Monday, January 23, 2012

Berkeley and Theological Non-Cognitivism

Here's something I didn't know: Bishop Berkeley argued for non-cognitivism with respect to a number of linguistic terms, such as "self," "personality" and "substance," as well as more obviously theological terms, like "grace" and "trinity." You can read a very nice introductory discussion of Berkeley's arguments by Lewis Powell at The Mod Squad, a new group blog devoted to Modern Philosophy.

Like Powell, I wonder how Berkeley negotiated his non-cognitivism with respect to his religious beliefs as a whole. It's hard to imagine how he could be a non-cognitivist about grace and the trinity, and yet still be a realist about God. Powell suggests Berkeley may have tried to have it both ways, though I'm not clear on how that is supposed to work. In any case, Berkeley used unconventional linguistic principles to very strongly suggest, if not plainly conclude, that the core of theological discourse is nothing more than the emotional manipulation of people aimed at producing good Christian behavior. That's impressive.