Semantics for Blasphemy

Meghan Sullivan

in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Volume 4

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199656417
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191742163 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Volume 4

Semantics for Blasphemy

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The use of divine names is strictly regulated in the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Unlike most ordinary names, ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, and ‘Allah’ have a particular moral significance for the faithful. Misuse of such names constitutes a form of blasphemy — a sin. This chapter raises a few more narrow questions about the sin of blasphemy from the standpoint of contemporary philosophy of language. Until we have good reason to think otherwise, we should assume that the best semantic theory for ordinary proper names such as ‘Obama’ and ‘Aristotle’ extends to names for God. In particular, it suggests that we have reason to assume some causal theory of reference is true of divine names, since some version of it seems true of almost every other name. From this assumption, it is argued that there are some puzzles for the sin of blasphemy as it is traditionally conceived; and that we can make progress toward answering the puzzles by acknowledging that divine names are vulnerable to a special kind of reference drift.

Keywords: sin; divine names; God; Jesus; Allah; philosophy of language

Chapter.  7878 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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