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Debates about the meaning of meaning cut across the analytic/continental divide. According to externalist accounts (e.g. Kripke-Putnam's) people believe, or even know, that beeches are different from elms even if they never saw either in their life, and wouldn't know them from an oak if they saw them. This is because people outsource their meaning to experts when it comes to actual identification, Putnam's twin Earth was devised to illustrate the point. Bottom line: meaning is social.

This strikes me as similar to differences between various Christian or Muslim denominations on the finer points of divinity. Think of illiterate Christian peasants after the great schism, most them were unlikely to understand, or care about, the origin of the holy spirit that the Catholic and the Orthodox churches cursed each other over. I am not sure how much relevantly changed since then. The fine points are outsourced to the experts, i.e. clergy. But personal beliefs are no elms and beeches, or water=H20.

Here are my questions. Externalist "deconstruction" of meaning seems to reduce statements of religious belief to little more than declarations of social or cultural identity. This may be just as well with the externalists, or postmodern sociologists, but more seems to be at stake for believers. How much understanding distinguishes a personal belief from a cultural "me too"? How many of self-identified Christians or Muslims are meaningfully such? I am curious if religious philosophers developed their own accounts of meaning and belief, specifically religious belief, in the light of these debates, and how they address the issues raised by externalism about meaning.

The task seems non-trivial to me because if there is one thing that externalists succeeded at it is showing that the classical internalist account is completely unworkable (see e.g. Wittgenstein on impossibility of private language, Quine, Kripke and Putnam on incompatibility of internal meaning with how languages are learned, etc.). And unlike empirical matters, where one can at least imagine reducing complex meanings to pointing, such reduction can't work for religion. Things get even worse for broader identifications, like "Christian" or "religious", which seem to be loose collections linked by Wittgensteinian family resemblance rather than Aristotelian "kinds" with identifiable "essence".

  • This is a re-ask of a question that was closed and then deleted. Conifold states there: " Since this is taking too long I'll simply delete this and post the edited question". (Apparently, this is not against the rules per se: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/303253/… ). (I will completely leave up to others if they feel this should be closed still). – virmaior Jan 16 '16 at 4:35
  • I didn't get involved in the previous version but its still quite unclear what the question is asking. It seems to have too many moving parts for a SE question and to be worded in an overly grandiose way. Is the question simply "how does social knowledge work with religious belief?" (i.e. does it pose a special problem?) or is there a reason to talk about medieval peasants and the filioque? – virmaior Jan 16 '16 at 4:40

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