False But Significant: The Development of Falsity in Religious Cognition in Light of the Holism of the Mental

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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  • 1 Department of Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 7491 Trondheim, Norway

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Abstract

I elaborate the idea first proposed by Hans Penner that religious language is patently false in a rereading of Donald Davidson’s essay, “What Metaphors Mean.” I explore a Davidsonian paradigm concerning the semantics of superhuman agents. Religious language is meaningful because it is patently false or trivially true. Patency entails a breakdown at the surface that runs counter to the normative meaning of words. Since no special form of cognition or semantics is necessary to account for religious language, following Nancy Frankenberry’s argument about how metaphor and religious language are used, I explore the possibility that false reasoning is a kind of costly signal. Finally I suggest that literacy alters this matrix because it focuses attention on the literal instantiation of sentences in the form of inscriptions, thus exaggerating the role of false reasoning in relation to religion.

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