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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K073-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Most people associate prophecy with prognostication. However, an understanding of philosophical theories of prophecy requires that we recognize the full range of functions that a prophet may serve: oracle, cognizer of the divine, moral and social critic, teacher, political leader, legislator, miracle-worker.

A recurring and fundamental issue, dating to ancient times, is whether prophecy is to be explained naturally or supernaturally. The Muslim philosopher al-Farabi and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides exemplify the naturalist orientation. They understood prophecy as an imaginative ‘imitation’ or translation of scientific and philosophical truths. Their accounts emphasize not only the intellectual but also the political, legislative and educational functions of prophecy. The Muslim al-Ghazali and the Christian Thomas Aquinas illustrate the supernatural approach, albeit in greatly different ways.

The proposition that biblical prophetic experiences convey scientific and metaphysical knowledge was attacked in varied ways in the modern period. In religious traditions, prophets have been replaced as sources of religious knowledge by either mystics, or books and authoritative interpreters. However, theories of prophecy are linked to important issues about religious language, miracles, the nature of God, the ends of life, and the character of religion.

Citing this article:
Shatz, David. Prophecy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K073-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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