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Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Volume 4$
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Jonathan Kvanvig

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199656417

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199656417.001.0001

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Semantics for Blasphemy

Semantics for Blasphemy

(p.159) 9 Semantics for Blasphemy
Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Volume 4

Meghan Sullivan

Oxford University Press

The use of divine names is strictly regulated in the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Unlike most ordinary names, ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, and ‘Allah’ have a particular moral significance for the faithful. Misuse of such names constitutes a form of blasphemy — a sin. This chapter raises a few more narrow questions about the sin of blasphemy from the standpoint of contemporary philosophy of language. Until we have good reason to think otherwise, we should assume that the best semantic theory for ordinary proper names such as ‘Obama’ and ‘Aristotle’ extends to names for God. In particular, it suggests that we have reason to assume some causal theory of reference is true of divine names, since some version of it seems true of almost every other name. From this assumption, it is argued that there are some puzzles for the sin of blasphemy as it is traditionally conceived; and that we can make progress toward answering the puzzles by acknowledging that divine names are vulnerable to a special kind of reference drift.

Keywords:   sin, divine names, God, Jesus, Allah, philosophy of language

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