Approaching Philosophy of Religion (Thiselton)

Thiselton, Anthony C. Approaching Philosophy of Religion

This is the best intro to philosophy of religion. While it can never replace primary sources (and so, anthologies), it is far more useful to the beginner. Something to note: in many places Thiselton is simply explaining positions (e.g., feminism). The lack of an immediate critique and discernment-blogger expose should not be taken as an endorsement.

Eastern Philosophy

Hinduism: supreme being is both antagonistic to evil but also undifferentiated consciousness. Possible tension there.

Medieval Philosophy

Ibn Sinna changed the terminology of the cosmological argument from uncaused/cause to necessary/contingent. Even if the argument itself is limited, this is a better change.


We tend to see the big divide in philosophy as between analytic and continental. That wasn’t always so. Before Hegel it was rational vs. empiricism. Hegel broke that divide with his introduction of “historical reason.” For Hegel the absolute unfolded itself in a historical and dialectical process, taking up and sublating previous movements.

The Hegelian D.F. Strauss took this idea and said that myth could tell truth if in the form of a narrative. Enter, modern liberal Christianity.

Marx replaced Hegel’s “Spirit” with “matter.”

Part 1: Approaches

Analytic Philosophy. Began with GE Moore and focused on linguistic precision at the expense of metaphysics and consciousness. Facts are analyzed as atomistic states of affairs, which are then reduced to propositions. Russell’s work did offer new insights into logic, such as the existential quantifier.

Traditional statement: a round square does not exist.

This does not mean there is such an entity as a round square to which we deny “existence.” Rather, it means,

For every x, x does not exist.

A number of schools emerged from the analytic method: Logical Positivism, Oxford School, and Speech-Act school.

Continental Philosophy

It’s easier to explain continental philosophy by its different subdivisions.

Existentialism: the importance of human decision and will; temporality of all actions; truth through subjectivity. Subjectivity, however, means something more than “truth for me.” It is inner transformation.

Phenomenology: We describe objects as they are immediately given to us. Husserl began by rejecting “psychologism,” that reducing of objects to mental states. Instead, Husserl argues for intentionality, which is consciousness about other states or objects.

Husserl on Signs: every sign is a sign for something, but not every sign has meaning. For Husserl “pure consciousness,” or a directed consciousness towards both immanental and actual objects.

Hermeneutics: The Continental school focused more on hermeneutics than did the analytic school. This has a bigger overlap with Christian theology. With Schleiermacher hermeneutics moved from “rules of interpretation” to “art of interpretation.” The unity of the whole is grasped and then viewed in the various sections. We have a provisional grasp of the whole that is seen in our “pre-understanding.”

Heidegger— Verstehen is bound up with interpreting Dasein’s possibilities of existence. Understanding is prior to cognition. Understanding is more of a projection.

Critical Theory– praxis as theory-laden action. Power and knowledge entail each other. Capitalism generates false needs (Marcuse).

Feminism. More nuanced than what might expect. Feminism is more than just NPR propaganda. It draws upon a specifically Marxist critique that the male, enforced by binary rationality and logocentrism, “commodifies” the female.

Personalism. Critiques of personalism are difficult to manage. On one hand, it does stem from a rejection of classical theism following Hegel and Kant. However, Hegel’s and Kant’s construction of the doctrine of God is anything but personal.

Pragmatism and Rorty: we speak of justification rather than truth. Truth is what is successful to the community. Problem: Which community? Rorty prefers that of liberal democracy.

Concepts and Issues

Design argument: Today the defense doesn’t rely as much on particular minutiae but on structured orderedness.

Divine action: Can God act in the universe? There are two parts to the problem: a) how can a spiritual being act in the physical word? b) Does God’s acting again constitute a problem in the first place? If he were perfect, and had acted once, why does he need to act again? Thiselton draws upon speech-act theory to shed some light on the faulty presupposition. A single utterance, for example, can have multiple effects.

Speech acts: our speech acts depend on accepted conventions. We can’t just say, “I baptize this dog” or “I baptize this child 2704.” A promise is an interesting example of a speech-act. It cannot be done vicariously. Think about it: I can’t promise for somebody else. Also, if I say “I do” at the altar, it has perlocutionary force. If I am already married, it does not. Thiselton even goes further and links covenant with “speech act.” Covenants imply promise, and promise is a speech-act. Thiselton mentions that Tyndale identified 14 types of promise in the Bible, including “blessing, acquittal, appointment, etc.”

Part 3: Key Terms

Alienation: Marxists use the term to describe capitalism’s alleged reduction of humans to property.

Dialectic: originally referred to dialogue. It’s technical meaning refers to a logical process that sublates lower-order conclusions.

Essence: the permanent and fixed property of an entity. Wittgenstein rejected talk of essences as distracting from the particular cases of language

One thought on “Approaching Philosophy of Religion (Thiselton)

  1. “Hinduism: supreme being is both antagonistic to evil but also undifferentiated consciousness. Possible tension there.”

    There are 2 main schools of thought in what we all Hinduism. There are those who believe that God is impersonal as in undifferentiated consciousness (or in the terms of idealist philosophers “the Impersonal Absolute”). But, there are many Hindus who believe that God is a person, as in Lord Krishna. The belief being that God permeates His creation (the material universe), but also transcends His creation. God has a supremely transcendent personality.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s