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The problem of language in the theology of the Enlightenment / הבעיתיות של השפה בתיאולוגיה של ההשכלה

מ' שורץ and M. Schwartz
Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies / דברי הקונגרס העולמי למדעי היהדות
Vol. ד‎, VOLUME II / כרך ב‎ (תשכ"ה / 1965), pp. 343-346
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23528170
Page Count: 4
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The problem of language in the theology of the Enlightenment / הבעיתיות של השפה בתיאולוגיה של ההשכלה
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Abstract

The problem of the religious language is connected with the general difficulty of interpreting language. Plato sought to solve this problem by his theory of ideas, according to which being can only be known on its own, without the intermediary of language. Mendelssohn adopted the Platonic conception of language. According to him, the process by which truths, whether eternal or factual, are known, is not bound by linguistic symbols. Language is but a vessel to receive the pure concepts of the mind. The use of language is established through arbitrary and pragmatic considerations which are irrelevant to the process of perceiving the truths. The various modes of expression are instruments formed to enable us to preserve truths for ourselves and to communicate them to others. This instrumental conception of language forms the basis of Mendelssohn's theological views. Thus the revelation of the Tora lacks dogmatic value by force of the argument that religious language cannot represent the conceptual contents of religion. There is essential conflict between the eternal concepts of religion and its linguistic representations, which are necessarily temporal and historical. Religious ritual has clear preference in Mendelssohn's eyes over linguistic symbols precisely because it lacks representational character, and its value lies in the fact that it encourages man to acquire a correct awareness of religious truths. In the more recent developments of modern Jewish thought two new positive approaches towards religious language have been formed. One is that of Nachman Krochmal and the other is that of Rosenzweig and Buber. Krochmal distinguishes, following Hegel, between the external language, which is the outcome of natural mechanistic activity, and the internal language, which is a symbol of the spirit. The relationship between the idea and its linguistic symbol is not instrumental. Language, on the contrary, is a power which strengthens the spirit, and its function is that of revealing the spirit to itself. There follows from this metaphysical approach to language a positive attitude to religious tradition, both written and spoken, as well as a historicist view of it. In Krochmal's philosophy language is still bound to a world of ideas. Only in Rosenzweig's theology of the dialogue does the conception of language go beyond this point.

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