Why John Hick cannot, and should not, stay out of the jam pot

Religious Studies 36 (1):25-33 (2000)
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John Hick uses a distinction between the formal and the substantial properties of the Real an sich, the noumenal God. Hick claims that substantial properties, such as 'being good' or 'being personal', cannot be ascribed to the Real an sich. On the other hand, according to Hick, formal properties -- such as 'being such that none of our concepts apply' -- can be predicated of the Real an sich. I argue, first of all, that many of the properties Hick ascribes to the Real an sich are hard to interpret as anything but substantial, unless we adopt a highly arbitrary substantial/formal distinction. Secondly, I argue that it is never possible to ascribe only formal properties to the Real an sich, since the correct framing and application of formal properties involves a prior knowledge of some substantial properties. I show that the predication of formal properties involves having more knowledge than we need for the application of substantial properties. I conclude that Hick's practice is better than his theory, and that by dispensing with the formal/substantial distinction, he would enable his doctrine of God to stand on more respectable and theological grounds



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