Analogy in St. Thomas

A2 students – Aquinas on analogy

Just Thomism

One of the first moves in explaining the doctrine of analogy in St. Thomas has been to point out that analogy is from the Greek idea of proportion or ratio. St. Thomas himself explains analogy by ratios, either as different ratios to the same thing (like 5/4 and 3/4, which has the technical name of “proper proportion” ) or the same ratio to different things (like 3/8 and 6/16 or “proportionality”).  The explanation works up to a point, but it leaves the main question of analogy open. Visualizing ratios between ideas allows us to see a way in which ideas can admit of both real equality and diversity, but Thomists are not interested in analogy in general but only so far as it helps us establish the unity of metaphysics and the attribution of positive names to God, and in neither case is it particularly satisfying to say that the…

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“With us Jesus is time and with God eternity”

A2 Students this is relevant to the Nature of God topic.

Eclectic Orthodoxy

Modern thinking usually lets itself be guided by the idea that eternity is imprisoned, so to speak, in its unchangeableness; God appears as the prisoner of his eternal plan conceived “before all ages”. “Being” and “becoming” do not mingle. Eternity is thus understood in a purely negative sense as timelessness, as the opposite to time, as something that cannot make its influence felt in time for the simple reason that it would therefore cease to be unchangeable and itself become temporal. Fundamentally these ideas remain the products of a pre-Christian mentality which takes no account of a concept of God that finds utterance in a belief in creation and incarnation

But eternity is not the very ancient, which existed before time began, but the quite other, which is related to every passing age as its today, and is really contemporary with it; it is not itself barred off into a…

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So what if Jesus didn’t claim to be God

This is interesting reading for the light it sheds on religious language as presented in the Gospels.

Eclectic Orthodoxy

N. T. Wright suggests that the most succinct expression of the gospel is “Jesus is Lord.” Robert W. Jenson suggests that the most succinct expression of the gospel is “Jesus is risen.” Which one is right?

I’m confident one need never choose. How can one talk about Jesus’ lordship without talking about his resurrection, and how can one talk about Jesus’ resurrection without talking about his lordship over creation? But if I have to decide between the two, I think I’ll go with Jenson on this. Surely it was the message of the resurrection, published in Jerusalem after that wondrous Easter Sunday, that launched the Christian Church into the world as a vigorous missionary sect. To claim that God had raised Jesus was to proclaim that the long-awaited kingdom had arrived, though in a way that no one was expecting. It was to proclaim that Jesus’ love for his friends…

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Student essay: Critically examine A.J.Ayer’s theory of Verification (35)

This is another good (A grade) essay by a student, this time on Religious Language and A J Ayer. 

In his most famous work, Language, Truth and Logic, A.J. Ayer presents his theory of verification. Ayer was one of the logical positivists, a Viennese group of philosophers who were inspired by the theories of the early Wittgenstein and sought to answer rather than what makes a statement ‘meaningful’ as opposed to what makes it ‘true’. There have been two main editions to Language, Truth and Logic, both of which will be analysed and explained below.
Ayer begins his thesis by arguing that for a statement to be ‘meaningful’ or ‘factually significant’, it must either be a tautology or provable by sense experience. This approach is inspired by Hume’s fork, who claimed that meaningful language was either a priori analytic or a posteriori synthetic. Ayer’s belief also sides with the hypothetico-deductive – or scientific – approach. He argues that because statements such as ‘God Exists’ cannot be empirically proven and are not analytical (because he rejects the claims of the ontological argument), they are thus meaningless.

 

Many philosophers, such as J.H. Randall find weaknesses in these first predicate alone as it is too reductionist and reduces language to less than what it is. Philosophy thus becomes reduced to analysing syntax. On the other hand, it does provide a convenient and basic grounding for deciphering fact from meaningless statements, by examining language on a purely analytical form. John Hick refutes the notion that God’s existence cannot be proven by the senses. He gives a parable of the Celestials city, claiming that one would know its existence when one gets to the end of the road. Similarly, God’s existence could be eschatological verifiable when we die. It is implied here that Ayer is in the problem of reification, treating an abstract concept as though it is concrete. Although one religious experience is not verifiable, collectively they can prove empirical proof for the statement ‘people experience God’. When analysing the transcendent, Ayer must acknowledge other factors than just logic.


A ‘putative proposition’ is the name Ayer gives to statements yet to be verified. A putative statement is either verifiable practically or in principle. For instance, a statement such as “that is a red car” is verifiable in practice by looking at the car. However, a statement such as “There is life in another universe” is verifiable in principle but not in practice as we possess insufficient technology. Thus, Ayer then makes distinctions between strong and weak verification. Strong verification refers to any statement that can be verified as true beyond any doubts through sense experience, and a weakly verifiable proposition is most probable. Again, in terms of religious language, although Ayer acknowledges its emotive value, he denied that religious language was more than this, hence it was a pseudo-proposition. This is a very non-cognitive viewpoint.

However, as Davies points out, ‘Verification’ itself cannot be verified; we cannot use sense experience to prove the legitimacy of the theory. Thus, if Ayer holds his theory to be meaningful and not as a pseudo-proposition, there must be another category of language for which his statements are meaningful, and if this is true for the principle of Verification, it must also be true for religious language. On the other hand, if Ayer holds that this is not the case, then atheist statements such as ‘God does not exist’ are also meaningless. Although verification makes a clearer distinction between religious statements that have no basis in fact or reason by confining truth to logic, there seems to be too much leniency in this theory. After reflection, Ayer recognised that his own theory was “far too liberal”.

 

There is also a serious flaw with the strong and weak verification principle, which Ayer himself critiques in his second edition. The main flaw is that a strongly verifiable principle is impossible; it “has no possible application”. Especially because of the corrigible nature of science, there are no statements that we can hold absolutely true from the senses. Richard Swinburne, who uses the corrigibility of science in many of his arguments, argues that the people disagree about whether statements are factual. He gives the analogy of toys in a cupboard that come out at night when no one observes them. It could be meaningful, but is not testable and thus not even weakly verifiable. In trying to set absolute principle which could categorise statements, Ayer’s verification just opens up more room for debate.

 

In his second edition, Ayer amends the principle, changing the definition to “A statement it held to be meaningful if and only if analytically or empirically verifiable”. He also introduced the directly and indirectly verifiable categories. Directly verifiable statements are observable statements and indirect statements are ones which are verifiable if other directly verifiable statements can support it. For example, we can directly verify the statement ‘gas clouds orbit our galaxy’. By measuring the speed of a gas cloud, there is indirect verifiable proof that black holes exist, thus the statement ‘black holes exist’ is indirectly verifiable. This amendment does overcome the boundaries of strong and weak verification as it accepts that there is change.

 

Karl Popper, one of the founders of falsification, argues that the method of verification is flawed. When proving the meaningfulness, and thus the strength, of a hypothesis, we should seek to look for what could falsify it. Scientific experiments do not use a verification approach, otherwise all hypotheses would be accepted and science would not progress. It was his introduction of falsification which overtook verification in the following periods of analytic philosophy.

 

Overall, although Ayer’s verification principle is a strong start in deciphering religious language, it is weak in detail. Hick, Swinburne and Davies combined produce very strong criticisms against the main predicates of verification, and the fact that Ayer has to even write a second edition proves that the argument is fundamentally flawed. Popper’s falsification principle appeared stronger as it uses the scientific analysis approach more realistically.