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The debate about religious language starts with the question of whether God can be spoken of meaningfully or not.

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Introduction

´╗┐The debate about religious language starts with the question of whether God can be spoken of meaningfully or not. Some philosophers, such as the Logical Positivists, have concluded that no talk of religion is meaningful (either because religious statements cannot be verified or because religious belief can never be falsified and therefore asserts no claims.) However, other philosophers, such as Wittgenstein have concluded that religious language is meaningful. Having come to this conclusion, one meets several hypotheses claiming to present the most successful human understanding of an ineffable God. Analogy is one such theory. Aquinas put forward the theory of analogy because he did not feel that God could be adequately expressed in normal human language. This is because our language is either univocal (we use one word that has the same meaning in all situations, for example ?wise? means full of wisdom ? this is the only meaning of the word) or equivocal ( some of our language has more than one meaning. ?Bat? could refer to a small animal or a piece of sports equipment.) Aquinas suggested that univocal language was not appropriate to use about God because God is unlike any human concept ? if we used ?good? univocally about Helen and God we would be suggesting that Helen?s goodness was the same as God?s! ...read more.

Middle

This is the analogy of attribution. Secondly, Aquinas proposes the analogy of proportion. This states that everything has qualities in proportion to their nature. To say that I am good at the piano is in proportion to the fact that I practise for two hours a day. Mozart was also good at piano playing but this does not imply that we both play to the same standard! ?Good? is used in proportion to the fact that he is a professional. We can also explain this in terms of purpose. Everything has a purpose, and the potentiality to fulfil it. God has no potentiality, only actuality ? so God?s goodness is in proportion to what it means to be God, as my goodness is in proportion to what it means to be me, and Mozart?s is in proportion to what it means to be Mozart. Since God has no potentiality though, whilst I could be ?more good? God cannot: whatever it means to be God, He fulfils it completely. Aquinas? concept of God as wholly simple. So Aquinas concludes that God?s attributes are proportional to what it means to be God and that he perfectly fulfils this role. His attributes are not magnified versions of human concepts. ...read more.

Conclusion

We can see then that perhaps theories of God?s nature that are perhaps weak when used alone are in fact much stronger when used together. Symbol helps us reach a truly human understanding of God by using human terms symbolically to glimpse the nature of the transcendent and ineffable. These human terms must be qualified however and it is here that analogy can be useful ? the analogy of attribution would inform us that God?s care is not just a magnified version of my father?s care and the analogy of proportion would help us to understand that God?s care is proportionate to what it means to be God (and that God fulfils whatever that may be perfectly). In this way, we have countered Scotus? claim. At the final turn we might also consider that, since God is ineffable, we can never truly describe Him: this is part of the human understanding of God and so, whatever we find out with symbol and analogy, we must also qualify with the knowledge that God is not exactly so. This is the Via Negativa. In the end , we can see that analogy, which is a good foundation, but a little vague, can be used successfully to express a human understanding of God, but that this is best achieved in combination with other theories of religious language such as symbol and the Via Negativa. ...read more.

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