Talk:Philosophy of religion

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 Definition Branch of philosophy concerned with religion. [d] [e]


A decent start--I think, however, that since most of philosophy of religion concerns the God of the monotheistic religions, it can't be the case that the default should be (lower case) "god" which means "God or gods."

Surely we aren't going to have to debate whether "God" should be capitalized? It's a proper name, like Apollo.

--Larry Sanger 12:02, 16 February 2007 (CST) (an agnostic and former teacher of phil. of religion)

I must admit that my own view (fairly common in philosophy, at least) is that "god" isn't a proper name, but (as it's sometimes put) a job description. "Allah", "Jahweh", "Brahman", "Quetzalcoatl" (and indeed, "Apollo"), etc., are proper names of gods, surely. I used lower-case "g" in my own book, and I've seen it in a number of decent books in the field.
Also, though, modern philosophy of religion is beginning to expand beyond the philosophy of the Abrahamic religions (not at Oxford for the most part, of course). I used the upper-case version at the articles on Augustine and his Confessions, however, as there it did seem to be used more like a proper name.
I don't feel strongly about it to put up a fight, though. --Peter J. King  Talk  12:45, 16 February 2007 (CST)

I don't wish to "fight" about it, of course.  :-) But if philosophical practice is as you say (I never did a whole lot of reading in philosophy of religion, I admit), I find it very puzzling. What other words are there like it? We are talking about the purported existence of a particular being, which goes by a proper name ("God") according to those who believe in it, despite the word's being obviously appropriated from the more general use. Can you think of a single example like it--where scholars, or anyone, make a general word lower-case that has been pressed into service as the name of an alleged, possibly fictional, particular?

As to the number usually attached to "G/god," in philosophy of religion, while no doubt the field is expanding beyond the Abrahamic religions, the by-far dominant use allegedly refers to a single entity, isn't it? I would be surprised if the most-debated question is not still, "Does anything like the God of the Abrahamic religions exist?" but instead, "Does anything going under the title 'god' exist?" --Larry Sanger 12:58, 16 February 2007 (CST)

I don't want to imply that philosophical practice is now to use the lowercase, only that this usage is increasing (though I know that many writers use the upper-case "G" under pressure from their publishers). I'd agree that "god" is a peculiar term, largely because it has been appropriated for so many and so varied uses. There probably aren't any other examples, simply because no other alleged, possibly fictional particular has been referred to by a term that has then had its usage extended radically. "D/devil" come close, I suppose, being (usually) given a capital when used to refer to the Christian being, and lower-case in other cases, even when a specific being is intended (and "P/pegasus", because of its use by Cottingham in his response to Descartes' ontological argument). I'd go for a general use of "d" for "devil" to, using "Satan" or "Lucifer" as the proper name.
I'm not sure what the historical usage is; "He", "Him", etc., of course, are largely nineteenth-centuriy introductions. A Jewish friend of mine has always criticised those who write "G-d", on the basis that it's the pointless transfer of a custom concerning the Hebrew name of god (the tetragrammaton in particular) to an English common noun.
If the policy here is always to use the upper-case version I'll comply without much concern, though I'm so used to writing it without the upper-case "G" that I'll probably need tidying up after, at least at the beginning (especially as I'm about three quarters of the way through writing an introduction to the philosophy of religion at the moment, so it's a particularly live habit for me).
(I tried to use search engines for a Web search, but none of them seem to allow a case-sensitive search any more.) --Peter J. King  Talk  13:42, 16 February 2007 (CST)
I'll try and leave my OR out of this, but if my own theory of proper name semantics is correct (and it isn't a million miles away from the theory given by Mark Sainsbury in his most recent book) then the paradigm use of a proper name is the one we see in fiction, where the name is simply made to have the same purported reference as it had before. Thus, 'Frodo Baggins', despite being blatantly fictional, is used as if the same person is being talked about, and so that if all the sentences were true (even though they aren't) they would be true of a single person. Geach sketches a similar theory in a book written years ago. Thus, 'Jehovah' purportedly refers to the same entity as 'the Lord' or 'jhwh' purportedly refers to in the books of the Old and New Testament. It also has the same purported reference as 'Allah', since the purported reference of that name, whether or not you believe it has an actual reference, is the same entity as in the Old Testament. It does not have the same purported reference as 'Zeus', however, since a different set of texts, or oral traditions, are in question.
This form of use, as a proper name (or purported proper name) is to be distinguished from the one that Peter wants, i.e. a common noun denoting any being that fits the usual job description (omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, &c - beginning to sound like Monty Python now). Note there was intense debate over whether 'God' was a proper or a common name in medieval times. Some theologians denied it was proper, because a true proper name has direct reference, like a demonstrative, and they thought such direct reference would bring the one who grasped it into such intimate union with God that he would explode, rather like the final part of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Edward buckner 03:40, 18 February 2007 (CST)
On Larry's point about whether a 'single example' here is a link to a post of mine on Buridan's theory of proper names. He discusses exactly the point mentioned, about the common name thing. Of course, there are no examples of the upper lower case thing, because the medieval writers, oddly, did not use the upper-case honorific for 'deus'. See here for example, where Augustine and Boethius are capitalised, but not 'deus'. Similarly 'dominus' and 'christus' are not capitalised that I have ever seen. Edward buckner 03:49, 18 February 2007 (CST)
That was a 15C book, but see also here for an earlier manuscript, probably early 14C, which uses the term 'god' See e.g. the second column halfway down, with the blue paragraph mark, beginning 'quicumque autem'. Just before that you see 'hoc enim deus', lower case. Edward buckner 03:59, 18 February 2007 (CST)
This is all very interesting. I should have known the stuff about the capitalisation in Latin, and I do recall something about the mediaeval debate concerning direct reference (though I've never seen it put quite like that; very graphic). --Peter J. King  Talk  16:07, 19 February 2007 (CST)

PS, what happened to Existence? I wrote a large part of that in the other place. It wasn't brilliant, but surely some bits could be salvaged. Best Edward buckner 04:07, 18 February 2007 (CST)

Articles are either being started from scratch or imported from Wikipedia as and wehn someone wants to do it, I think. Just cut-and-paste it over, and clean it up (it probably needs quite a bit of work). --Peter J. King  Talk  16:07, 19 February 2007 (CST)

Just to keep the progress of my research up to date; I've been asking our theologians and historians, and have so far failed to find a particular point at which the capital was used for "god" and cognate terms (Early Modern is the best bet at the moment). One theologian, though (also our College chaplain) said that he suspected that it was printers who were originally responsible for the usage, rather than the writers. --Peter J. King  Talk  12:26, 24 February 2007 (CST)

Here you see the lower case still in use. From Roger Pearse's Tertullian website. However, the the date of this book is not known. Roger thinks 1493 but that is clearly not correct – the print style and quality is much later. I guess mid 17C at the earliest. I can get more information about this from Roger if you are interested. Another question is Latin versus English usage. Perhaps English editions used upper case, Latin editions lower case. Who knows? (This is real train spotter stuff). Edward buckner 04:15, 26 February 2007 (CST)
And here from the British Museum is the 1603 folio of Hamlet. There you see the upper case used. ("Before my God, I might not this believe ..."). So perhaps it is an English/Latin thing. Edward buckner 04:25, 26 February 2007 (CST)
Update: no, it's not a Latin-English thing either. See The Wife of Bath's tale, Caxton 1483. Note that 'Jesus' is capitalised, as are proper names. But 'god' is not. I also checked in the Gutenberg Bible (Latin) where 'deus' is not capitalised. So, it's not a printing thing, and it's not a Latin-English thing. It's a date thing. Edward buckner 06:22, 26 February 2007 (CST)

I've never actually owned an anorak, but I have this strange craving to go out and buy one...

Actually, this is all fascinating; I'd be surprised if no-one has written on the issue. I'm in College tomorrow, and I'll ask some mediaevalists if they know of anything. (It could be a combination of date and printers, of course; that is, at a certain point printers began using the upper case form.) --Peter J. King  Talk  06:59, 26 February 2007 (CST)

Further update. I looked at my copy of Brucker (Leipzig 1767), which is a Latin history of philosophy, is UPPER case. So it must have happened in the 17C. Thus early modern? Let me know what the experts say. Edward buckner 12:56, 26 February 2007 (CST)

Further evidence

I found what I was looking for, which was a site dedicated to old Bibles. This clearly shows that upper case was standard in the 16th century, in English and German. For example

So the move to upper case must have happened in the early 16th century. Edward buckner 13:31, 26 February 2007 (CST)

We have varying capitalization in the snippet of the Luther-bible:
( line) "der Her sprach" ("the Lord spoke")
( line) "was im der herr gepotten het" ("what the lord had asked him to do")
( line) "wie im der herr gepote het" ("as the lord had asked him to do")
No noun is capitalized, as Edward already mentioned, only the name "Noah" is capitalized (and occurs two times) beside "der Her" in the 1st line

--Gottfried Helms 19:18, 9 September 2010 (UTC)


Don't forget the argument from religious experience--for epistemologists like Plantinga and Alston, one of the most interesting arguments, and for many people, period, probably the most important argument there is. --Larry Sanger 09:25, 24 February 2007 (CST)

That's the fourth of the arguments listed. (I must admit that I don't normally include it as one of the arguments (we normally distinguish between what is experienced and what needs argument), dealing with it instead when I get on to religious epistemology.) --Peter J. King  Talk  12:22, 24 February 2007 (CST)


When authors are quoted, the reference should surely be to an edition (preferably a standard edition) of their work rather than to an extract in a collection. --Peter J. King  Talk  03:58, 29 March 2007 (CDT)