METHODOLOGICAL AGNOSTICISM OF NINIAN SMART AND PHILOSOPHY OF ORDINARY LANGUAGE: PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS

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Transliteration of original Title: 
Metodologicheskii agnostitsizm N. Smarta i filosofiya obydennogo yazyka: k postanovke problemy
Author(s): 
Alexey Yu. Rakhmanin
Russian Christian Academy for the Humanities
Issue number: 
No.4 (Vol.54)
Pages: 
160-174
Abstract: 

This article discusses the philosophical status of the methodological agnosticism principle established in religious studies. Elaborated by Ninian Smart in the early 70s, it is commonly interpreted as a convenient principle for research in comparative religion, since it doesn’t presuppose any strong ontological commitments concerning the truth or falsity of religious belief. Since religious studies in academia have everything to do with the situation of religious pluralism, it is rationally imprudent to take either atheism or theism as a sufficient requirement to religious research, so the agnostic attitude is the only viable position. The situation provokes the question: can, and should, methodological agnosticism be grounded and justified by philosophical means? The status and function of the philosophy of religion in Smart’s project of religious studies is emphasized, as well as rationality as its central element. Among the possible solutions to the problem of rationality and religion depicted by Smart, it is the linguistic philosophy approach, which he calls the Language Game Thesis, that is of special interest. Smart rejected its applicability in religious studies primarily because of the restrictions determined by its inevitable religious, i.e. Christian, spirit. This assumption rests on Smart’s conception of the language rule in religion as autonomous and independent, while this understanding of game and rules is, at the least, not common to all of linguistic philosophy. Yet, it is possible to interpret methodological agnosticism according to the Language Game Thesis while not losing the pluralistic principle. Certain elements in arguing for agnosticism, especially the elaboration of “parables”, show that rationality here corresponds to that of everyday language, as the only possible space for the
combination of different rules. While arguments for atheism stress the incompatibility of religious and scientific rationalities, and theism stresses the independence of the former, agnosticism proclaims their mutual meaningfulness. The essential question here arises: is it at all possible to treat agnosticism in any other way than in ordinary language?

Keywords: 
agnosticism, philosophy of ordinary language, rationality, religious pluralism, parable, language games
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DOI: 
10.5840/eps201754480
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