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Later "this" and "there" are added with functions analogous to the function these words have in natural language , and "a, b, c, d" as numerals. An example of its use: builder A says "d — slab — there" and points, and builder B counts four slabs, "a, b, c, d The builder's language is an activity into which is woven something we would recognize as language, but in a simpler form. This language-game resembles the simple forms of language taught to children, and Wittgenstein asks that we conceive of it as "a complete primitive language" for a tribe of builders.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the philosophical concept. For systems of language obfuscation such as Pig Latin , see Language game. Early philosophy. Picture theory of language Truth tables Truth conditions Truth functions State of affairs Logical necessity. Later philosophy. Analytic philosophy Linguistic turn Ideal language philosophy Logical atomism Logical positivism Ordinary language philosophy Fideism Quietism Therapeutic approach.

Bertrand Russell G. Other topics. Main article: Philosophical Investigations. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved April 4, Retrieved Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Picture theory of language Truth tables. Language-game Private language argument Family resemblance Rule-following Form of life Wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics. Analytic philosophy Linguistic turn Ideal language philosophy Logical atomism Logical positivism Ordinary language philosophy Wittgensteinian fideism Quietism. Anscombe R.

Linguistic Understanding and the Philosophy of Language

Moore David Pinsent Frank P. Ayer Gordon Baker James F. The formal representation of these statements provided insight into their underlying logical structures; at the same time, it helped to dispel certain philosophical puzzles that had been created, in the view of the formalists, through the tendency of earlier philosophers to mistake surface grammatical form for logical form. It may seem, then, that existence is a property of tigers, just as their biting is. Anselm of Canterbury , is unsound. Among 19th-century figures who contributed to the development of symbolic logic were the mathematicians George Boole —64 , the inventor of Boolean algebra , and Georg Cantor — , the creator of set theory.

The generally recognized founder of modern symbolic logic is Gottlob Frege — , of the University of Jena in Germany. Analytic philosophy. Article Media. Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Introduction Nature of analytic philosophy The empiricist tradition The role of symbolic logic History of analytic philosophy The revolt against idealism Moore and Russell G. Written By: Keith S. Donnellan Avrum Stroll. See Article History. These theories propose that despite appearing to literally assert religious sentences, speakers are instead employing a different type of speech act.

An alternative approach is to argue that religious utterances are avowed for practical reasons rather than their truth. Ian Ramsey 3. Minimalists 4. This view is sometimes associated with Wittgenstein, whose brief remarks and lectures on religion have been highly influential. However, the interpretation of his work is not widely agreed upon and some different possibilities will be considered in 4.

The face value theory is a widely assumed—if not the default—approach taken to religious discourse in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. Resistance to it is sometimes presented a brief aberration confined to the middle decades of the twentieth century Mackie 2; Swinburne 88 with questionable if not anti-religious motivations van Inwagen ; Plantinga ch. However, as will become clear in the following sections, the opposition to face value theory is not of recent vintage and although some who disagree with face value theory may be atheists, the position is not tied to atheism.

First, he offers no positive alternative account of the meaning of religious utterances. Ayer saw little value in religious discourse and preferred its elimination. In contrast, the other theories considered in this section propose that religious language may be meaningful even if it does not express religious propositions. Various options have been proposed: it may express non-cognitive states, have a practical value in modifying the thought and action of speakers, or represent non-religious facts. The verificationist theory of meaning was popularised by A.

Ayer in his Language, Truth and Logic. According to Ayer, a statement is factually contentful if and only if it is empirically verifiable. A statement is empirically verifiable if what it says can in principle be shown to be true or false by observation. Although logically necessary statements are not verifiable, according to Ayer they are analytic or true by virtue of the meaning of their constituent terms. Ayer encapsulated the verificationist theory of meaning with the infamous empirical verification principle : to have literal meaning a statement must be either analytically true and thereby factually uninformative or empirically verifiable.

Metaphysics is taken to be made up of statements that concern the nature of reality that falls beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. Examples include the existence of the external world, the number of substances that there are in the world, whether the world is made up of ideas and the reality of propositions or universals. Other conspicuous victims of the application of the verification principle were ethical, aesthetic and religious statements all of which, so Ayer argues, are not susceptible to verification and are thereby similarly factually meaningless.

What of religious language? Ayer is silent on this issue, implying that religious language should be dispensed with in the same way as other areas of metaphysics. Logical positivism was briefly in vogue in the s but quickly ran into intractable difficulties. That something is seriously awry can be seen by subjecting the verification principle to its own standards: it is itself neither empirically verifiable nor analytically true, so literally meaningless according to its own criterion.

Ayer was unable to find a happy medium between a strict formulation that renders statements of scientific theory unverifiable and a lax formulation that allows any statement to be verifiable. This brings us to the question of why religious statements should be held by to fall foul of the verification principle.

Religious statements do in many cases appear to have implications for what is or should be observable. We can predict, for instance, that a world created by God will exhibit various kinds of orderliness. It seems, therefore, that some religious statements should be in a good a position to satisfy the standards of literal content set up by the empirical verification principle.

Clearly, Ayer contends, this is not all that religious believers intend to assert in saying that God exists: they are committed to the existence of an unverifiable supernatural agent.


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The verification principle is presented as a way of demarcating factually contentful from contentless statements. In arguing against the verifiability of religious statements, Ayer relies on the assumption that the verification principle provides the means for specifying what statements mean.

The Undiscovered Wittgenstein: The Twentieth Century's Most Misunderstood Philosopher

However, this is in effect to concede that religious statements are verifiable according to the original official version of the verification principle. As to the meaning-specifying, unofficial version of the verification principle, this is not something that Ayer defends. However, it would place religious statements in good company with scientific statements that posit theoretical entities that are not directly observable and the meanings of which are similarly not exhausted by the observation statements that are derivable from them.

Despite the availability of conclusive objections to Ayer, worries about the verifiability or falsifiability of religious statements continued to exert a remarkable influence on work in the philosophy of religion, with papers and books being produced well into the second half of the twentieth century. Ayer argues that although ethical statements are not descriptive they have the important function of giving voice to our non-cognitive attitudes of approval and disapproval. However, he offers no positive non-cognitive theory of the meaning of religious statements. Braithwaite addresses this asymmetry with a non-cognitivist account of religious language.

Religious discourse concerned with matters that are not directly concerned with behavioural conduct, such as claims about important religious figures, parables, accounts of the creation, and so on, Braithwaite calls stories. These stories, according to Braithwaite, provide models of exemplary behaviour or behaviour to avoid that serve as psychological assistance for the believer to act on their intentions. For this reason, their truth is not crucial to the action-guiding role that they play: they are entertained rather than believed A religious belief is an intention to behave in a certain way a moral belief together with the entertainment of certain stories associated with the intention in the mind of the believer.

Here is one objection. What are the intentions expressed by different religious statements? Braithwaite is rather sketchy on the details but he proposes that Christian statements express an intention to pursue an agapeistic way of life 21— They will all express an intention to pursue the same plan.

Even if Braithwaite could identify some additional plans there seems no prospect of finding plans to individuate the meanings of all statements of Christian belief. George Berkeley offers the most detailed and important account of religious language of any of the major early modern philosophers. These are elaborated in his dialogue Alciphron. His account has negative and positive elements. Moreover, Berkeley believes many Christian claims are not only cognitively contentful but also rationally defensible. Second, he proposes that this limited group of utterances should be interpreted non-cognitively: they do not represent facts but evoke various attitudes and practical dispositions.

In a part of the dialogue concerned with the Christian doctrine of grace, Berkeley attributes two arguments to the sceptical interlocutor Alciphron. In supposing that talk of the causally efficacious properties of grace is contentful, speakers are unjustifiably trading on the familiar meanings of these words when talking about physical properties and causal relations between physical objects; when used to elaborate on the nature of grace or describe its nature, these words do not have a clear sense.

Berkeley goes on to develop his non-representation account not just for grace but a variety of Christian doctrines. Talking of grace has a practical role in encouraging conduct in accordance with Christian faith:. Grace may … be an object of our faith, and influence our life and actions, as a principle destructive of evil habits and productive of good ones, although we cannot attain a distinct idea of it. He takes a similar approach to the Trinity: we lack a clear idea of what it is, but talk of it is significant because of its practical role in modifying the attitudes and conduct of the faithful [] Original sin receives a similar treatment.

There are two pressing problems for a mixed theory. First, how should we differentiate areas of religious language which should be given a face value interpretation from those that should be given a non-cognitive interpretation? Second, how are the non-cognitive areas of religious language meaningfully related to the cognitive areas of language?

Berkeley answers the first problem by an introspective experiment. We reflect on what we are thinking when we talk about the Christian mysteries and find that we lack clear ideas or beliefs. However, this is unsatisfactory. There is no general agreement on which religious expressions or sentences we are sufficiently clear about to make them suitable vehicles for expressing religious beliefs.

Nor does Berkeley identify anything that specifically characterises the Christian mysteries as matters on which speakers have much less clear ideas than many of the other ideas that form part of religious judgements, not least the ideas of God and divine properties. Berkeley does not, therefore, have a successful method for discriminating religious ideas and thoughts that are cognitively contentful from those that are not. That is, 5 does not have a propositional content but is used to encourage faith and virtue.

How should 6 , be interpreted? The mixed theory has two problems. This sentence combines 4 and 5 in a conditional sentence but since the consequent is taken to express an attitude it is unclear how it should be understood. This is because one can assert 6 without expressing the attitude in 5 ; one might, for example, think that the antecedent and consequent are false but nevertheless think that 6 is true because if the antecedent were true then the consequent would be true.

It seems, therefore, that if the mixed theorist is right that 5 expresses a non-cognitive attitude then it must have a different meaning in 6 where it is not tied to the expression of any attitude.

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This brings us to a second problem, which is that 4 and 6 together entail 5. Together these sentences make an evidently valid modus ponens argument. However, if 5 means something different when asserted and when embedded in the conditional 6 , then this argument is invalid. More generally, the mixed theory looks in difficulty when trying to explain the meaning of conditionals or valid arguments that contain expressive and cognitive religious sentences.

This raises the question of whether a more thoroughgoing non-cognitivist theory of religious language could be developed, perhaps employing the methods developed in the defence of current expressivist theories of ethics. The prospects for such a theory remain relatively unexplored territory but here are a couple of relevant consideration, one in favour and one against. An important part of religious discourse is the communication of faithful attitudes.

Moreover, faith is a state that appears to be intrinsically connected to our motivations and feelings.


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This is something that Berkeley makes great play of:. Faith, I say, is not an indolent perception, but an operative persuasion of mind, which ever worketh some suitable action, disposition, or emotion in those who have it; as it were easy to prove and illustrate by innumerable instances taken from human affairs. The idea that idea that faith must have a practical element commands broad support. Berkeley sees it as one of the main selling points of his non-cognitivism that it explains why faith in religious mysteries should have practical effects on the dispositions and behaviour of the faithful and lead people to change their lives [] , VII.

More generally, it appears that there are at least the rudimentary components for an argument akin to the argument from motivational force used to support ethical non-cognitivism see van Roojen This offers one potentially promising line of argument for the non-cognitivist to pursue. Note that religious utterances need not be exclusively either cognitive or non-cognitive.

It is possible to argue that religious utterances conventionally express both non-cognitive attitudes and beliefs for a defence of this position see Scott 71— However, a thoroughgoing religious non-cognitivism will face the additional problem of identifying the relevant attitudes and plans that are expressed in religious utterances.

While there are attitudes that might be considered characteristic of religious language—for instance, awe, devotion and obedience—it is difficult to see how such attitudes could provide the resources to provide a plausible account of the meaning of religious utterances or to individuate the meanings of different religious utterances.

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The most familiar version of this worry concerns the consistency of the predicates ascribed to God such as omnipotence and doctrinal views such as the Trinity. Considerable effort has been directed towards establishing that religious claims are coherent for example, Swinburne Those who concede that some religious claims are paradoxical have proposed a variety of different responses. Paradox in religious claims has been seen as grounds for atheism Martin , for modifying religious doctrine or changing our attitudes towards them Hick , or as an ineliminable part of faith Kierkegaard [] ; see Evans However, there is a further question about what such claims mean.

A number of accounts of religious language appear potentially sympathetic with this approach. This view has some similarities with fictionalism, discussed below. More recently, Stephen Mulhall has suggested that some religious utterances can be understood as unresolvable riddles the meanings of which we are unable to grasp fully, inviting an open-ended process of articulating their meaning that is pursued by those engaged in religious discourse. Also relevant here are the works of authors in the apophatic and mystical tradition that was particularly prominent from mid-antiquity through to the late medieval period.

Two themes that are found in their writings are particularly notable. Far from being pointless, religious discourse about God may assist in the recognition of our intellectual and linguistic limitations Cloud of Unknowing : ch. For further discussion and other interpretations of these works see Turner and for a detailed review focused on religious language see Scott and Citron One difficulty that might be pressed by supporters of the face value theory is these theories, as least to the extent that they are providing accounts of religious language, appear revisionary rather than descriptive of the meanings of religious utterances.

The sentence is used in a variety of apparently descriptive ways by speakers: it is said to be true or false , it is used in apparently valid arguments, can be embedded in a conditional, it is said to be a matter of belief or even of knowledge. We can call these following Dummett the disputed and reduced class of sentences respectively. Commonly discussed examples include logical behaviourism see Graham , which reduces sentences about mental states to ones about behaviour, and temporal reductionism see Markosian which proposes that sentences about time can be reduced to sentences about temporal relations between things and events.

Most varieties of religious reductionism posit various naturalistic phenomena as the subject of the reduced class of sentences. Unlike other positions considered in this section, religious reductionists agree with face value theories that religious utterances have propositional content, however, they argue that the content in question is not the face value subject matter but instead the subject matter described by the reduced class of sentences. A variety of reductionism adopted by early Christian writers in their treatment of pagan religion, such as Lactantius [4 th century] 22 and Augustine The City of God , VII ch.

However, this is clearly not a linguistic reductionism. Linguistic reductionism does not seek to explain religious belief but identifies a reductive class of sentences by which the truth or falsity of sentences in the disputed class is determined. Linguistic reductionism has never received widespread support, and has never been developed systematically or comprehensively for religious language.

Nevertheless, it has an interesting pedigree. For example, Spinoza, one of the most influential defenders of pantheism, suggested ways of interpreting sentences about God in terms of facts about nature Mason He writes:. Since all human actions are, according to Spinoza, the product of the predetermined order of nature, we can—following the reductive strategy—say that nobody acts except by the will of God.

So, for example, 6 is true if 5 is true. Spinoza also proposes naturalistic reductions of talk about the Holy Spirit [, ] , divine action and providence [, ] and miracles [, ]. Naturalistic interpretations of religious language became popular in the s in both Britain and America. For example, Julian Huxley suggests that talk of God could be understood as a way of talking about forces operating in nature or about aspects of nature that we do not understand see Bowler , and proposes naturalistic interpretations talk of the Holy Ghost and the Son of God Wieman offers various naturalistic accounts of talk of God, usually identifying God with natural processes that yield or facilitate ethically or socially desirable results.

Also notable is the work of Gordon Kaufman, a leading figure in the development of modern liberal theology. He observes that in many cases the natural phenomena that are integral to giving our lives meaning are deeply mysterious, for instance, that humans are capable of consciousness and thought and the appreciation of beauty. Does truth-conditional reductionism offer a plausible theory of religious language? The obvious place to start is whether there are any compelling reasons to prefer a reductive rather than a face value theory.

Unfortunately, reductionists appear to stumble at this first hurdle.

It is clear from the writings of reductionists that the reductionist interpretation of religious discourse is not advanced from a consideration of the meanings of what speakers say when they talk about God but instead on the basis of religious or metaphysical theories about the nature of the universe. However, the belief that there is no creator God is not a reason for giving naturalistic truth-conditions to 1 ; it is a reason for thinking that 1 is false.

Notably, even among writers more sympathetic to linguistic reductionism we find lapses into non-linguistic reductionism. For example, while Kaufman sometimes presents his theory as an account of what is meant by talk about God, at other times he presents a much more clearly revisionary proposal. For further discussion of reductionism see Alston and Scott ch.

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Suppose that religious sentences represent a religious subject matter, i. There remains the further question of what speakers mean when they use religious sentences. The semantic or propositional content of a sentence and its truth conditions is one thing, the information that a sentence is used to communicate is another.

Any philosophical account of religious discourse must allow for non-literal utterances, where the propositional content of the utterance and the thought that it is used to communicate appear to diverge. The first is that religious utterances—including utterances of indicative sentences that are apparently literal—are not literal assertions but fall under some other standard category of speech act. Examples include assertions, questions, commands, warnings, threats, statements of intention, requests. Proposals include analogy or metaphor 3. The two main kinds of non-literal discourse that have been seen as particularly important in religion are analogy and metaphor.

Do these expressions have the same meaning when used to talk about God, or are they used analogously: is the conventional meaning they have when used to talk about mundane objects in some way modified when used to talk about God? Discussion of religious analogy was particularly lively in early medieval theology and Aquinas was a leading proponent of an analogical treatment of religious predicates.