Monday, October 27, 2008

D.Z. Phillips on Hume's Hermeneutics

I've selected a few passages from D. Z. Phillips book Religion and the Hermeneutics of Contemplation: Hume's Legacy. Phillips addresses Hume's approach to the rhetoric of religion and the language used to describe and accompany it. Phillips critically analyzes Hume's methodology and dissects the hermeneutics of Hume's theories.

      "This reminds us of the similar strategy adopted by Philo: if a person 'is not antecedently convinced of a supreme intelligence, benevolent and powerful, but is left to father such a belief from the appearance of things…he will never find any reason for such a conclusion. But the philosophical request is not for an antecedent conviction, but to begin with 'the given God' in the sense of beginning by giving attention to the role certain religious concepts play in human life.

Tennesen says that human language can only speak of human standards. This is confused, since in that language there is talk of God or gods…The Greeks cannot be understood anthropomorphically…Relating to the same theme, Marina Barabas says: 'The Moirai, the grim protectors of the frontiers between the human and the divine, are first silenced when men become intimate with gods by loving the same things; now, however the are outraged as god becomes intimate with man, by sharing in his suffering'" (Phillips 63).

Phillips continues, addressing judgement in the mortal aspect: "It is this love, love of beauty of the world, which, in believers, draws them to itself, as well as being that by which they see themselves as judged." Phillips provides an example from a poem by R. S. Thomas

Abel looked at the wound
His brother had dealt him, and loved him
For it. Cain saw that look
And struck him again. The blood cried
On the ground. God listened to it.
And God said: It was part of myself
He gave me. The lamb was torn
From my own side. The limp head,
The slow fall of sad tears—they
Were like a mirror to me in which I beheld
My reflection. I anointed myself
In readiness for the journey
To the doomed tree you were to work upon.

  "In Christianity God and sacrifice become one. Sacrifice being the essence of spirituality:" Through this we begin to question our own methods of judging not only the gods we worship, but ourselves as well. Are we to apply the same standards and forms to all aspects of life? Or ought we be lenient towards certain aspects of life, tangible or spiritual?

Regarding the tangible, ought we judge God as an object? Phillips writes "For [J. L.] Mackie…either God is some kind of object which has to be conceived anthropomorphically, or my use of language is metaphorical, and religion is something else, perhaps mortality, in disguise, as the hermeneutics of suspicion has always suspected. The choice that Mackie provides is simply a conceptual impoverishment of language, since the primary use of language in religion is not factual, idiomatic or metaphorical…If the religious use of language were idiomatic, it could make sense factually, even if that is not what is meant…The reason for saying the primary use of religious language is not metaphorical is that the latter is a use of one kind of language for a certain purpose. But although there are metaphors in religious language, its primary use is to offer us a way of thinking about our relation to the world. It is as though religion says to one, 'Think like this'."

Phillips' explanation of the religious use of language says we use religious language as a compass which guides us through life, and possibly closer to, or alongside to the divine.

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