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Perhaps one of the reasons why philosophy of religion is often the first topic in textbook introductions to philosophy is that this is one way to propose to readers that philosophical study can impact what large numbers of people actually think about life and value. The role of philosophy of religion in engaging real life beliefs and doubts about religion is perhaps also evidenced by the current popularity of books for and against theism in the UK and USA. One other aspect of religious populations that may motivate philosophy of religion is that philosophy is a tool that may be used when persons compare different religious traditions.

Philosophy of religion can play an important role in helping persons understand and evaluate different religious traditions and their alternatives. Second: Philosophy of religion as a field may be popular because of the overlapping interests found in both religious and philosophical traditions. Both religious and philosophical thinking raise many of the same, fascinating questions and possibilities about the nature of reality, the limits of reason, the meaning of life, and so on. Are there good reasons for believing in God? What is good and evil? What is the nature and scope of human knowledge?

In Hinduism; A Contemporary Philosophical Investigation , Shyam Ranganathan argues that in Asian thought philosophy and religion are almost inseparable such that interest in the one supports an interest in the other. Third, studying the history of philosophy provides ample reasons to have some expertise in philosophy of religion. In the West, the majority of ancient, medieval, and modern philosophers philosophically reflected on matters of religious significance. Hegel — the list is partial. And in the twentieth century, one should make note of the important philosophical work by Continental philosophers on matters of religious significance: Martin Heidegger — , Jean-Paul Sartre — , Simone de Beauvoir — , Albert Camus — , Gabriel Marcel — , Franz Rosenzweig — , Martin Buber — , Emmanuel Levinas — , Simone Weil — and, more recently Jacques Derrida — , Michel Foucault — , and Luce Irigary —.

Evidence of philosophers taking religious matters seriously can also be found in cases of when thinkers who would not normally be classified as philosophers of religion have addressed religion, including A. Whitehead — , Bertrand Russell — , G. In Chinese and Indian philosophy there is an even greater challenge than in the West to distinguish important philosophical and religious sources of philosophy of religion.

Their work seems as equally important philosophically as it is religiously see Ranganathan Fourth, a comprehensive study of theology or religious studies also provides good reasons to have expertise in philosophy of religion. As just observed, Asian philosophy and religious thought are intertwined and so the questions engaged in philosophy of religion seem relevant: what is space and time? Are there many things or one reality? Might our empirically observable world be an illusion? Could the world be governed by Karma? Is reincarnation possible?

In terms of the West, there is reason to think that even the sacred texts of the Abrahamic faith involve strong philosophical elements: In Judaism, Job is perhaps the most explicitly philosophical text in the Hebrew Bible. The wisdom tradition of each Abrahamic faith may reflect broader philosophical ways of thinking; the Christian New Testament seems to include or address Platonic themes the Logos, the soul and body relationship.

Much of Islamic thought includes critical reflection on Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, as well as independent philosophical work.

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Prior to the twentieth century, a substantial amount of philosophical reflection on matters of religious significance but not all has been realist. That is, it has often been held that religious beliefs are true or false. Xenophanes and other pre-Socratic thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, the Stoics, Philo, Plotinus differed on their beliefs or speculation about the divine, and they and their contemporaries differed about skepticism, but they held for example that there either was a divine reality or not.

Medieval and modern Jewish, Christian, and Islamic philosophers differed in terms of their assessment of faith and reason. In Asian philosophy of religion, some religions do not include revelation claims, as in Buddhism and Confucianism, but Hindu tradition confronted philosophers with assessing the Vedas and Upanishads.

But for the most part, philosophers in the West and East thought there were truths about whether there is a God, the soul, an afterlife, that which is sacred whether these are known or understood by any human being or not. Important philosophers in the West such as Immanuel Kant — and Friedrich Nietzsche — , among others, challenged classical realist views of truth and metaphysics ontology or the theory of what is , but the twentieth century saw two, especially powerful movements that challenged realism: logical positivism and philosophy of religion inspired by Wittgenstein.

Prior to addressing these two movements, let us take note of some of the nuances in philosophical reflection on the realist treatment of religious language.

Philosophy and Christian Theology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Many theistic philosophers and their critics contend that language about God may be used univocally, analogically or equivocally. A term is used univocally about God and humans when it has the same sense. In terms of the later difference, philosophers sometimes distinguish between what is attributed to some thing and the mode in which some state such as knowledge is realized.

Terms are used analogously when there is some similarity between what is being attributed, e.

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Theological work that stresses our ability to form a positive concept of the divine has been called the via positiva or catophatic theology. On the other hand, those who stress the unknowability of God embrace what is called the via negativa or apophatic theology. Maimonides — was a great proponent of the via negativa , favoring the view that we know God principally through what God is not God is not material, not evil, not ignorant, and so on.

According to Karen Armstrong, some of the greatest theologians in the Abrahamic faiths held that God. Armstrong x. A prima facie challenge to this position is that it is hard to believe that religious practitioners could pray or worship or trust in a being which was altogether inscrutable or a being that we cannot in any way understand.

Let us now turn to two prominent philosophical movements that challenged a realist philosophy of God. Ayer by a group of philosophers who met in Austria called the Vienna Circle from to Ostensibly factual claims that do not make any difference in terms of our actual or possible empirical experience are void of meaning.

What Have They Done With Jesus: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History- Why We Can Trust the Bible

A British philosopher, who visited the Vienna Circle, A. Ayer popularized this criterion of meaning in his book, Language, Truth, and Logic. In it, Ayer argued that religious claims as well as their denial were without cognitive content.

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By his lights, theism, and also atheism and agnosticism, were nonsense, because they were about the reality or unreality or unknowability of that which made no difference to our empirical experience. How might one empirically confirm or disconfirm that there is an incorporeal, invisible God or that Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu? Famously, Antony Flew employed this strategy in his likening the God of theism to a belief that there is an undetectable, invisible gardener who could not be heard or smelled or otherwise empirically discovered Flew In addition to rejecting traditional religious beliefs as meaningless, Ayer and other logical positivists rejected the meaningfulness of moral statements.

The logical positivist critique of religion is not dead. Still, the criterion of meaning advanced by logical positivism faced a series of objections for details see Copleston and Taliaferro b. Consider five objections that were instrumental in the retreat of logical positivism from its position of dominance. First, it was charged that logical positivism itself is self-refuting. Is the statement of its standard of meaning propositions are meaningful if and only if they are about the relations of ideas or about matters that are subject to empirical verification or falsification itself about the relations of ideas or about matters that are subject to empirical verification or falsification?

Arguably not.

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  • At best, the positivist criterion of meaning is a recommendation about what to count as meaningful. Second, it was argued that there are meaningful statements about the world that are not subject to direct or indirect empirical confirmation or disconfirmation. Plausible candidates include statements about the origin of the cosmos or, closer to home, the mental states of other persons or of nonhuman animals for discussion, see Van Cleve and Taliaferro Third, limiting human experience to what is narrowly understood to be empirical seemed to many philosophers to be arbitrary or capricious. Broad and others defended a wider understanding of experience to allow for the meaningfulness of moral experience: arguably, one can experience the wrongness of an act as when an innocent person feels herself to be violated. If it is meaningful to refer to the right to beliefs, why is it not meaningful to refer to moral rights such as the right not to be tortured? And if we are countenancing a broader concept of what may be experienced, in the tradition of phenomenology which involves the analysis of appearances why rule out, as a matter of principle, the experience of the divine or the sacred?

    Fifth, and probably most importantly in terms of the history of ideas, the seminal philosopher of science Carl Hempel — contended that the project of logical positivism was too limited Hempel It was insensitive to the broader task of scientific inquiry which is properly conducted not on the tactical scale of scrutinizing particular claims about empirical experience but in terms of a coherent, overall theory or view of the world. According to Hempel, we should be concerned with empirical inquiry but see this as defined by an overall theoretical understanding of reality and the laws of nature.

    Moreover, the positivist critique of what they called metaphysics was attacked as confused as some metaphysics was implied in their claims about empirical experience; see the aptly titled classic The Metaphysics of Logical Positivism by Gustav Bergmann — Let us now turn to Wittgenstein — and the philosophy of religion his work inspired.

    In the Philosophical Investigations published posthumously in and in many other works including the publication of notes taken by his students on his lectures , Wittgenstein opposed what he called the picture theory of meaning.

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    On this view, statements are true or false depending upon whether reality matches the picture expressed by the statements. Wittgenstein came to see this view of meaning as deeply problematic. The meaning of language is, rather, to be found not in referential fidelity but in its use in what Wittgenstein referred to as forms of life. As this position was applied to religious matters, D. Phillips , , B. Tilghman , and, more recently, Howard Wettstein , sought to displace traditional metaphysical debate and arguments over theism and its alternatives and to focus instead on the way language about God, the soul, prayer, resurrection, the afterlife, and so on, functions in the life of religious practitioners.

    For example, Phillips contended that the practice of prayer is best not viewed as humans seeking to influence an all powerful, invisible person, but to achieve solidarity with other persons in light of the fragility of life. To ask whether God exists is not to ask a theoretical question. If it is to mean anything at all, it is to wonder about praising and praying; it is to wonder whether there is anything in all that. Phillips At least two reasons bolstered this philosophy of religion inspired by Wittgenstein. First, it seemed as though this methodology was more faithful to the practice of philosophy of religion being truly about the actual practice of religious persons themselves.

    Second, while there has been a revival of philosophical arguments for and against theism and alternative concepts of God as will be noted in section 5 , significant numbers of philosophers from the mid-twentieth century onward have concluded that all the traditional arguments and counter-arguments about the metaphysical claims of religion are indecisive. If that is the case, the Wittgenstein-inspired new philosophy of religion had the advantage of shifting ground to what might be a more promising area of agreement.