Religious Language

William P. Alston

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195138092
Published online April 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835348 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Religious Language

Show Summary Details


First there is some preliminary clearing of the deck. I argue against Verificationism (what seem like statements about God do have truth-values), and against Wittgensteinians (that religious language is not a totally autonomous sphere with its own unique criteria of intelligibility and truth and that religious terms do not derive all their meaning from religious practice though that is one important source). Then I turn to the main topics and the reference of “God.” Descriptive and direct reference are contrasted; it is held that both figure in religious discourse. The other main topic is the interpretation of the predicates of statements about God. It is inevitable that the basic theological predicates from which all others are derived are borrowed from elsewhere, primarily talk about human persons. So the crucial question is how their senses in theological use are related to their senses in “secular” discourse. After rejecting the univocity position (exactly the same sense) and the claim that they are all used metaphorically in application to God, reasons are explored for rejecting even partial univocity. The remaining alternative is an analogy between theological and anthropomorphic senses, an analogy that cannot be completely spelled out. For if we could, that would amount to partial univocity.

Keywords: analogy; autonomy of religious language; discourse; meaning; metaphor; predicates (literal and metaphorical); reference (direct and descriptive); statements about God; terms (religious); truth; univocity; verificationism; Wittgensteinians

Chapter.  12386 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.