Philosophy - Religious Language - Falsification and Verification

  • Created by: Sarah
  • Created on: 31-03-15 15:02

Religious Language

  • Concerned with asking 'What can be said about God?'
  • Discusses things outside our senses rather than physical issues
  • If God is infinite, words used to describe finite humans may not be adequate
  • Is religious language therefore meaningless?
  • Religious believers: it is possible to speak and write about God (though difficult - the word 'God' applies to a being beyond human understanding)
  • Logical Positivists: Statements about God have no meaning beacause they don't relate to facts
  • Two types of language:
    • Cognitive - A statement is factual
    • Non-cognitive - not subject to truth or falsity

The Verification Principle

Strong Verification - Logical Positivists

  • Vienna Circle gave rise to the logical positivist movement
  • Central principle of the group was that propositions only have meaning if they can be verified empiricially
  • Came up with the Verification Principle
    • Statements only have meaning if they can be verified by the senses
    • It must be verifiable by an actual experience or is a tautology (a logical statement we know to be true by definition)
  • Waismann described logical positivism as
    • A statement which cannot be conclusively verified cannot be verified at all. It is simply devoid of meaning.
  • Wittgenstein, although not a member of the Vienna circle, argued that language only had meaning if it referred to empirical reality
  • However, he also differed from the logical positivists by accepting that the mystical should be allowed for, formulating the language games theory:
    • Observed that religious people understand the language of religion as cricketers understand the leg before wicket rule
    • To speak in any language is to play a certain game
    • Words only make sense in a background of other words that all belong to the same game, and thus have no 'real' meaning
    • People play one game after another to find meaning, including the religous language game to understand the meaning, signifigance, feeling and aura around an expression of belief
    • Strengths:
      • Recognises that scientific approaches to religious language are inappropriate
      • Safeguards religious language from attack as he argues that we cannot stand outside a game and legislate it
      • We can also not brush aside vast areas of language as nonsensical
    • Weaknesses:
      • Does this lead to fideism i.e. blind acceptance and an inability to question the validity of anything?
      • Are language games totally isolated? If we all participate in several language games simultaneously, can't we evauate them?
      • Conceptual relativism - each game is immunised from attack, for each has its own equal claim to an objective truth. But can they all be valid?

Weak Verification

  • It is easier to verify some statements than others - for instance, we can verify 'the sun is shining' easier than we can verify 'the soul is immortal'
  • Weak verification refers to stements that can be shown to be probable by observation and experience - doesn't need conclusive verification as above
  • Verification principle states that two types of statement are meaningful:
    • Analytic statements that contain all the information within a statement that is necessary…


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