Davidsonian semantic theory and cognitive science of religion

Mark Quentin Gardiner, Steven Engler


This article investigates the extent to which the cognitive science of religion (CSR) and Donald Davidson’s semantic holism (DSH) harmonize. We first characterize CSR, philosophical semantics (and more specifically DSH). We then note a prima facie tension between CSR and DSH’s view of First-Person Authority (that we know what is meant when we speak in a way that we do not when others speak). If CSR is correct that the causes of religious belief are located in cognitive processes in the mind/brain, then religious insiders might have no idea what they are talking about: only the scholar of CSR would have a chance of knowing what they ‘really’ mean. The article argues that the resolution to this problem is to take seriously DSH’s rejection of semantic bifurcation, specifically rejecting the idea that religious and non-religious language can be sharply distinguished. We conclude by supporting the following claims: (i) common cognitive neural/psychological processes are explanatorily relevant in proposed meaning-theories for any discourse, and (ii) those processes need semantic supplementation with reference to external and naturalistic factors (biological, cultural, environmental etc.).

Keywords: cognitive science of religion, cognitive theory, holism, semantics, philosophy of language, religious studies, theory of religion.

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ISSN: 1984-8234 - Best viewed in Mozilla Firefox

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License [Updated on September 23, 2016].

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