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Religious Language ~ RS A2 Revision

Got bored of doing revision with books and paper! This has been so much more fun; and helps me remember it more as well!

Rebekah Blyth

on 16 August 2013

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Transcript of Religious Language ~ RS A2 Revision

Does any of it even
mean anything?

Religious Language
It is used to claim truths, to express
feelings or emotions, and it is
used prescriptively and performatively.

One way to look at this is to suggest that religious language does not have meaning as it fails to admit anything factual or empirical.
Religious language has many
uses and purposes

This is the view formed from the Logical Positivist movement which stemmed from a group of philosophers, scientists and mathematicians called the Vienna Circle in the 1920s. The core objective of this group was that propositions only have meaning if they can be verified empirically. Hence, they developed a principle called the verification principle; that a statement is only meaningful if it is able to be verified (and positively proven) by an actual experience or otherwise it would have to be a tautology.

From the verification principle, Rudolf Carnap concluded that;
However, there
are some key problems with the verification principle, it may seem!
The principle itself
cannot even be verified!!!
Another variation,
then, of this verification principle came from Karl Popper in the form of the falsification principle
This theory came from Karl Popper's philosophy of science; that statements are scientific if our empirical experiences could potentially falsify them. In Popper's mind, for science to be science, we must first determine our hypothesis and then try to see what would falsify it.
The other view, then, takes that religious language is actually meaningful
One of the biggest critiques of the arguments that say that talk about religion and faith is meaningless, is to question what these philosophers who take this stance actually mean when they talk about something having meaning. Some have argued, for instance, that Ayer's notion of 'meaning' is very different to the way that we conventionally use the word.
One such way is the
via negativa way (or the Apophatic way)
This idea is associated most with Pseudo-Dionysius and suggests that as we can't talk about God saying what he is, we should instead talk about him in terms of what he is not.
The final way
to look at religious language
having meaning would be through
symbol, analogy and myth
In the debate about religious language, it is important to know that there are [broadly speaking] two types of language; cognitive and non-cognitive.
Cognitive language is concerned with facts, i.e. things that we can know. Non-cognitive language is concerned with information that is not factual, i.e. emotions, feelings, etc.
The debate is then whether or not these words that are used actually mean anything at all or not... and if not, what does this mean about religion in general?
A tautology is a logical statement that we can know to be true by definition
Including Moritz Schlick, Hans Hahn,
Rudolf Carnap and A. J. Ayer
And it was also influenced by
the great Ludwig Wittgenstein
For example; we can observe with our senses the truth of statements such as 'The sky is blue'.
They also claimed that statements which are logically true such as 'A bachelor is an unmarried man' and analytically true such as '2+2=4' hold their meaning because reason shows them to be true.
...because we can look
and see that it is so!
"All metaphysical assertions cannot be verified and are therefore meaningless - and as such, their truth-value cannot even be debated on."
The verification principle does not require that a proposition must be true. Whether a proposition was true was (at least for the Vienna Circle) a matter for science, not for philosophy - the philosopher's job was simply to determine whether or not it was meaningful.
Exam Tip/Common Misconceptions;
Also, it discounts the validity
of historical debate/statements/
etc. also as completely meaningless. Just as it does
for religious language.
So if it didn't work for history...
[and we have strong enough reason to believe that history existed]
...why would we think it would work for matters of religion, faith and God as well?
So Ayer, to
rectify this problem,
developed his theory of weak verificationism ~ and what was
previously THE verification principle became strong verificationism
In his book, 'Language,
Truth and Logic', Ayer claimed that the difference between strong and weak verificationism is that where strong verification refers to being able to test
things in practice, whereas
weak verification only requires
statements to be verifiable
in principle. This then
stops the problems that
were previously
associated with this
This then led to John Hick arguing that religious language is in fact NOT meaningless as it could be verified eschatologically and so it [as Ayer's weak verificationism required it to be] verifiable in principle.
Meaning; at the
Hick's story of the celestial city shows this. In the story one traveller believes, through the whole of his life, there is a celestial city at the end and interprets life as blessings or learning experiences and another who does not and simply sees life as having to be endured. At the end of the journey, they will know for sure and its existence will indeed be verifiable or not.
This principle aims to improve on the last by suggesting that a proposition is factually meaningless if there are no falsification criteria
According to Popper;
"Any theory that is impossible to disprove is no valid theory at all."
Antony Flew built on this idea, claiming that religious language is meaningless because
religious believers refuse to allow anything
to falsify their beliefs. He used John
Wisdom's 'Parable of the Gardener'
to explain this.
Flew argues that religious believers act like the explorer who believed in the invisible gardener no matter what. Like this, religious believers are effectively shifting the goalposts so much that at the end, they are hardly making any statements at all.
Flew called this the
"death of a thousand qualifications"
In response
to this, R. M. Hare gave
his theory of 'bliks'
Hare talked about a 'blik',
being a particular view
about the world that was
either based in reason
and fact or not, but one
that could not be altered
regardless of what empirical
evidence could be thrown
up to suggest that it should
Meaning; at the
Basil Mitchell disagreed with Hare's
theory of 'bliks' and used a different
parable (the 'Parable of the Partisan') to make
his point. He argued that religious beliefs and
religious language was based on fact; even though these facts may not be straightforwardly verifiable or falsifiable.

Hick also refuted the
theory of 'bliks'
claiming that
religious beliefs
are based on
reason and not just held
for the sake of it.
In Mitchell's parable, the stranger who says he is the leader of the resistance movement will be able to one day reveal his true allegiance - but not until far in the future after the war. And then he will be able to explain his strange behaviour during it. In the same way, Mitchell proposed that religious belief will be revealed at the end of time - and then it is possible both for verification and for falsification.
When we express our opinions or feelings or poetry - or any other expression of who we are as people - we do not think that these things have no MEANING simply because they cannot be objectively verified.
In fact, Stewart Sutherland compared this idea to the language George Orwell created in his book '1984' where in order to ensure nobody spoke heretically, people could only talk practically and factually. And thankfully, this just isn't the world in which we live.
So people developed other ways that religious language could be understood without having to find ways of proving it empirically
Dionysius considered God to be
"beyond assertion"
because he is
"the perfect and unique cause of all things"
However, does this actually get us any close to understanding what the nature of God actually IS - always talking about what he isn't...?
But also, a negative statement IMPLIES a positive one; so perhaps this is just as much direct speak about God as just saying what God is anyway.
Another way is through
Ian Ramsey's 'Models & Qualifiers'
theory in which he stated that our
understanding of certain words is what becomes
the model of our understanding of God. E.g. if we have
a certain understanding of the word 'good', this can then
provide us with a model for an understanding of God's
goodness too. However, because it is God, we also need to
adapt our model - we need to qualify it. So to say that God is
'good' we need to qualify it with the qualifier that he is INFINITELY good.
The effect of this addition - according to Ramsey at any rate - is that is pushes us to think about God's goodness in greater depth than just goodness in terms of humans.
This is a positive act of qualification, rather than the negative approach of the Apophatic way.
You could also look at in terms of Ludwig Wittgenstein's 'Language Games' theory.
All those damn rucks and mauls
I'll put my rook there and attack with my knight from behind
The Handsome Prince
Rooks and Knights?! I live in a castle and my Knights are men, not horses...
The Princess
When I'm Queen, my subjects will live in peace and harmony
The School Children
Subjects don't live! They're what we learn!!!
What on earth are rucks and mauls?! Sounds made up to me.
This highlights the non-cognitive nature of religious language and distinguishes it from other types of language while still showing how it has meaning for those who use it. It also defends religious language from the criticisms from other language fields such as the challenge of science. It allows statements to be judged against their context and not on whether they are inherently true or false.
However, they do alienate those outside the game and the rules cannot be changed to allow 'outsiders' in.
Paul Tillich says that the best way to
talk about God is to use symbols. He
distinguishes the difference between
SIGNS and SYMBOLS as well to avoid
According to Tillich, a sign is something which points you in a particular direction or shows you something [i.e. a road sign]
Whereas symbols are powerful things which actually take part in the power and meaning of what they symbolise
Tillich outlined 4 main functions that symbols perform;
1. They point to something beyond themselves
2. They participate in that to which they point
3. They open up levels of reality that are otherwise closed to us
4. They also open up the levels and dimensions of the soul that correspond to those levels of reality
The problems with this view are that the symbols can actually become a focus for worship themselves, or they can be trivialised or lose their original meaning; they can also become outdated, as do myths.
Nobody now-a-days would tell you that a swastika is a symbol of happiness or auspiciousness as it did in religions such as Hinduism and Jainism before it was taken over by the Nazis - and now it is a symbol of something VERY different.
Tillich said that
"It is necessary to rediscover the questions to which the Christian symbols are the answers in a way which is understandable in our time."
Aquinas rejected the idea of using univocal language or equivocal language in relation
to God. Therefore, he said people had to speak of God in terms of analogy instead.
To Aquinas,
univocal language
just meant putting
limits on to God and
not allowing for the
fact that God is
'more' than what
we can know
And equivocal
language just
showed that the
meaning of the words
differ when we use them
to talk about God - but
then what do the words
mean in this alternative
context - it seems they
then don't tell you
very much at
In his book 'Summa Theologica' Aquinas wrote;
"No word can be used of God in the same sense it can be used in creatures; for instance, wisdom in creatures is a quality, but not in God."
Analogy of Attribution
Analogy of Proportionality
Analogy of Proper Proportion
The medicine is healthy. The urine is healthy. In this example, the urine is healthy BECAUSE the medicine is healthy. The qualities we ascribe to each other are reflections of the attributes of God; we see things like goodness and love in others because they are comparisons to the attributes of God. And just as the medicine is healthy both because it passes on that healthiness and also because it is, in itself, healthy - God is good because he both passes on that goodness and is good in himself.
When we say something is 'good' we are actually saying that it measures up to what we expect it to be. For example, a good car does what a car should and a good drink does what a drink should. Therefore to say God is good, we are really just saying God is what God should be. The type of property that something has depends on the nature of the being who possesses the properties; just as musical ability differs for people of different ages and what is 'good' for a 4-year-old is not necessarily still 'good' for a 40-year-old.
We possess the qualities that we do which are like those of God because we were created in his image and in his likeness. However, because we are inferior to God, we possess them in a lesser proportion than he does.
It could be argued that analogy, though, does not really tell us anything about God either - it can tell us that God is 'good' but what does 'good' actually mean in this respect?
Also, Swinburne argues that we don't actually need analogy. When we say 'God is good' and 'humans are good' we may be using 'good' to apply different levels or dimensions, but we are still using it to mean the same thing - we're still using the word unequivocally.
A myth is not just a fictional story ~ it is one that communicates values and beliefs
Rudolf Bultmann suggested that parts of the Bible should be understood as myths rather than as literally true. Bultmann tried to demythologise the New Testament.
He was aiming to discover the 'kerygma' - the essential message at the very core of Christianity.
But ended up leaving the Gospels extremely vulnerable to science and history and it also meant that they lost a lot of their original meaning too.
Bultmann described myth as being
"a primitive, pre-scientific way of conceptualising reality... [that it] was not simply the ancients' way of conceptualising the world, [but] it was their way of expressing their experience of reality."
Bultmann argued that the Gospels were too dependent on the context they were set in. And that this context was far removed from the one we live in today. In this sense, Bultmann's program of demythologisation does retain some validity; it expresses the problems of translating from one culture to another.
The problem with myths is that they can be incredibly difficult to analyse and decipher the true message of. Also, some would say that if there is a truth to be expressed that it should be able to be expressed directly. But perhaps the biggest problem associated with myth is that they cannot be verifiable and are often seen as false, fictitious beliefs. Especially now-a-days.
However, it is important to recognise and remember what a myth actually is. As D. F. Strauss put it, a myth is
"the expression or embodiment of an idea"
. This does not, then, have to mean that the idea is false.
You tell me!
Another argument against 'bliks', of course, is the approach C. S. Evans took, showing that 'bliks' themselves are unverifiable and unfalsifiable. Therefore how can we know which ones are right or wrong; which ones are sane or insane?
Including Moritz Schlick, Hans Han,
Full transcript