The apophatic way.
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What are some strengths of the via-negativa?
Recognises paradoxical nature + attempts to overcome. Prevents anthropomorphism (making God human). Supports idea that God is ineffable and beyond human description.
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What are some weaknesses of the via-negativa?
In order to say what God is NOT you need to know what God IS. Religious believers don't want to talk negatively abt. God. Results in a limited understanding - we only know what God is not.
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What did Brian Davies say was silly about the via-negativa?
Results in a limited understanding because you are not really describing Him. Declaring ''God is not a wombat'' doesn't help you come any closer to understand what He is.
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What did Keith Ward say about the via-negativa?
The over use of negative terms means that God ends up becoming ''a great big nothing''.
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What is the via-positiva/cataphatic way?
The discussion of God/religious language through the use of analogy,
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How did the cataphatic way come about?
Aquinas was concerned that we could not talk about God in human language - nor could we talk of Him univocally or equivocally.
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What does analogy mean according to Aquinas?
It means neither the same, nor different.
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Give examples of analogies already studied:
Aquinas' archer analogy and Paley's watch analogy. Augustine also used analogy in the Problem of Evil.
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What are the three types of analogy that Aquinas argued for?
1) Analogy of attribution - God's qualities can be seen through words used about the world. 2) Analogy of proper proportion. 3) Analogy of improper proportion.
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Explain analogy of attribution:
Because God made the world we should expect God to reflect the world in some way so we would be justified in drawing analogies between the world and God.
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Explain the bull/urine analogy:
Aquinas used this analogy to explain how the analogy of attribution works. The health of the bull is found in the urine, however, the health of the bull is only complete in the bull itself. It's indirect + incomplete.
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What is ''order of reference''?
The world represents goodness, but God is foremost because He is the source of this quality. The world only has goodness in a secondary respect.
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Explain the analogy of proper proportion:
John Hick: we are all made in the image of God, so we have His qualities - but in lesser proportions.
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Explain Hick's example of faithfulness:
God is faithful. I am faithful. My dog is faithful. They are all faithful, but in different proportions, yet there must be some sort of similarity between them for them all to be faithful.
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Explain the analogy of improper proportion:
An analogy which is just a metaphor and does not really deal with proportionate qualities would be one of improper proportion. E.g God is a rock - only a loose comparison.
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What are some criticisms of analogy?
There are lots of bad things in the world which wouldn't work when comparing God analogically. Swinburne: Aquinas has made an unnecessary theory because we can speak of God/humans univocally. Vienna Circle/verification principle.
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What does Paul Tillich say about religious language?
We can communicate our knowledge of religious experience through the use of symbols/symbolic language.
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What was Tillich's first point about symbolism?
Symbols are not signs. Symbols participate in the thing they are talking about whereas signs only point to it. E.g road signs vs a country's flag.
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What four points did Tillich make about symbolic language?
1) They point to something beyond themselves. 2) They participate in that to which they point. 3) They open up a new level of reality. 4) They open up dimensions of the soul which correspond to those aspects of reality.
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Give an example of religious symbolism:
The cross - invites Christians to think about their religion, reminds them of Jesus' sacrifice. Invites them to pray. Star of David - invokes a feeling of patriotism for Israelis. Powerful and important symbol for Jews across the world.
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What are religious symbols independent of?
They are independent of empirical criticism. This means God can only be expressed through symbolic language.
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What are religious symbols meant to do?
They are meant to convey the same feelings within people.
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What can we say about the Bible being symbolic?
The Bible can be regarded as an example of religious symbolism. More inconceivable stories e.g Jonah and the Whale, can be regarded as symbolic rather than literal.
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What does J.H Randall say about symbolic language?
Randall suggests that religious symbols can clarify and disclose our experience of the divine in the same way a poet or artist can reveal hidden depths.
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What are some criticisms of symbolic language?
Symbolic language may be only understood by those within a restricted community. Can be misunderstood - e.g Nazi Swastika was a Hindu symbol for goodness. Tillich did not make a distinction between ordinary symbols and religious symbols.
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Card 2


What is the religious language debate concerned with?


Whether or not we can use religious language to effectively communicate ideas relating to God.

Card 3


What does paradox mean?


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Card 4


Give an example of a paradox:


Preview of the front of card 4

Card 5


What is Hick's analogy for explaining why religious language makes little sense?


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