Ayer, Donovan and Westphal summary questions with key concepts


  1. Why does Ayer claim that assertions made about a transcendent God are not intelligible notions?
  2. Why does Ayer reject the notion of God with a capital ‘G’?
  3. Why does Ayer suggest that the atheist and agnostic positions are as untenable as the theist’s?
  4. What does Ayer mean by asserting the existence of a transcendent god shows nothing but the ‘state of mind’ of the theist?
  5. Why are claims made by primitive religions given some credit where those of sophisticated religions are not?
  6. Ayer uses all of these phrases: true / false; unintelligible notions; no literal significance; not propositions; nonsense; not a genuine cognitive state; fallacious; cannot be any transcendent truths… – what point do they all have in common?
  7. What does Ayer suggest about believing people?

These are the key concepts in Ayer’s article:

Primitive vs. sophisticated religions / teleological; ontological; religious experience / atheism; agnosticism; religious language; truth; knowledge [Plus number 6!]


Key concepts:

Hegel / scholastic vs. deistic / historical context: religious persecution, intolerance and war in Europe/ Enlightenment rationalism / Kant’s idea / Schleiermacher – Spinoza / Hegel / Hume / Marx / Nietzsche / Kierkegaard. See list of their ideas! [document called: Notes on the key concepts and philosophers in Westphal’s extract.]

  1. How does the focus shift in this article from the preceding ones [in the volume in which Westphal is included – not the leaflet we have]?
  2. What did Hegel complain about?
  3. What was the difference between scholasticism and deism and what historical situation did deism arise to combat?
  4. What did Hume and Kant’s critique of the ontological, cosmological and teleological arguments seem to provide a devastating blow to? And what was the result?
  5. Summarise Kant’s reformulation.
  6. What belief did Schleiermacher and Spinoza have in common?
  7. What does Hegel suggest about the importance of the person of Jesus?
  8. What is meant by ‘suspicion’ in terms of Hume?
  9. What have Marx, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard all got in common as far as the function of religion in society?


  1. In your own words explain the difference between ‘knowledge about’ and ‘knowledge of.’
  2. Which form if either is more important in Donovan’s view?
  3. In your own words explain what Buber means by ‘I-It’ and ‘I-You’ relationships.
  4. In Donovan’s opinion what are the problems with religious experiences as a form of knowledge?
  5. What is the difference between ‘feeling certain’ or ‘inner conviction’ and ‘being right’?
  6. What is the problem with ‘intuitive’ knowledge?

Key concepts: BASICS – is religious experience a valid form of knowledge? If it isn’t has it any value?

  • What is regarded as knowledge? / How does knowledge come? / Is religious experience a valid form of knowledge and what doubts can be cast on it?/ Intuition as a form of knowledge / Feeling certain and being right – how do we know we are right? / Knowledge about and of / I-It and I-You /


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