Language and Religion: A Journey into the Human Mind

“This is one of the first books to explore in depth the philosophical implications for religion, and by implication other areas of culture, of the new Rationalism tacit in cognitive psychology. Its approach to a renewed rationalism is Kantian in its underlying stance and develops a form of philosophical pragmatism based on Peirce. The book can be seen as a project which attempts to modernize and naturalize this historic tradition.

“Language and Religion is about the cognitive pragmatics of culture, with the world religions as the example. The term ”rationalism” is used in the sense of the claim that the architecture of the mind, with its innate mental representations, provides reliable knowledge independently of experience, knowledge which is a prerequisite for learning from experience. Being the result of evolution such knowledge is ‘synthetic a priori’ providing cognitive frameworks for the fixation of belief and all forms of reasoning within experience, including communication. And this background, with its subsequent rationalizations, and empirical input to-gether give the species-mind its whole grasp of reality. This is in sharp contrast with most 20th century explanations of religion which are within modern empiricist assumptions, the unquestioned ‘common sense’ in English speaking countries in the most recent historical period. Indeed, in purely empiricist contexts, isn’t it the case that the mind is led to the eliminative reduction of religion, once evolution destroyed the ‘argument from design’?

“The book exemplifies the rationalist tradition through its thorough-going cognitivism. It is a synthesis of Peter Carruther’s version of modularity of mind, Chomsky’s linguistics, cognitive pragmatics, mainly relevance theory, and Sperber’s theory of epidemiological culture within a modified Tooby/Cosmides outlook. The book suggests that something like this picture gives the best naturalistic account of the emergence of culture from the complex interaction of the multiple systems of the mind/brain, and therefore the best explanation of religion. This synthesis can be used for a new understanding of culture in general, just beginning to be explored.

“In fact, it provides a picture of how complex cultural systems are emergent phenomena created by the interactions of billions of mind/brains within various social orders in evolutionary and practical contexts. Religion is a cultural complex in which language and communication in social contexts is the main means by which inter-modularity is achieved and relevant cultural mysteries conceptually formulated using rational-aesthetic concepts and made public by language.

“In this context, can religion be scientifically explained without being eliminated? Can it have a rational warrant within a stereoscopic image of humanity which is both scientific and non-scientific? The book tries to demonstrate that it can. It argues that the species-mind can and indeed must accept many relevant but incorrigible mysteries within culture with its tacit metaphysics and morals – concepts like ‘freedom’ – that will most probably never become scientific problems, and it can do so rationally, although within a context of uncertainty and critique that requires a philosophy of uncertainty. This is not the same thing as having blind faith but a response to a natural but genuine authority emergent within a community in practical contexts.”

Language and Religion: A Journey into the Human Mind by Professor William Downes is available now. Click here to find out more and take a look inside the book.

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