Date of Award


Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Ingolf U. Dalferth

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Randy Ramal

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Hartmut von Sass

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Hyoseok Kim


D. Z. Phillips, God, Philosophy of Religion, Religious Language, Truth, Wittgenstein

Subject Categories

Philosophy | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


In the present dissertation, I examine, critically reflect on, and evaluate D. Z. Phillips’ view of philosophy, religious language, religious truth, and God. One of the focuses is given to his attempts to overcome the dichotomy between the view of religious language as fact-asserting (realist) and as attitude-expressive (anti-realist), and between the understanding of religious truth as propositional truth and as personal truth. However, my focus is not limited to that issue alone. I attempt to grasp Phillips’ view of religious language, religious truth, and God as thoroughly as possible, since his view has been—too frequently—grossly misunderstood, and has attracted—often undue—criticisms from various sides. After that, on the basis of my understanding of Phillips, I make some suggestions for a more illuminating view of religious language, religious truth, and God. Phillips’ philosophical method, or way of doing philosophy is known as descriptive and contemplative. I examine central notions in his philosophy, such as description, contemplation, grammar, neutrality, and possibility. I also discuss scholarly debates on the relation between description and contemplation and the alleged shift in Phillips’ way of doing philosophy. In terms of religious language, Phillips’ several contentions are examined. He attempts to maintain the balance between the distinctiveness of religious language and its relation to other, non-religious aspects of human life. One of his central contentions regarding religious language is that the meaning of language is determined in the context of its use. For Phillips, the distinctiveness of religious language is shown in its specific characters, such as absolute (regulative), pictorial, grammatical, and expressive (confessional). While his view is often accused of attitude-expressivist, Phillips strongly rejects it. His position on the inexpressibility of God and the limits of human language and on the distinction between the literal and the metaphorical is also investigated. In regard to Phillips’ notion of religious truth, I explore its two major features. First, truth is context-dependent: not only the meaning but also the criteria of truth are to be found within the context in question. Second, religious truth is personal in the sense that it is a matter of personal decision and that it regulates a believer’s whole life. Despite the charge of relativism, his view does not necessarily lead to individualistic relativism, by virtue of the criteria of community and what we already know. Also, in terms of the charge of arbitrariness, Phillips’ account of our shared reactions to the world reveals not the arbitrariness but the contingency of our epistemic framework. For the reality of God, Phillips provides two kinds of analysis. First, in terms of the negative analysis—what the reality of God does not mean—he persistently emphasizes the difference between the reality of God and the reality of physical objects, and rejects metaphysical conceptions of God. Second, in terms of the positive analysis—what the reality of God does mean—Phillips argues that the existence of God is necessary existence; that God’s reality is synonymous with God’s divinity; and that the reality of God is spiritual reality. Also, Phillips rejects the charge of being Feuerbachian reductionist and attempts to go beyond the dichotomy between realism and nonrealism. The final chapter consists of two parts. In the first part, I address common criticisms of Phillips’ notion of the neutrality of contemplative philosophy. First, he has been criticized that despite his claim to neutrality, he is in reality a revisionist or a reformer who prescribes rather than describes. However, Wittgensteinian description, which Phillips employs, does have prescriptive force and thus the charge of revision or prescription could be less serious than is often thought. In terms of Phillips’ allegedly “one-sided diet,” I suggest, his Kierkegaardian-Weilian reading of Christianity needs not be taken as the grammar of religious beliefs; rather, Phillips offers it as an alternative account in his positive task of showing what religious belief does or may mean. Nevertheless, Phillips’ relying too much on that form of spirituality sometimes makes his accounts of religious beliefs less persuasive. Second, in terms of the question of whether neutrality is as attainable, desirable, or essential to philosophy as Phillips thinks it to be, his critics tend to take his notion of neutrality as a view from nowhere. However, I argue, the neutrality of contemplative philosophy is better understood as “trying to go nowhere.” Insofar as “a perch above the fray” of contemplative philosophy is construed as a third perspective from which a philosopher is looking for a way of describing the pros and cons of both the affirmation and the rejection of a position, contemplative philosophy is still a usable way of doing philosophy. In the second part, I suggest in what direction Phillips’ view can be further developed. First, a view of religious language based upon Phillips’ philosophy needs to involve more philosophical reflections on the structural inadequacies of human language, the ways in which language works in our talk of God, and, in this regard, the metaphorical character of religious language. Second, in terms of religious truth, I suggest two ways of deciding on the truth or rationality of a whole framework or worldview as such, despite the radical contingency of our epistemic framework: first, we can criticize or reject a framework by means of our context-internal criteria; second, the verification of the truth of a given worldview is experiential or practical. Finally, in terms of God, I argue that we need to pay more careful attention to and elucidate the grammar of the trinitarian conception of God, which is central to Christian religion.