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PROBLEMS OF RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE
HUME’S FORK David Hume divides knowledge into two classes: ‘relations of ideas’ (i.e. tautologies) and ‘matters of fact’ (i.e. empirical statements). His book concludes (on p.165) with the following paragraph: “When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity of number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” LOGICAL POSITIVISM Hume’s Fork was updated by modern logical positivists (such as A.J.Ayer, Antony Flew and Gilbert Ryle) who proposed the Verification Principle. This claims that sentences are only meaningful if they are tautologies (which are true because of the definitions of the terms involved, e.g. a square has four sides, six is bigger than four), or if they are in some way empirically verifiable (i.e. connected with actual experience, e.g. Harold lost at Hastings, electrons are both particles and waves). Any other statements will be meaningless, because their truth is not decided by either definitions or evidence. According to Ayer, this makes discussion about religion and morality meaningless. Religious statements like God is love are not false, they are incapable of being either true or false. SIX IMPORTANT CONCEPTS Area Term a priori Meaning Knowable before experience, through thought alone Empirical; known through experience has to be true (in all possible worlds) capable of being either true or false tautologies; statements concerned only with meanings of words statements concerned with information about the world Example five is bigger than four Problems Can anything be known without experience? (e.g. maths). Could you know something about the world a priori? Could someone (e.g. God) know...
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