- Slides: 15
Via Negativa L/O: To learn and understand what is meant by the term Via Negativa. Task One: What is God? Write a short list of what you believe God is or is not.
TASK 1: Pick a card. Describe it to your partner, only in negative terms. You cannot use the words in the description. How easy was the task? Did it take a while? Did you end up with a good description of the object or were you largely guessing by a process of elimination.
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What does the Via Negativa Mean? • The Negative Way is a way in which one should approach the subject of God. • It states that we cannot talk about God in positive terms (God is good and just etc) as this is misleading and confusing. • Instead we must only talk of God in negative terms, such as what God is not (God is not mortal, we cannot see God).
The Problem of Language • For people to understand each other when they speak, words need to have an associated meaning. If you say that something is cold, square, heavy, you would understand what these words mean. • When talking about these qualities in relation to God, they are seen to limit God. Our understanding is limited because our Language is limited. • If we say that God is good, we understand what that means, however, God is more than good, something we cannot express with our limited language and understanding.
Task Two • Take the following Positive Attributes commonly associated with God and write them in such a way as to conform with the Via Negativa – God is good – God is just – God is all-loving – God is forgiving
Pseudo-Dionysius • Pseudo-Dionysius was a 6 th Century Theologian, Philosopher and Christian Mystic. • He argued that using the Negative Way was the only way to speak truthfully about God, because God is beyond all human understanding.
Moses Maimonides • Moses Maimonides (1135 -1204 ce) was a great Jewish thinking and theologian, who strong supported the Via Negativa. • Maimonides explains that the attributes of God can only be understood through what they are not.
Problems of the Negative Way • Not all philosophers agree with the Negative Way. – The writer Brian Davies states that simply describing something in terms of what it is not, gives no clue to what it actually is. • Declaring that God is not a Wombat doesn’t help you come closer to understanding what God is. • I am thinking of an object, it is not like a trumpet, binoculars or a telephone, what is it?
Remember that the via negativa aims to use the methods of the task to make statements about God. Given that human language is inadequate to describe an infinite God, it is argued by Pseudo-Dionysius, Moses Maimonides and others that it is the only option available to us. It is especially valued in the Eastern Orthodox Church where it is known as the apophatic way. What do you think? Moses Maimonides used the example of a ship? If one person says it is not an accident, the next says it is not a mineral, not a plant, not a natural body, not a sphere, not pointed, etc. He argues that ‘the tenth person has almost arrived at the notion of the ship by the foregoing negatives attributes’. Is Maimonides right about the ship? Is it the same when describing God? Why/why not?
DISCUSS: The Limits of Negative Language • Negative Language is supposed to allow one to come closer to God through the use of language that does not confuse. • To what extent does Negative Language allow one to come closer to God or does it confuse the subject further?
Positive Language – The best option we have? • While philosophers such as Pseudo-Dionysius and Maimonides state that Positive Language leads us deliberately away from our understanding of God. • It could however be argued that Negative Language serves only as a way of stating what God is not, failing to confirm any of the attributes we would normally associate with God. • Could it be that despite the fact that language is flawed, that it is our best option to explain God? While it might deliberately limit God to ways in which we can understand, at least there is some level of comprehension present.
So. . . • To what extent does the Negative Way allow us to more fully understand God? • In what does the use of Positive Language limit our understanding of God? • Assess whether Positive or Negative language allows us to further the understanding of God – Make reference to the limits of Positive Language and the confusion that Negative Language can cause.
This prevents anthropomorphic statements that limit God from being made. Thus we do not speak of God in an improper way. Supporters of the via negative are right to note that positive statements about God, e. g. ‘God is good’, limit God. It puts an idea of human goodness into our mind. This does not tell us anything about what God is like. Even the example of the ship does not work. The ten statements could be equally true of a cupboard! Religious people do not speak of God in this way. Language evolved so that we could The via negativa can give a engage in human relationships; surely profound sense of the this shows that language is transcendence. inadequate to describe the encounter with the divine It recognises the belief of many religious thinkers, particularly mystics, that God is ineffable.
ESSAY WRITING TECHNIQUE A T A C T Apply the question Theory Advantages Disadvantages/Criticisms Take a look back at the question