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Liberalism versus PostliberalismThe Great Divide in Twentieth-Century Theology$
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John Allan Knight

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199969388

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199969388.001.0001

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The Falsification Challenge

The Falsification Challenge

(p.37) Chapter twoThe Falsification Challenge
Liberalism versus Postliberalism

John Allan Knight

Oxford University Press

This chapter provides a description of the theology and falsification controversy that erupted in the middle of the twentieth century. In addition, it contextualizes the debate, describing the assumptions derived from analytic philosophy of language that drove the controversy. The chapter describes the most influential writings on language of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell, including the puzzles that animated their positions on reference. Frege’s investigation of the meaning of coreferential terms, and Russell’s investigations of how to understand negative existential sentences, led them to place great importance on descriptive senses of terms in accounting for reference and meaning. The chapter then describes the epistemological commitments Russell derived from his position on reference. The chapter then shows how the falsification theorists’ (especially John Wisdom’s and Antony Flew’s) challenge to theology depends on Russell’s descriptivist program and the epistemological positions he derived from it.

Keywords:   descriptivism, Antony Flew, Gottlob Frege, meaning, reference, religious language, Bertrand Russell, theology and falsification, John Wisdom, Wittgenstein

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