Philosophy Word of the Day – John Hick

Professor John Harwood Hick (born Yorkshire, England, 1922)[1] is a philosopher of religion and theologian. In philosophical theology, he has made contributions in the areas of theodicy, eschatology, and Christology, and in the philosophy of religion he has contributed to the areas of epistemology of religion and religious pluralism.[2]

Robert Smid states that Hick is regularly cited as “one of the most – if not simply the most – significant philosopher of religion in the twentieth century”.[7] Keith Ward describes him as “the greatest living philosopher of global religion.”[8] He is best known for his advocacy of religious pluralism,[2] which is radically different from the traditional Christian teachings that he held when he was younger.[3]

In light of his Kantian influences, Hick claims that knowledge of the Real (his generic term for Transcendent Reality) can only be known as it is being perceived. For that reason, absolute truth claims about God (to use Christian language) are really truth claims about perceptions of God; that is, claims about the phenomenal God and not the noumenal God. Furthermore, because all knowledge is rooted in experience, which is then perceived and interpreted into human categories of conception, cultural and historical contexts which inevitably influence human perception are necessarily components of knowledge of the Real. This means that knowledge of God and religious truth claims pertaining thereof are culturally and historically influenced; and for that reason should not be considered absolute.

This is how Hick argues against Christian exclusivism, which holds that although other religions might contain partial goodness and truth, salvation is provided only in Jesus Christ, and the complete truth of God is contained only in Christianity.

(Via Wikipedia)

For a comprehensive response to Hick’s views on religious pluralism, see Harold Netland’s volumes Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism & the Question of Truth and Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith & Mission.

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3 thoughts on “Philosophy Word of the Day – John Hick

  1. Is religious truth antipodal to “false”? Is such truth true in the sense of logic? If so, is God limited by logic? I argue in my posts that religious truth is sui generis (i.e., unique).

  2. The most challenging course I took in college was one on religious diversity that used Hick’s “An Interpretation of Religion.” His double-helix like style of arguing through parallel narratives and non-linear deconstruction of exclusive truth claim platforms is dizzying at times. And yet, the irony I find in his heavy leaning on Kantian concepts is that the key to unlock his Gordian Knot of religious claim stalemates is what I call the Immanuel Factor. The factor of a Real that is intelligient enough to recognize the same noumenal/phenomenal divide at least as well as humans – but that if “it” chose to “be with us” then the communication gap would be bridged.

    • Good point, Mike. Why couldn’t the Real decide to reveal Himself to us? Hick’s theory seems to leave us in absolute darkness about who God is and what He’s like. I guess it’s one way to avoid religious conflict — in the end, apparently, we’re all wrong.

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