Post-Empiricist Foundation of Semantics for Religious Language

JVF Conference Papers

Jürgen Habermas in his discussion with Charles Taylor in 2011 claimed that all you need to understand a meaning of basic religious vocabulary is to participate in the religious practice (i.e. ritual).

This claim, repeated by Habermas at the Berkeley Centre lecture in the same year, is in fact not only the main thesis of his early theory of religion (from Theory of Communicative Action), but also the core of common antirealist stance of the mainstream post secular thinkers (Caputo, Vattimo, Derrida). Antirealism, according to Michael Dummett, can be expressed in semantical terms: antirealists deny that truth is the core concept of a theory of meaning, and in consequence claim that meaning is not the ‘function’ between bit of language (expression) and an object in the world. For the antirealists the meaning has only to do with rules and relations which are internal to linguistic practice (usage, grammar, inference, form of life like ritual and so on), and not with relations with the so-called ‘objective’ reality.

In fact, the post secular semantics of religious language shares this core thesis with other antirealist theories of religious language, most notably of Kant, Wittgenstein and the wittgensteinian school of philosophy of religion (Rhees, Winch, Phillips). Indeed, semantic antirealism is one of the most important modern theories of religious language.
In my paper, I will argue against antirealism and for semantic realism. First, I will expose and make explicit these two rival theories. Next, I will sketch an argument for realism. In conclusion, I will present two remarks concerning theoretical implications of realism.

My paper is not an attempt to provide a full argumentation, but just to link a few well-known theoretical claims, which are not usually linked, and in this way cast new light on the philosophy of religious language.

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