Metaphor and Religious Language
Soskice (Janet Martin)
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Cover Blurb

  1. Christian theology has been bedevilled in modem times by an inability to explain its traditional reliance on metaphor to an audience intellectually formed by empiricism. What is needed is not a more ‘literal' theology but a better understanding of metaphor. This book sets out to provide it. The author offers an account of metaphor which not only illuminates the way in which theists speak of God, but also contributes significantly to our understanding of the workings of metaphor in scientific theory and other areas.
  2. 'This is an astonishingly good book — streets ahead, both philosophically and theologically, of most of its rivals in the widely canvassed field of studies of religious language. Moreover it is as good on models and metaphors in science as it is on models and metaphors in religion.'
    … Brian Hebblethwaite in the Heythrop Journal
  3. 'a splendid vindication of analytical philosophy when that is imbued with a proper respect for what is being discussed. Lecturers in the philosophy of religion and of language will be glad of it, but it should also be more widely used.'
    … Stephen R. L. Clark in The Times Literary Supplement
  4. Janet Martin Soskice is a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge and a University Assistant Lecturer in Theology at the University of Cambridge.

Amazon Customer Review
  1. This superb study deals with the status of religious language by means of a comprehensive review of theories of metaphor down the ages, taking in amongst others Aristotle, David Hume, I A Richards and I T Ramsey. The author's deceptively simple working definition of metaphor as 'that figure of speech whereby we speak about one thing in terms which are seen to be suggestive of another' proves highly fruitful, especially when 'thing' is extended to include 'state of affairs'.
  2. Ms Soskice provides a robust defence of the idea that metaphor is an irreplaceable part of language, is not to be equated with simple comparison, and expresses truths in ways which cannot be expressed without metaphor. She discusses metaphor in relation to scientific theory and philosophical debates about our knowledge of reality, and argues for a position of 'critical realism' as preferable to a post-modern claim that language is a self-contained system of signifiers with no externally existing signified reality. She is fully aware of the rationale behind such claims, and avoids a naive realism that posits a simple one-to-one mapping of words to reality.
  3. In discussing the implications of this understanding of metaphor for theology, she finds many points of contact with scientific method, and shows that a position of reflective realism underlies even the claims of Christian mystics; in passing she provides counter arguments to Don Cupitt's non-realist interpretation of theology.
  4. Fittingly, for a book which discusses both the vital irreducibility but also the limitation of metaphorical language, she ends with reference to John Donne, in particular his poem 'Hymne to Christ, at the Authors Last Going into Germany', and shows how God, 'beloved and dreaded, horribly absent and compellingly present' is the beginning and end of theology, as illustrated in the poem's movement from experience to images and images to prayer.
  5. I would thoroughly recommend this study to anyone dissatisfied with both the dismissive relativism of much postmodern discourse and the naive truth assertions of fundamentalism.

    Introduction – ix
  1. Classical Accounts Of Metaphor – 1
    … 1. Aristotle and Quintilian – 3
    … 2. The origins of the substitution view of metaphor – 10
  2. Problems of Definition – 15
    • 1. Metaphors are not mental events – 16
    • 2. Physical objects are not metaphors – 17
    • 3. Metaphor does not take a particular syntactic form – 18
    • 4. The structure of metaphor – 20
    • 5. Scope – 21
  3. Theories of Metaphor – 24
    • 1. Substitution theories – 24
    • 2. Emotive theories – 26
    • 3. Incremental theories – 31
      … (A) Beardsley's 'Controversion' theory – 32
      … (B) Black's 'Interactive' theory 38
      … (C) An 'Interanimation' theory of metaphor – 43
    • 4. Sense, reference, and metaphor: some distinctions – 51
  4. Metaphor Amongst Tropes – 54
    • 1. Metaphor and more distant relations – 54
    • 2. Metaphor amongst tropes – 56
    • 3. Synecdoche and metonymy – 57
    • 4. Simile – 58
    • 5. Catachresis – 61
    • 6. Analogy – 64
  5. Metaphor and 'Words Proper' – 67
    • 1. The diachronic perspective: dead metaphor – 71
    • 2. The synchronic perspective – 83
      … (A) Do words have metaphorical meanings? – 83
      … (B) Does each metaphor have two meanings? – 84
      … (C) Are all metaphors false? – 90
    • 3. Irreducibility – 93
  6. Model And Metaphor in Science and Religion: A Critique of the Arguments – 97
    • 1. Metaphor in scientific language – 99
    • 2. The comparison of models in science and religion – 103
      … (A) 'That the models of science are explanatory and those of religion affective.' – 108
      … (B) 'That the models of science are dispensable whereas those of religion are not.' – 112
  7. Metaphor, Reference, and Realism – 118
  8. Metaphor and Theological Realism – 142
    Notes – 162
    Bibliography – 181
    Index – 189


Clarendon Press; New Edition (23 April 1987)

"Soskice (Janet Martin) - Metaphor and Religious Language"

Source: Soskice (Janet Martin) - Metaphor and Religious Language

Introduction (Full Text)
  1. The title of this book, Metaphor and Religious Language, marks two interests of its writer. The first five chapters deal with metaphor and how metaphor works, the last three turn to problems of ‘reality depiction' and attempt to show, on the basis of arguments from the philosophy of language and philosophy of science, what a theological realism vis-a-vis metaphorical terms would look like.
  2. Some readers may be more interested in one of the book's foci than in the other. Those most interested in religious language, and especially in the question of how we can claim to speak of God at all, may wonder if we need to consider what seem like niceties in arguments native to the philosophy of language. I would say we do, not only because these arguments, or ones based loosely and sometimes carelessly upon them, will be introduced in theological discussion, but also because of the intimacy between what we can say and what we can know.
  3. Those whose primary interest is in metaphor itself, whether literary or from the perspective of philosophy of language, semantics, philosophy of science or other — for indeed the followers of metaphor are legion — will not, I hope, find the philosophy of religion too obtrusive. Indeed the line that the theologians, or at least those of a more orthodox variety, want to walk is a most difficult and compelling one for, on the one hand, they must acknowledge, with the literary critic, that the metaphors which concern them are allusive and embedded in particular traditions of interpretation and belief, and, on the other hand, they must argue that this affective element is not the whole, that somehow this language can claim to be descriptive of a God who cannot be named, except in tropes and figures.
  4. Metaphor, recognized since antiquity as chief amongst the tropes, has a long and noble involvement with Christianity, yet in the past three hundred years Christianity's reliance on metaphor has increasingly come to be regarded as a liability, particularly by those sceptical of Christian claims. For the most part critics have no objection to the occasional metaphor, what disturbs them is that, when speaking of God, Christians move from one metaphor to the next, always indicating that their comments must be qualified, yet never speaking in a strictly straightforward way. The critic argues that at some point the Christian must break out of this circle of imagery and speak unequivocally of God, for otherwise we cannot know that his utterances have any sense at all.
  5. Metaphor is, then, a pressing topic for theology and it is one often mentioned in doctrinal, philosophical, and exegetical studies — rarely, however, is it discussed in any detail. Attempts to defend the Christian's reliance on metaphor have tended to suffer two main defects; a terminological imprecision wherein terms such as 'metaphor', 'model', 'analogy', and 'myth' are used as equivalents, and a tendency to regard the problems of metaphor as problems exclusive to religious language. This we take as indicating the need for a more systematic study of metaphor, and one which gives a thorough treatment of metaphor in its own right before turning to its specifically religious applications.
  6. Ours is not a study of particular metaphors used in the Bible or elsewhere in the Christian corpus (a task, in any case, for the Biblical scholar or systematic theologian) but a study of the cognitive potentialities of metaphor, especially when speaking of God. Throughout the study, however, we have kept in mind the needs and interests of theologians and exegetes and attempted to make distinctions useful to their endeavours. In particular we have tried to systematize, for their consideration, the profusion of literature on the subject, a task made difficult because not only do comments arise from different philosophical schools but, even where writers are of the same school, there are not the standard uses of terms and developed debates that there are on more established topics of philosophical interest.
  7. In view of the Christian's insistence that he will not or cannot transpose his concept of God into supposedly imageless speech, attacks on the meaningfulness of his metaphorical language are, in fact, attacks on any of his attempts to speak of a transcendent God. It is our hope that a defence of metaphor and of its use as a conceptual vehicle will support the Christian in his seemingly paradoxical conviction that, despite his utter inability to comprehend God, he is justified in speaking of God and that metaphor is the principal means by which he does so.

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