Monday, 4 April 2011

The Via Negativa

In this video I explain the Via Negativa in respect to Pseudo Dionysius and Mamonides.

The Via Negativa (VN)
What is it?
The via negativa is about talking about what God is not as opposed to what God is. It is based on the assumption that religious language is equivocal (i.e. has multiple meanings) and non-cognitive. 
What are its roots?
The via negativa states that  God is ineffable, mystical and divine hence we cannot comprehend or talk about what he is (the via positiva) hence it only makes sense to say what God is not - what we know!
Recall back to Plato’s Form of the Good... studying this the neo-platonist Plotinuouis in the 3rd century used this method to describe god arguing that the Form of the Good is separtate to the world and unknown. This influeced Psued Dionysius and Moses Maimonides who are the most important scholars in this field of study.
Why should we follow it?
  • Human language cannot describe something that is transcendent and ineffable.
  • But we do know what God is not hence we can describe him in elbet limited knowledge.
  • Aristotle once said we can only philosophise bout the physical not the metaphysical. 
Scholars - Psuedo Dionysuis & The Three States of Knowledge
Dionysuis a Christian writer in the 5th C used this method to discuss God holding the belief that teh via positiva tells us nothing and results in anthropomorphic descriptions of God. 
  1. Via Negativa 
Dionysius writes that God is ‘beyond all beung and knowledge and in every way that can be thought of is beyond and outside human categories of thought’. Furthermore, he expresses the view that God is “beyong assertion” and “beyond denial”. An example of the via negativa he gives is that we cannot say God is good because it is not the same as saying humans are good hence we do not understand what it fully means and should result to saying God is not good.
  1. The State of Affirmation
In simple terms all Dionysuis suggests here is that the VN is not the only way we can know God - the Bible tells us about God. It is important to point out that he firmly believed Biblical language was symbolic. 
  1. Beyond Human Understanding
In this “State of Knowledge” Dionysius emphasizes that all language about God has a metaphorical language and is symbolic not to be taken literally! He says the metaphorical nature of the language leads people to a greater spiritual awareness. 
He also very in favor of the VN speaking from the Jewish tradition said the Via Positiva is improper and disrespectful as it beings God down to a human level. The only positive statement that can be made about him is that he exists.

1 comment:

  1. I have to point out a fundamental mistake in this post, which is the fact that The Via Negativa is in fact Cognitive. Cognitive language by definition is facts and empirically true statements, while Non-Cognitive language is the idea that language is simply opinions, feelings and emotions. The Via Negativa uses factual statements to describe God. Talking of God in terms of what he is not, is using factual statements, although they are negative rather than positive. As such, looking at the irrefutable evidence, the Via Negativa can only and without question be described as a Cognitive point of view.