Contemporary Critiques of Religion by Kai Nielsen

By Kai Nielsen

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Is indirect', but none the less it can be learned and, Mascall avers, understood. For him, this means that 'mystical experience in the strict sense' is taken to be 'a direct experimental awareness of God' (25). And what God tells us in such an encounter happens to be true, Mascall claims, and, he gives us to understand, Ayer is simply being arbitrary when he rules out by linguistic fiat 'that finite minds can apprehend a transcendent and infinite reality and that human language can communicate information about it ...

And therefore we say that his intuition has not revealed to him any facts. It is no use his saying that he has apprehended facts but is unable to express them. For we know that if he really had acquired any information he would be able to express it (21). Mascall remarks that the prima facie plausibility of this claim turns on failing to note an ambiguity in Ayer's use of 'empirical'. First, in order not to rule out a priori the relevance of mystical experience, Ayer uses 'empirical' in a very broad sense.

He maintains that Ayer never establishes that unverifiable utterances are factually meaningless or unintelligible in any common or garden sense of these terms. Ayer is simply making, in Mascall's judgement, his own rather special stipulations. Others can with equal legitimacy make other stipulations and no good reasons have been given why we should accept those Ayer or Ayer-like stipulations which would put non-anthropomorphic God-talk out of business as a literal form of discourse. Ayer's definition, Mascall remarks, indeed records his own methodological principle, but he has given us no good grounds for adopting it.

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