Religious Language


A2 philosophy on 'Religious Language' (AQA)
Mind Map by michellelung2008, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by michellelung2008 over 9 years ago

Resource summary

Religious Language
      1. Logical Positivists (Vienna Circle)
        1. Two forms of verifiable language
          1. ANALYTIC (a priori)
            1. True by definition, e.g. "all bachelors are unmarried" because bachelor=unmarried man by definition
            2. SYNTHETIC (a posteriori)
              1. Statement could be proved true or false (verified) through sense experience or experiments (empirically verified), e.g. "John is a bachelor" could be verified by seeing if John is a an unmarried man.
          2. Only meaningful language is COGNITIVE.
            1. "We know the meaning of a statement if we know the conditions under which the statement is TRUE OR FALSE"
            2. Non-Cognitive statements are meaningless.
              1. Most general claims would be ruled meaningless by the verification principle.
                1. For example, even scientific claims like "all water boils at 100 degrees centigrade" can't be verified because not ALL water in the world has been tested to be true.
                  1. Therefore Verification Principle could be deemed too extreme and rules out too many statements as meaningless.
                    1. A. J. Ayer
                      1. Ayer gets around these problems by developing the verification principle into 2 versions of verification to determine a statement as meaningful.
                        1. STRONG VERIFICATION
                          1. Statement can be verified through observation and can be established as true/false for CERTAIN.
                          2. WEAK VERIFICATION
                            1. Some observations and reasoning suggest that a statement is PROBABLY true/false. Statement can possibly be verified in future, e.g. "in 2012 the world will end", once 2012 has passed we will know the truth.
                              1. However, this still allows weakness in Ayer's theory, because it could allow some religious statements to be meaningful
                                1. e.g. "God is the creator": evidence of the design of our complex world could allow this statement to probably seem true.
                  2. Therefore, talk of God can't be verified through senses or scientific evidence and so we can't prove religious language to be true or false and so RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE IS MEANINGLESS.
                      1. John Hick
                        1. To verify some statements, certain situations must occur, that may only occur later.
                          1. To verify life after death (e.g. heaven& hell) we must experience life after death which we can't now.
                            1. Religious language may not be meaningless then because t could be verified in the afterlife.
                    2. The Verification Principle itself can't be verified by its own conditions, making itself seem meaningless too. IT IS SELF-DEFEATING!
                    3. FALSIFICATION PRINCIPLE
                      1. Antony Flew
                        1. Like verification principle, agrees that meaningful language must relate to world in some way.
                          1. If you can't falsify a statement, then that shows that the world has no bearing to the truth of the statement and is immune to all factual knowledge, and therefore it has no relationship to the world.
                            1. Unfalsifiable statements are therefore meaningless.
                            2. Parable of the Gardener
                              1. Original belief in a gardener, but after no evidence or sight of the gardener, believer makes excuse like him being invisible and intangible to overcome doubt.
                                1. However, what remains of the original assertion? How does the invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary or non-existent gardener?
                                  1. Flew argues this illustrates how Religious believers don't allow anything to contradict or go against their belief in God and His qualities, and constantly adapt their claims about God to avoid being proven wrong, to the point that the original claims of God are lost.
                                    1. Therefore RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE = MEANINGLESS
                                      1. Some statements are not falsifiable, yet we still understand the meaning behind them.
                                        1. Richard Swinburne
                                          1. Toy cupboard analogy
                                            1. We can never prove that toys don't come out to play or move when we aren't looking.
                                              1. Yet although we can't falsify this statement, we still understand it's meaning and it is therefore still meaningful.
                                      2. E.g. "God is all loving": but when faced with the problem of evil & suffering, believers argue it is part of God's greater plan, or to test us and teach us lessons.
                                        1. R. M. Hare
                                          1. Religious language may not make factual claims- but IT STILL HOLDS MEANING
                                            1. not because it gives knowledge, but because it influences the way people look at the world in their own "bilk" and so it is meaningful to the individual.
                                          2. Basil Mitchell
                                            1. Believers do allow things to count against their beliefs.
                                              1. Flew missed the point that believers have a prior commitment to God based on faith, and though faced with doubt and challenges, don't let them undermine their faithfulness to God.
                                          3. "Religious language makes God die a death of a thousand qualifications"
                              2. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE = MEANINGFUL
                                1. "BLIKS"
                                  1. R. M. Hare
                                    1. A frame of reference in interpreting the world...
                                      1. Analogy of the University student
                                        1. A university student is convinced his tutors/ professors are plotting to kill him, and would deny any attempts to falsify his claim. Although not true, his belief is still meaningful to him as it affected the way he perceived the university.
                                          1. The way of looking at the world is called a BLIK.
                                            1. The Blik is not based on evidence, so cannot be contradicted by evidence.
                                              1. Similarly, religious beliefs are 'bilks' because of the impact they have of religious believers and how they live their life and look at the world, whilst not letting anything go against their beliefs.
                                                1. One weakness is that Hare doesn't give a way of ranking bilks.
                                                  1. e.g. Religion, science & paranoia are all bilks.
                                                    1. But surely paranoia is not nearly as legitimate in comparison to science.... so bilks should be able to be ranked in order of validity?
                                                  2. Also shuts out other people as it is only meaningful to believers.
                                        2. "FAITH"
                                          1. Basil Mitchell
                                            1. Parable of Freedom Fighter/ Stanger
                                              1. During World War II, a soldier meets a stranger who tells him he is on his side and to trust him even though the soldier sees him act on the side of his enemies.
                                                1. The soldier's faith is constantly tested but no matter what remains faithful and gives him the benefit of the doubt.
                                                  1. Mitchell suggests believers are like the soldier in the parable and once a prior commitment to God has been made, then believers will face any struggles in their belief but GIVE GOD THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT even when faced with challenges against their beliefs.
                                                    1. Flew argues that in the parable, the stranger was an ordinary man. But this doesn't work the same way for God.
                                                      1. When faced with problems like the problem of evil...
                                                        1. We can't say God wants to help but can't; he is meant to be omnipotent.
                                                          1. We can't say God can't see the problems to help with; He is meant to be omniscient.
                                                            1. So there is no reason to give God the benefit of the doubt and remain faithful.
                                                          2. So religious language is still meaningful to the individual.
                                                      2. Agrees in hare's idea of bilks, but believes that believers will allow evidence to challenge and overturn their bilk.
                                                      3. VIA NEGATIVA
                                                        1. "Way of Negation" or "the Negative Way"
                                                          1. God is not within our limited universe so he is beyond our understanding and language to speak of.
                                                            1. Fails because negative statements are just disguised positive ones.
                                                              1. e.g. God is not lacking in power = God is powerful
                                                            2. If we did use words to describe God we would limit or anthropomorphise Him.
                                                              1. Therefore it is better to describe God through saying what he is NOT.
                                                                1. e.g. God is not lacking in power...
                                                                2. As Basil the Great once said: "Our intellect is weak, but our tongue is even weaker"
                                                                3. Has been useful for people trying to describe ineffable near death experiences.
                                                                  1. Maimonides
                                                                  2. ANALOGICAL
                                                                    1. Thomas Aquinas
                                                                      1. Aquinas thought we could only talk of God analogically to try and understand him.
                                                                        1. UNIVOCAL USE (same definition in multiple contexts)
                                                                          1. Can't talk about God like ourselves because He is different and beyond us.
                                                                          2. EQUIVOCAL USE (different definition in different contexts)
                                                                            1. Can't talk equivocally about God either, because we aren't completely different from Him (He created us after all)
                                                                              1. Via Negativa
                                                                                1. Would argue that God is beyond our limited understanding and so should be spoken about EQUIVOCALLY.
                                                                                  1. But God made us in His image so we can relate to Him.
                                                                                2. Verification Principle
                                                                                  1. Ayer would argue that God is beyond our experience so there is no foundation for analogical language.
                                                                                    1. But evidence of design in the world supports for God's existence.
                                                                                      1. The Verification Principle itself is meaningless - it can't verify itself.
                                                                                3. ANALOGICAL USE
                                                                                  1. So our slight differences and resemblances to God allow us to talk about him analogically.
                                                                                4. Aquinas developed 2 types of analogy to talk of God...
                                                                                  1. ANALOGY OF PROPORTION
                                                                                    1. words are employed to refer to the quality that the thing possesses in proportion to the kind of reality it possesses.
                                                                                      1. So God's power is proportionally greater than humans' power.
                                                                                    2. ANALOGY OF ATTRIBUTION
                                                                                      1. a term concerning one, original thing, also concerns the second because it was cause by the first.
                                                                                        1. Therefore humans possess similar qualities to God (e.g. wisdom, kindness...) because we were CREATED IN HIS IMAGE but in lesser proportion.
                                                                                    3. SYMBOLIC
                                                                                      1. Paul Tillich
                                                                                        1. Religious language should be interpreted SYMBOLICALLY and METAPHORICALLY.
                                                                                          1. Believed that symbols "unlocks dimensions and elements of our soul"
                                                                                            1. Religious language can't be taken literally as RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE = NON-COGNITIVE
                                                                                            2. SIGNS
                                                                                              1. Expresses facts/cognitive knowledge
                                                                                              2. SYMBOLS
                                                                                                1. transcend facts, elicits responses ("participates in that to which they point"), point to something beyond themselves, subtle modes of communication, can be interpreted differently.
                                                                                                2. To try and describe God as 'a being' is to deny him, binds him up in our physical, limited world and anthropomorphises him.
                                                                                                  1. We cannot describe an INFINITE God using FINITE (limited) human experiences and language.
                                                                                                    1. Verification Principle
                                                                                                      1. Ayer could argue that symbols can't be verified and emotional responses elicited by them aren't open to being checked by evidence.
                                                                                                        1. Meaning is personal and comes from emotional responses so evidence isn't important.
                                                                                                3. LANGUAGE GAMES
                                                                                                  1. Wittgenstein
                                                                                                    1. Rejects verification principle after originally agreeing with logical positivists.
                                                                                                      1. ORIGINALLY, early Wittgenstein adopted a "picture theory" of meaning. He believed language was a way of depicting facts (cognitive statements) and must relate back to the world or we stray in to realm of nonsense. also believes language was supposed to allow us to picture images and situations.
                                                                                                        1. HOWEVER he then rejected this idea as it failed to capture the complexity of language.
                                                                                                          1. He pointed out that some statements can't be verified as true or false, e.g. talk of art, poetry or religion, yet we still understand each other.
                                                                                                            1. So he thought of language as using words in a range of contexts.
                                                                                                              1. This lead onto his theory of LANGUAGE GAMES.
                                                                                                                1. Wittgenstein believes religious language can be used equivocally and still be meaningful.
                                                                                                                  1. But Aquinas would argue it is to be used analogically and meaningful for EVERYONE.
                                                                                                                  2. Verification Principle
                                                                                                                    1. Language games are meaningless if they don't relate to the world factually, so religious language is meaningless.
                                                                                                                      1. But this is ASSUMING that one language game (science) applies to another language game (religion)... IT DOESN'T!!!!
                                                                                                                  3. Language games are used within 'form of life' (context) and are only meaningful to the community of people within the "game" (the players) but seem meaningless to outsiders.
                                                                                                                    1. e.g. Builders who use construction jargon and terms understand each other, but teachers or other ordinary people may not.
                                                                                                                      1. But outsiders cannot claim that the language used by one community is meaningless just because it doesn't make sense to them.
                                                                                                                        1. This relates to how religious language is just one language game and is meaningful to the believers, but may seem meaningless to outsiders.
                                                                                                                          1. BRAITHWAITE
                                                                                                                            1. Braithwaite developed Wittgenstein's idea by further saying how religious language is a MORAL DISCOURSE.
                                                                                                                              1. MEANING = USE
                                                                                                                                1. e.g. if i say "Killing animals is wrong" this may suggest I will never kill an animal myself as a way of living.
                                                                                                                                  1. Similarly, Religious claims like "God is love" means followers may act selflessly and lovingly in his example.
                                                                                                                                    1. However, some believers argue that he belittles religious language to reduce it to the "intention to carry out a certain behaviour policy"
                                                                                                                                      1. Some believers believe their religious teachings are to be taken more literally than he suggests.
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