Conclusion The Wider Context

In my remarks so far I have treated the problems of anchorage, predication and reference largely in isolation from broader issues in the philosophy of religion. But any developed philosophical perspective on the nature of religion will involve an interlocking set of views on the epistemology of religious belief, the concept of (for instance) God, and various other issues, including the nature of religious language. Views about the nature of language may in some cases play a foundational role in the construction of such a system (as in the case of those philosophers who are sympathetic to the later work of Wittgenstein). But in other cases, views about the language of religion may be 'read off' from a prior understanding of certain conceptual or evidential questions.

For instance, in recent philosophical discussion of religion we can distinguish between those who support the classical concept of God; those like Hartshorne (1969:152-67) or in a different fashion Ward (1987:155) who wish to modify this concept by admitting the possibility of change and passibility into the divine nature; those who wish to associate the idea of God with a moral realism of metaphysical dimensions, for instance Sutherland (1984) or, in a neo-Platonic vein, Leslie (1979); those who in the style of Cupitt (1980) prefer to think of God as a moral projection of some sort; those who are persuaded by Hick's (1989:233-49) postulation of a Real to which we cannot ascribe, with literal truth, any substantial property; those who wish to draw on the insights of feminism to reshape the traditional, 'patriarchal' understanding of divinity; and so on. These different positions, and others besides, tend to be driven by epistemological concerns or by some conception of what follows from the idea of divine perfection, but all carry clear implications for the nature of religious language.

Thus our understanding of whether or not terms implying passibility can be predicated of God in a literal way will depend on whether we follow

Hartshorne or a neo-Thomist such as Davies (1985:117-71) in our account of the divine nature. Or again, our understanding of the ways in which religious discourse is anchored in experience will vary depending upon whether we follow Sutherland's moral realism (where God does not play a causal role) or Leslie's (where ethical ideals are held to be creatively efficacious). Similarly, the problem of reference will emerge in very different forms and invite very different solutions depending upon whether we adopt Cupitt's account of God as the 'religious requirement' (a representation of the ideal moral state, Cupitt 1980:85-95) or a metaphysically realist account of the divine nature. So the reader is invited to supplement this discussion of religious language with material drawn from other chapters in this volume, in particular the chapters on natural theology, the concept of God, religion and science, and feminism.

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