Read Language, Truth, and Logic by A.J. Ayer Online


Classic introduction to objectives & methods of schools of empiricism & linguistic analysis, especially of the logical positivism derived from the Vienna Circle. Topics: elimination of metaphysics, function of philosophy, nature of philosophical analysis, the a priori, truth & probability, critique of ethics & theology, self & the common world etc.IntroClassic introduction to objectives & methods of schools of empiricism & linguistic analysis, especially of the logical positivism derived from the Vienna Circle. Topics: elimination of metaphysics, function of philosophy, nature of philosophical analysis, the a priori, truth & probability, critique of ethics & theology, self & the common world etc.IntroductionThe elimination of metaphysicsThe function of philosophy The nature of philosophical analysisThe a priori Truth & probabilityCritique of ethics & theologyThe self & the common worldSolutions of outstanding philosophical disputesIndex...

Title : Language, Truth, and Logic
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ISBN : 9780486200101
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Number of Pages : 160 Pages
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Language, Truth, and Logic Reviews

  • Roy Lotz
    2019-05-21 07:26

    [SOCRATES is sitting in his living room on an easy chair, reading a newspaper. Suddenly, he hears a knock on the door, and gets up to answer it. Standing there is AYER, a skinny young man in a grey suit, with short-cropped hair. He is smiling and staring intently at SOCRATES.]SOC: Hello? How may I help you?AYER: Hello! My name is Alfred Jules Ayer, but most people call me Freddie. How are you today?SOC: I’m fine, quite fine, thanks. Are you selling something? Because I’m afraid I am not interested…AYER: Oh, no—no, no. I’m a member of the Vienna Circle, and I'm going door to door to promote our doctrine of logical positivism. It’s the amazing new doctrine that solves all philosophical problems now and for good. May I come in?SOC: Really? Is that so? Yes, sure, come in. Sit down here on the couch.[The two men sit down, SOC on his easy chair, and AYER on the couch.]AYER: Thanks for letting me in! You’re the first one all week. Most people seem to think I’m a Mormon. [Looks around.] Nice place you got here. What do you do, if I may ask?SOC: Oh, me? People think I’m a philosopher, but I just like to ask questions.AYER: A philosopher? Neat! Well, then you’ll be real glad to hear what I have to say!SOC: I don’t doubt it. So what’s this, um… logical positivism? Is it a religion?AYER: A religion? Of course not! Logical positivism is the opposite of a religion! It’s a doctrine that tells us everything we ever want to know. If you learn about logical positivism, you’ll never be wrong again. Every problem you’ve ever asked about philosophy will be answered!SOC: Wow, that sounds impressive… How does it work?AYER: It’s simple! Here: let me demonstrate it by solving a philosophical problem. What’s something you want resolved?SOC: Well, I’ve always been a bit puzzled by Hume’s problem of induction. I’m not at all satisfied with Kant’s treatment of it, and even Russell seems to shrug his shoulders.AYER: The problem of induction? That’s child’s play! Let me read the solution from my new book, and you’ll see the answer clearly. [Pulls out a copy of Language, Truth, and Logic, and starts reading.] “… it appears that there is no possible way of solving the problem of induction, as it is ordinarily conceived. And this means that it is a fictitious problem, since all genuine problems are at least theoretically capable of being solved: and the credit of natural science is not impaired by the fact that some philosophers continue to be puzzled by it.”SOC: So, wait. You’re saying that because you can’t figure out a way to solve the problem, it’s not a real problem?AYER: Exactly! That’s the beauty of logical positivism! Anything that you can’t solve you just decide isn’t a real problem. Isn’t that great?SOC: Really, is that all you have to do?AYER: Well, you have to wave your hand around a bit, but that’s the general idea.SOC: Hmm, how about another problem, like ethics. What do logical positivists say about what it means to do the right or wrong thing?AYER: Ethics? Oh, please! That’s another easy one. Let me find the right passage. Here it is: “We can now see why it is impossible to find a criterion for determining the validity of ethical judgements. It is not because they have ‘absolute’ validity which is mysteriously independent of ordinary sense-experience, but because they have no objective validity whatsoever.”SOC: Ah, I understand now. You’re saying that, since you can’t figure out a way to shoehorn ethical statements into your system, they aren’t real statements at all. Is that right?AYER: Absolutely! That’s how it all works. All you have to do is say what you think—no argument is needed at all! And anyone who disagrees with you, just call them a metaphysician with a sneer.SOC: So what’s the upshot of all this?AYER: The upshot? Philosophy is over! It’s really incredible: all these smart philosopher-guys thought about all this stuff for thousands of years. But the solution was so obvious! Just stop having substantive arguments, and start dismissing everyone who disagrees with you as a befuddled moron. That way, you can be sure to get at the truth.SOC: Wow, that’s quite a strategy. But I’m still a little curious about the specifics. For example, how do logical positivists deal with the question of truth?AYER: Oh, Socrates, you ask the silliest questions! Well first, we just take an idea from Kant and Hume, and divide up all statements into analytic and synthetic statements. Then, we take an idea from William James, and insist that nothing is meaningful unless it is either a tautology or can be verified in experience. So that’s all of truth, either tautologies or science. It’s called the verification principle.SOC: Interesting approach there… But, I wonder, what about this ‘verification principle' itself? How does that fit into the system? How is this principle either empirical or a tautology? Clearly, the verification principle itself doesn’t picture any facts; in other words, the principle itself can’t be verified—so it's not empirical. (Also, it would be absurd to verify a principle with the principle itself; that leads to a reductio ad absurdum.) Then, in order for it not to be meaningless, in your view, it must be a tautology. But it clearly isn’t a logical contradiction to assert that there are other criteria we might use to distinguish truth from falsity than the verification principle. So since the principle itself is clearly neither empirical nor a tautology, how can you justify it in your system?AYER: Justify it? We don’t justify things. We assert that it’s true, and anyone who points out the contradictions we then assert are metaphysicians.SOC: Wow, I see. Let me see if I get it. First you take ideas from other philosophers, then you throw them together into a half-coherent system, and finally you yell at anyone who disagrees. Is that right?AYER: You got it! Logical positivism! You know, Socrates, you’re really a quick learner. Now there is no longer any legitimate reason to disagree with someone in philosophy. If they’re logical positivists, they’re right; and if not, they’re wrong. The Vienna Circle has arrived at the truth, and no further work need be done! As I say in my book: "One of the main objects of this treatise has been to show that there is nothing in the nature of philosophy to warrant the existence of conflicting philosophical parties or 'schools.'" In other words, now that we figured everything out, there isn't any good reason to fundamentally disagree with us. So all you have to do is join us, adopt our dogmas, and you will be saved from all falsity and metaphysics; you can believe exactly what we believe, and read the holy books of Russell and Wittgenstein and Hume.SOC [Getting up from his seat]: Actually, I have to go somewhere… so I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. But it was nice talking to you.AYER [Getting up as well]: Oh, of course! Can I leave a book with you?SOC: Sure…AYER: Alright. [Lays book on table.] Nice talking with you. I hope to again!SOC: Yep, yep.[AYER leaves through front door, after vigorously shaking SOCRATES’ hand. A moment later, SOCRATES’ wife XANTHIPPE walks in.]XAN: Who was that, dear?SOC: Oh, never mind him, honey. Just a Mormon.

  • Jibran
    2019-05-24 10:47

    To predict tomorrow's weather, I need not take into account the state of mind of the Emperor of Manchukuo.I remember this book fondly, for in the hauteur of my youth I identified with the author's arguments in toto perhaps because I was the same age as he when he'd written this book.Ayer operates from an absolute position: all legitimate knowledge is empirical knowledge and everything that exists outside the realm of the senses is mythical mumbo-jumbo one will do well to get rid of. He attacks metaphysics from the get-go and argues for its "elimination" from the philosophical discourse, which, to him, is not worth wasting time over, as it does not lead to conclusions grounded in hard facts. Theology, ethics, aesthetics are stuff of the linguistic mind games of the dark ages.“It is possible to be a meta-physician without believing in a transcendent reality; for we shall see that many metaphysical utterances are due to the commission of logical errors, rather than to a conscious desire on the part of their authors to go beyond the limits of experience.” I kept nodding in agreement to Ayer's argument, taken in by his ability to compress hard discourse in intelligible, impressive language. I don't know if he matured later on; I did not follow his intellectual journey so I cannot view this treatise in the light of his subsequent writings. But this book remains a stern reminder of the superiority of logical positivism written in a godlike style, that sometimes reads like a gospel to its staunch believers.“It seems to me that theists of all kinds have very largely failed to make their concept of a deity intelligible; and to the extent that they have made it intelligible, they have given us no reason to think that anything answers to it.”

  • Elena
    2019-05-25 06:37

    A work that usefully lays out some of the key arguments for seeing the status of metaphysical knowledge as being crucially dependent on the theory of meaning. The arguments (and, especially, the rhetorical maneuvers) provided by this book have crucially contributed to the linguistic turn in 20th century thought, which was a philosophical approach aimed at reducing metaphysical questions to questions about the proper use of symbolism. This is the essence of Ayer's (in)famous "elimination" of metaphysics: he follows the early Wittgenstein in seeing metaphysical problems as the result of a pathological misuse of language. This misuse occurs especially through a reification of grammatical forms which treats these as fundamental ontological structures. This linguistic reification procedure, in Ayer's estimation, basically generates the entire subject matter of metaphysics. On Ayer's view, the metaphysician is not even a failed poet, for the poet sometimes accidentally tells the truth about experience, while the metaphysician never even in principle does. The great problems of metaphysics aren't even fiction; they are nonsense.Ayer proposes his verification criterion of meaning as a universal acid test of valid philosophical theorizing. That is, the criterion states that a theory is meaningful if and only if it is cobbled together out of observed facts and/or analytic (logical or mathematical) truths. Metaphysics, as a whole, fails his meaningfulness test. Its questions cannot even be coherently formulated. Thus, a metaphysical question such as "What is the meaning of life?" has as much sense as "Gur Gar Glarglr." One might wonder, then, how intelligible debate on these questions is possible at all. And, rightly seen, ethics is just a collection of emotive squeaks of approval and grunts of disapproval.The question is whether one CAN adopt a metaphysically-neutral stance from which one can go on to critique all other metaphysics, as Ayer attempts to do, or whether any possible perspective implies "ontological commitments," as Quine would go on to point out. I am of the latter persuasion. I hold that any coherent perspective requires, for its explanation, a rather robust metaphysics. Ayer's logical empiricism is no exception. So the first trouble I have with his theory is that it is metaphysically dishonest: it (necessarily, if only implicitly) projects a metaphysics without offering us the resources required to make it explicit and to critically evaluate it. By keeping his metaphysics a closeted affair, he renders it immune from criticism. This leads him to selectively pour acid on all OTHERS' ontological commitments while being self-effacing about his own by affecting a position of absolute neutrality. This move seems fairly commonplace in the Analytic philosophy I have read thus far (i.e. Frege, Russell, Moore, the early Wittgenstein). Linguistic philosophy for this reason cannot provide a basis for eliminating metaphysics. The second problem I have with his theory of meaning is that it implies an unstable position that nobody can actually occupy. We just can't derive the continuous field of experience from this theory; too much is "eliminated" as senseless that seems crucial to holding an integrated perspective on the world. For one, there's the metaphysical necessity that we must postulate in order to explain the continuity of our experience of the world. That can't be reduced to logical necessity, as Ayer and Wittgenstein suggest. In the end, even if the status of metaphysics may depend on our theory of meaning, the theory of meaning must itself depend on our best account of experience. You can't just build a theory of meaning in a phenomenological vacuum, as if the absurdities that follow when we try to account for lived experience using this theory of meaning don't count. A coherent empiricism must merge with the data of phenomenology. And whatever happened to Kant? One would think that his first Critique had already in many ways refuted many of the foundational tenets of this analytical approach. Why do all the Analytics basically ignore Kant's arguments for the synthetic a priori as a category of knowledge? Are they right in doing so? Or is it maybe that their failure to understand Kant on this point is what leads to these phenomenologically absurd, eliminativist views that nobody can actually, coherently entertain in practice? My own opinion is that Analytic philosophy is the dead end street you get stuck into when you fail to understand Kant. We can better understand the limits of metaphysical knowledge through Kant's framework, by mapping the structure of cognition from within.All objections aside, this work has set the agenda for a thriving cottage industry in Anglo-American philosophy during the last century. The overriding motive seems to be to show how the philosophical tradition is nothing but a cesspool of delusion. One can win at this game if one can show that everybody - but oneself! - is a fool that is duped by his own comforting illusions. As a philosopher, one must above all stand apart as the intransingent illusion-busting demystifier. There's something of a hero rescue narrative that Ayer is rhetorically playing up here, and one that his countless ideological clones among the Analysts would also attempt to replicate. This hero narrative supplies a large part of the force that his arguments alone fails to generate. Contemporaries such as Dan Dennett are indebted for much of their rhetorical ammo to Ayer. He has defined what philosophy means for at least two generations of philosophers around these parts, and continues to do so to this day, for better or for worse. Thus, he is an intellectual force for everyone to contend with.

  • Kenghis Khan
    2019-05-04 12:21

    Polemical? Yes. Dogmatic? Sure. Pretentious? Absolutely.This is still among my favorite books of all time. You will never look at the world the same way ever again after reading it. It changed my life. And for the better.

  • Ali Reda
    2019-05-02 10:33

    This book is the English explanation of the main doctrine of Vienna Circle, an association of philosophers that applied verificationism on Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus which formed the basis for the group's philosophy. Ayer wrote: "Wittgenstein did not then figure in the Oxford curriculum, and I knew nothing about him at all until I started to read this book. Its effect on me was overwhelming ... This was exactly what I wanted, the very conclusions I had been groping towards on my own. All the difficulties that had perplexed me were instantly removed?"The views which are put forward in this treatise derive from the doctrines of Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein, which are themselves the logical outcome of the empiricism of Berkeley and David Hume.Ayer starts by defining a few terms: A sentence is factually significant if, and only if, we know how to verify the proposition it purports to express that is, if we know what observations would lead us to accept the proposition as true or reject it as false. A proposition is analytic when its validity depends solely on the definitions of the symbols it contains, and synthetic when its validity is determined by the facts of experience. A proposition is verifiable in the strong sense if, and only if, its truth could be conclusively established by experience. But If we adopt conclusive verifiability as our criterion of significance, our argument will prove too much, for even general laws such as "all men are mortal" or "arsenic is poisonous" cannot be established with certainty by any finite number of observations. So we need a weak verification principle "if it is possible for experience to render it probable". But the 'facts of experience' can never compel one to abandon a hypothesis. It just probability and this was the main defect in the verification principle that was rectified in the falsification principle that replaced it.Applying this weak verification principle leads us to say Metaphysical sentences, ethics and atheistic are nonsensical; only tautologies (a priori truth) and empirical hypotheses are significant propositions. For example, rationalists uphold, and empiricists reject, the idea that there is a supra-sensible world accessible to intuition and alone wholly real. We have already seen that it is senseless. And therefore we are entitled to deny the possibility of such a world and to dismiss as nonsensical the descriptions which have been given of it. Also We have no empirical grounds for believing that mind and matter are independent.Also It is impossible to find a criterion for determining the validity of ethical judgements. When someone disagrees with us about moral value we do not attempt to show that he has wrong ethical feelings. We attempt to show that he is mistaken about the facts of the case, or we employ general arguments about which actions produce what effect. But if our opponent has had different moral conditioning from ourselves so that, even when he acknowledges all the facts he still disagrees, we say that it is impossible to argue with him because he has a distorted moral sense. On this view it is impossible to dispute questions of value, only questions of fact. Our judgement that it is so is itself a moral judgement, and so outside the scope of argument. Kant accused metaphysicians of ignoring the limits of understanding, we accuse them of disobeying the rules of significant language. That's why Wittgenstein said: "If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case". The value of ethics and the World lies outside of the world. And that is the importance of Religion, it the source of valueAlso the view that philosophy is the business of building a system of first principles and to offer them and their consequences as a complete picture of reality is abondened. This is illustrated in the barrenness of Descartes system, where he attempts to base all our knowledge on the 'cogito' But according to Ayer, he was mistaken, for 'I exist' does not follow from 'there is a thought now'. The fact that a thought occurs at a given moment does not entail that any other thought has occurred at any other moment. As Hume showed, no one event intrinsically points to any other. We infer the existence of events which we are not actually observing, with the help of general principles. But these principles must be obtained inductively. By mere deduction from what is immediately given we cannot advance a single step beyond.The most that philosophy can do is to show what are the criteria used to determine the truth or falsehood of any given proposition. And this applies equally to science as to common sense. The propositions of philosophy are not factual, we may say that philosophy is a branch of logic, concerned with the formal consequences of our definitions and not with questions of empirical fact. Philosophy is wholly critical, an activity of linguistic analysis. Philosophy is not concerned with meaning, but with definitions in use. We define a symbol in use, not by saying that it is synonymous with some other symbol, but by showing how the sentences in which it significantly occurs can be translated into equivalent sentences, which contain neither the definiendum itself, nor any of its synonyms. (Analyze the symbols). A complete philosophical elucidation of any language would consist in enumerating the types of sentence significant in that language, and then displaying the relations of equivalence that held between sentences of various types. This is made complicated in languages such as English by the prevalence of ambiguous symbols. If we were guided merely by the form of the sign, we should assume that the 'is' in the sentence 'He is the author of that book' was the same as that in 'A cat is a mammal'. 'is' is an ambiguous symbol for existence, class-membership, identity and entailment. Accordingly, one should avoid saying that philosophy is concerned with the meaning of symbols, because the ambiguity of their 'meaning' on different groups of people. Thus there arc many people for whom these sentences do, in this common sense of 'meaning', have different meanings. Wittgenstein said "The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science—i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy—and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions".The principles of logic and mathematics are true universally and the reason for this is that we cannot abandon them without contradicting ourselves so they are analytic propositions or tautologies. They lack factual content. One might pardonably suppose the propositions of geometry to by synthetic. For it is natural for us to think, as Kant thought, that geometry is the study of the properties of physical space. We conclude, then, that the: propositions of pure geometry are analytic. And this leads us to reject Kant's hypothesis that geometry deals with the form of intuition of our outer sense. His own Theory is that the sense of invention and discovery in mathematics belongs to it in virtue of mathematical induction, the principle that what is true for the number 1, and true for n + 1 when it is true for n, u is true for all numbers. And he claims that this is a as 'true for a when it is true for n+ I', synthetic a priori principle. It is, in fact, a priori, but it is not synthetic. It is a defining principle of the natural numbers. As Poincaré says: 'If all the assertions which mathematics puts forward can be derived from one another by formal logic, mathematics cannot account to anything more than an immense tautology'. A being whose intellect was infinitely powerful would take no interest in logic and mathematics. For he would see at a glance everything that his definitions implied. But our intellects are not of this order. Even so simple a tautology as 91x79=7189 is beyond the scope of our immediate apprehension and requires us to resort to calculation, which is simply a process of tautological transformation. Wittgenstein says: "The propositions of logic are tautologies. The propositions of logic therefore say nothing. (They are the analytical propositions.) And, that the propositions of mathematics can be proved means nothing else than that their correctness can be seen without our having to compare what they express with the facts as regards correctness. The essential of mathematical method is working with equations. On this method depends the fact that every proposition of mathematics must be self-evident."This brings us to God. The existence of regularity in nature does not prove "God exists", unless by that you just mean "there is regularity in nature". Unlike atheists (who say god does not exist) or agnostics (who say god might exist), we hold that no statement about god can possess any literal significance. And our view that all utterances about the nature of God are nonsensical. For if the assertion that there is a god is non-sensical then the atheist's assertion that there is no god is equally nonsensical. As for the agnostic, although he refrains from saying either that there is or that there is not a god, he does not deny that the question whether a transcendent god exists is a genuine question. He docs not deny that the two sentences 'There is a transcendent god' and 'There is no transcendent god' express propositions one of which is actually true and the other false. All he says is that we have no means of telling which of them is true. Thus we offer the theist the same comfort we gave to the moralist. His assertions Cannot possibly be valid, but they cannot be invalid either. As he says nothing at all about the world, he cannot justly be accused of saying anything false, or anything for which he has insufficient grounds. It is only when the theist claims that in asserting the existence of a transcendent god he is expressing a genuine proposition that we are entitled to disagree with him. Where deities are identified with natural objects I may conclude that the words "Jehovah is angry" mean exactly the same thing as, for instance, "it is thundering". But sophisticated religions foster the illusion that god is real by giving the concept a noun. In fact our views accord with theists, to whom God is a mystery which transcends human understanding, and therefore cannot significantly be described. An interesting feature of this conclusion is that it accords with what many theists are accustomed to say themselves. For we are often told that the nature of God is a mystery which transcends the human understanding. But to say that something transcends the human understanding is to say that it is unintelligible. And what is unintelligible cannot significantly be described. Again, we are told that God is not an object of reason but an object of faith, since it cannot be proved. If a mystic admits that the object of his vision is something which cannot be described, then he must also admit that he is bound to talk nonsense when he describes it. I can't say these statements are meaningless, as Wittgenstein said: "There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical".Assertions that an object exists are always synthetic propositions; and it has been shown that no synthetic proposition is logically sacrosanct. It is only tautologies which are certain. So it seems advisable to speak of the 'occurrence' of sense-contents and experience not objects. For realists and also Berkeley 'x is real' or 'x exists' is equivalent to 'x is perceived'. This is a mistake on their part because we have seen that sense-contents are not in any way parts of the material things which they constitute, thus it is possible for a material thing to exist without being perceived. Like a chair in the dark for example. Just as I must define material things and my own self in terms of their empirical manifestations, so I must define other people in terms of their empirical manifestations- that is, in terms of the behaviour of their bodies. Thus I have as good a reason to believe in the existence of other people as I have to believe in the existence of material things.The existence of a 'substantive ego' is completely unverifiable. If it is not revealed in self-consciousness, then it is not revealed anywhere. It is clearly no more significant to assert that an 'unobservable somewhat' underlies the 'self' than it is to assert that an 'unobserved somewhat' underlies material things. Hume, rejected the notion of a substantive ego on the ground that no such entity was observable. For, he said, whenever he entered most intimately into what he called himself, he always stumbled on some particular perception or other — of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure, He never could catch himself at any time without a perception, and never could observe anything but the perception. And this led him to assert that a self was 'nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions'. We accord with Hume in accepting that memory does not produce personal identity, but we solve his problem of personal identity in terms of bodily identity and bodily identity is to be defined in terms of the resemblance and continuity of sense-contents. And this procedure is justified by the fact that whereas it is permissible, in our language, to speak of a man as surviving a complete loss of memory, or a complete change of character, it is self-contradictory to speak of a man as surviving the annihilation of his body.' For that which is supposed to survive by those who look forward to a 'life after death' is not the empirical self, but a metaphysical entity - the soul. And this metaphysical entity, concerning which no genuine hypothesis can be formulated, has no logical connexion whatsoever with the self. Wittgenstein says:"The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world. You will say that this is exactly like the case of the eye and the visual field. But really you do not see the eye. And nothing in the visual field allows you to infer that it is seen by an eye. Thus there really is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in a non-psychological way. What brings the self into philosophy is the fact that ‘the world is my world’. The philosophical self is not the human being, not the human body, or the human soul, with which psychology deals, but rather the metaphysical subject, the limit of the world—not a part of it."We do not hold, as be apparently did, that every general hypothesis is, in fact, a generalization from a number of observed instances, We agree with the rationalists that the process by which scientific theories come into being is often deductive rather than inductive. The scientist does not formulate his laws only as the result of seeing them exemplified in particular cases. Sometimes he considers the possibility of the law before he is in possession of the evidence which justifies it. It 'occurs' to him that a certain hypothesis or set of hypotheses may be true. He employs deductive reasoning to discover what he ought to experience in a given situation if the hypothesis is true; and if he makes the required observations, or has reason to believe that he could make them, he accepts the hypothesis. He does not, as Hume implied, passively wait for nature to instruct him; rather, as Kant saw, does he force nature to answer the questions which he puts to her, So that there is a sense in which the rationalists are right in asserting that the mind is active in knowledge. But it is true that the activity of theorizing is, in its subjective aspect, a creative activity, and that the psychological theories of empiricists concerning 'the origins of our knowledge' are vitiated by their failure to take this Into account. But while it must be recognized that scientific laws are often discovered through a process of intuition, this does not mean that they can be intuitively validated.Regardless of the problems in the verification principle, saying that senseless propositions are meaningless is wrong. saying that the inexpressible is meaningless is wrong. Ayer later admitted that "the outlook of the Tractatus was misunderstood by the members of the Vienna Circle and the young English philosophers, including myself, who were strongly influenced by it". As Wittgenstein summrised "There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical" and "What can be shown cannot be said".

  • David Gross
    2019-05-18 10:37

    Brash, ballsy, brainy, take-no-prisoners philosophy from a guy who was in his mid-twenties.Now I understand why logical positivism and its ilk got such an enthusiastic response.Shorter Ayer: Much of what is marketed today as philosophy isn't philosophy. It's so mistaken that it isn't even coherent enough to be wrong. Metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, theology, and their cousins are all hereby banished. All of the opinions that have been expressed on these topics are agglomerations of words that are impenetrable by meaningful philosophical investigation and are therefore meaningless linguistic artifacts that can be of no interest except to disciplines like psychology, sociology, & anthropology. I shall now go on to solve the mind/body and idealism vs. realism non-problems, the monist/pluralist debate, reveal the nature of the self, and abolish all "schools" of philosophy as superfluous, so that we can get on with business.

  • Bob Nichols
    2019-04-27 12:48

    In the preface (to the first edition) Ayer gives his argument in a nutshell. Regarding a metaphysical assertion, he writes “that there is a non-empirical world of values, or that men have immortal souls, or that there is a transcendent god is neither true nor false but literally senseless.” Truth and knowledge are statements that can be validated by experience.* From this, he titles his first chapter, “The Elimination of Metaphysics,” by which he means that metaphysics is not philosophy. Philosophy’s function, rather, is to excise speculative (metaphysics) and a priori truths from language and to prepare assertions of truth (propositions) for scientific validation (verification). Though he dismisses normative absolutes,** Ayer asks “whether statements of ethical value can be translated into statements of empirical fact.” As I understand his response to this question, Ayer is open to the philosophical-scientific analysis of value, but only after such value is posited (i.e., not as a fact, but simply, as a preferred value). As a patient or a doctor might posit health as a higher-end value, an analysis can indicate those treatment or behavior factors that are necessary to obtain the posited value. Viewed this way, the higher-end values in traditional ethical philosophy such as the Good, freedom, pleasure, justice, equality still are unverifiable metaphysical assertions. But as posited values precisely stipulated, they are nevertheless amenable to analysis regarding what factual steps are necessary as means to obtain the said, posited end.***Ayer’s argument then seems to morph into a different sort of philosophical (scientific?) analysis that asks about the reasons why one might hold such beliefs such as, “What are the moral habits of a given person or group of people, and what causes them to have precisely those habits and feelings? Rather than consistency, Ayer is now looking at the factual explanation for various, valued beliefs, and this enquiry he says falls wholly within the scope of the existing social sciences. From here, Ayer says we can “account for the Kantian and hedonistic theories of morals. For one finds that one of the chief causes of moral behavior is fear, both conscious and unconscious, of a god’s displeasure, and fear of the enmity of society. And this, indeed, is the reason why moral precepts present themselves to some people as ‘categorical’ commands.’” He uses the same approach for aesthetics. We can, he says, look into the causes of aesthetic feeling, “why various societies produced and admired the works of art they did, why taste varies as it does within a given society, and so forth. And these are ordinary psychological or sociological questions.”But Ayer does not go beyond posited ends. He is jaded, rightly, by assertions of metaphysical absolutes and Kantian-like a priori truths, though he also states that “naturalistic” theories of ethics, which appear to be utilitarian pleasure-pain calculations, are no better. Pleasure and pain are anything but absolute. Ayer states that they are the emotive expressions of the subjective self. But here I lost his trail. In his chapter on “The Self and the Common World,” Ayer says he disagrees with Hume’s belief that there is no self because we are the products of our collective sensory experiences. Ayer seems to be saying that this gives us a self-identity, but it is, and can be, only a sui generis self, a private self that has been formed by life experiences and the environment.****With the renewed appreciation for the role of evolutionary science in human behavior, Ayer’s objection to a naturalistic ethic needs to be revisited. Who or what, exactly, is this private self? From an evolutionary science perspective, the private self is also an objective self who seeks to live (and replicate). That is a factual statement (though humans can override the survival instinct, that’s quibbling about the main point). Ayer himself seems to acknowledge this when he writes that “our ability to make successful predictions depends the satisfaction of even our simplest desires, including the desire to survive.” Yet with that desire comes a suite of species-wide, and evolutionarily-derived, behaviors that may also be seen as objective. These are the needs for nurture, for security, for protection and for the freedom to pursue and defend these needs. Ayer backs his way into this same line of thought when he writes about the general role of fear and the specific concern about the “enmity of society.” Where does this fear come from? Why does one care about what society thinks? Is there not something about ourselves that precedes and explains the reasons why X, Y, and Z are relevant, as opposed to A, B, and C, and isn’t this, ultimately, about evolutionary survival? It is not inaccurate for Ayer to say that we are formed by our experiences, but it is not quite right either. Fear is a factual, human universal, but the content of fear differs with the situation. Modern-day fears (car accidents) differ from the fears of the hunter-gatherer (drought-famine), but the underlying form, fear, is the same. The need to be part of group life is another human universal but the customs and mores of each group varies. Group life is like language. It’s a universal form that varies in content. Even if Ayer cannot accept the concept of a universal, biological self, his approach still allows for a philosophical-scientific treatment.***** Rather than assert that survival, and the underlying species behavioral structures that go with this, is an absolute value, it can be posited as a value. Then Ayer’s approach allows for an analysis about what constitutes, factually, the means to get there. But the answer to that question, ultimately, might be boiled down to two different poles (as seen throughout our history): We can respect the freedom to pursue ends, which limits overly assertive behavior, or we can endorse the “might is right” approach with its winner-take-all approach. Interestingly, from an evolutionary point of view, there is no preference for one approach over the other. Here too Ayer is correct: one cannot state, factually, that one approach is better than the other. Evolution, as with the cosmos, doesn’t care.I was encouraged to read this book by a philosopher friend. The book was excellent.*Ayer adds that such validation is and can never be absolute as, in theory, exceptions are possible. He writes that “what is irrational is to look for a guarantee where none can be forthcoming; to demand certainty where probability is all that is obtainable.” He adds, though, that “whereas a scientific generalization is readily admitted to be fallible, the truths of mathematics and logic appear to everyone to be necessary and certain.” **Their existence in the supra-sensible world means they are not subject to empirical verification.***“[W]e find that argument is possible on moral questions only if some system of values is presupposed. If our opponent concurs with us in expressing moral disapproval of all actions of a given type t, then we may get him to condemn a particular action A, by bringing forward arguments to show that A is of type t. For the question whether A does or does not belong to that type is a plain question of fact. Given that a man has certain moral principles, we argue that he must, in order to be consistent, react morally to certain things in a certain way. What we do not and cannot argue about is the validity of these moral principles.”****“We know that a self, if it is not to be treated as a metaphysical entity, must be held to be a logical construction out of sense-experiences. It is, in fact, a logical construction out of the sense-experiences which constitute the actual and possible sense-history of a self….it follows necessarily that the series of sense-experience which constitute the sense-histories of different selves cannot have any members in common. And this is tantamount to saying that it is logically impossible for a sense-experience to belong to the sense history of more than a single self.”*****Philosophy, Ayer says, works with science, not separately from it. Still, there’s a fuzzy line between the two, raising the question whether “philosophy,” as defined by Ayer, has a distinctively significant role to play in scientific analysis.

  • Richard
    2019-04-26 11:37

    Recommended by Julia Galef on the Ezra Klein Show podcast: Julia Galef on how to argue better and change your mind more [Stitcher, iTunes, Overcast] along with The Robot’s Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin and Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.

  • Elliott Bignell
    2019-05-16 06:29

    Historically, this is an important work for the English-and American-speaking worlds because it largely brought the thinking of the Vienna Circle to public attention. Logical positivism has taken a series of blows in the intervening time, including Gödel's Theorem and the uncertainty unleashed by modern physics, and more recently by our increased understanding of neuroscience. There is still much that I would agree with in this synopsis, and more where I would say that Ayer has a point. His rejection of metaphysics, for instance, I cannot really contest as it stands, although I think he defines metaphysics in advance in a way that guarantees his outcome.Much of logical positivism is recognisable to any adolescent advocate of scientism, or even student of Hume. He basically repeats (and quotes) Hume's dictum that if a work contains neither analytical tautologies nor empirically-verifiable assertions then one should use it as Winter fuel. His case seems solid, but incomplete. There are obviously fields such as law and ethics where values seem to be perfectly useful, or even indispensable. One could use evolutionary science to say that these can be reduced to utilitarian or adaptive predispositions of the physical brain, but this seems a stretch to me. Ethical reasoning may require neural subsystems based on clan life on the Savanna, but the body of reasoning comprising modern law could not be mastered by a pre-literate culture or single brain. It seems to me to be emergent, and therefore legitimately to involve operations which cannot be reduced to evolutionary or neural empirical statements.Unfortunately, the work is a bit dry and not all that easy to follow. I cannot quite say why, as the English is clear enough, but it somehow lacks an animating spirit that keeps the beginning of a sentence alive until I reach the end.

  • James F
    2019-05-15 08:23

    This is the classic English language exposition of Logical Positivism, written when it was still more of a movement than a philosophical school. It was one of the books which was suggested for my first college philosophy course, though I never read it then. I have, however, read many other books since by the Logical Positivists (Schlick, Neurath, etc.) and their descendants and relations in the Analytic tradition, and I found them generally much better than this book. While these figures of the Wiener Kreis in particular seem to be tentative, exploring the possibility of eliminating the obscurantism of much previous philosophy (and the politics which went with it) through insisting on the possibility in principle of verification as a criterion for meaning in empirical statements, and recognizing the very real problems involved in that project (which ultimately was not successful), Ayer’s tone is very dogmatic and even arrogant – he has solved all the problems of philosophy, answered all possible as well as actual criticisms, and anyone who disagrees is basically too stupid to understand their own language. After reading the Logical Positivists, I always found it difficult to understand the slighting remarks toward that position by actual philosophers (as opposed to the religious); it seemed to be a caricature of their position. After reading Ayer, I can see that it was a self-caricature – if most English speaking philosophers owed their first knowledge of Logical Positivism to Ayer and this book in particular, I can understand why they rejected it without much ceremony.

  • Shane Quinlan
    2019-05-05 09:20

    This book really changed my thinking on many philosophical issues. Ayer argues that if a statement is to be meaningful, it must be either analytic or capable of being verified empirically. Anything else (ie metaphysics or ethics) is essentially bullshit. Or rather(to use an example) don't bother staying up all night worrying if god exists or not or whether objective facts exist(real nightmare for me personally) : the question itself is senseless.The beauty of this book is that it is clear, concise and straightforward. A great book.

  • Kw Simpson
    2019-05-01 11:43

    A read of this book made it immediately clear why it's a foundational text of the positivist movement. Ayer's thought is strikingly clear and his logic is incisive, dealing the metaphysical idols a mighty blow. While it's my opinion that Russell and Quine successfully resuscitate the non-strictly empirical, this text and Ayer's principle of verification still give the reader a roadmap by which one's sentences may be said to be intelligible or not. As such, it's a great read and of interest to anyone intrigued by philosophy of language.

  • Leonard Pierce
    2019-05-23 11:27

    My high rating here comes not from the fact that I agree with Ayer -- I certainly do not -- but that he's written an important, meaningful book.

  • Nick
    2019-04-29 11:46

    Mental ejaculations. That's what most of philosophy is if you follow Ayer. Metaphysics, theology, aesthetics, and much of ethics is cognitively meaningless. The whole book is pretty simple: it is a phenomenalist account of empiricism in which sense data is all that exists, but adds to traditional empiricist accounts the idea that a priori truths are not subject to empirical verification not because empiricism is limited, but that a-priori truths tell us nothing new. This is the crucial innovation of the logical positivists, that a statement like 2+2=4 doesn't need to be continually proved by experience or shows that there is non-empirical knowledge. Our logical constructions are just that, constructions of language related to the phenomenal world. 7+5=12 is true because 12 is defined as containing those numbers. This is supposedly inspired by Wittgenstein's Tractatus.All meaningful statements, from the logical empiricist view, are either analytic or synthetic. Analytic statements are tautologies, definitions of particular experiences which are either true or false by non-contradiction based on how they are defined. Synthetic truths are empirical statements about differently defined observations which aren't absolutely true or false but only probabilistically. When we say a causes b, we are really saying A and B occur close together enough that we assume the appearance of A brings to mind the appearance of B. All this is an updated version of David Hume's distinction between relations of ideas and matters of fact but with logical rather than psychological language.Ayer invokes the old Epicurean argument against those who say that the senses are flawed, limited, or only give us an incomplete picture of reality. The senses don't lie, they are passive. It is our expectations based on past experience about what will occur in the future which deceives us. And epistemologically, from what standard do we criticize our senses? How do we know there is a real world beyond our senses if we cannot trust the senses? In reality what we view as reality is a selective construction of certain experiences. The "underlying world" is just experience itself as it enters our perception before we categorize it with language and logic. Of all the traditional philosophy Ayer describes as meaningless, only ethics survives in a limited way. He gives an emotive account of ethics, which does not add truth or falsity to a statement but expresses either our approval or disapproval or a command for someone to do something. All else in ethical discussion is either a logical clarification of language or metaphysical and therefore meaningless.To be clear, meaningless doesn't mean wrong but not capable of being true or false in terms of language. Metaphysics, aesthetics and theology are valuable in other ways as expressions of an attitude towards life or in terms of the logical/factual content they do have. But in themselves they are not problems to be solved since they cannot be put in a way to be answered. For philosophy students, I think that the arguments presented here could be a way to get into analytic philosophy, or at least generate some interest. That's what Language, Truth, and Logic did for me in a very accessible way.The conventional wisdom if there is such a thing among philosophers is that logical positivism especially as presented by Ayer has been refuted. It is said that the verification principle, which gives meaning only to what can be based on sense experience or is analytic, cannot itself be verified or if analytic does not tell us anything. Or that there isn't really a distinction between analytic and synthetic. Just reading it for myself, Ayer is right. It is just so satisfing to believe all truths are either definitions or observations, in the pragmatist sense rather than logical positivist. A classic in my opinion. My defense: Analyticity is just a logical construction from experience, of equating terms, bounded by abstracting away particulars so that the concept refers to nothing outside itself but still refers to what is defined in the concept. The verification principle refers to any conditions from experience prior to determination that can be made into statements, whether analytic or synthetic. The verification principle seems similar to Hume's copy principle: every idea is a copy of a sense impression or a copy of an idea. If epistemologically all we know comes from experience then what knowledge we have by acquaintance conditions the knowledge we can gain by description.

  • Yoon-ho
    2019-05-03 05:29

    At age 26, A.J. Ayer is an ambitious student of philosophy and his aim, like many young writers, is to overthrow the entire system of philosophy. I loved this book, even though I see the flaws of logical positivism everywhere. The writing is very lucid, with elegant prose - typical of turn-of-the-century British writing. The Verification principle of logical positivism is well-known by now -- as is the inherent contradiction of the Verification principle. Other criticisms have been provided by Wittgenstein and William James. But I can see why this movement was immensely popular - and also why it's essentially "dead, or dead as any philosophical movement can be."

  • S.J. Pettersson
    2019-05-09 13:26

    This was one of the course literature books when I was studying philosophy at the University of Lund. All my philosophy books were in a small bookshelf in the room that my sisters used to live in before they moved away from home. The room was painted yellow and faced south. I still own most of these books, they are probably in storage at my sister's place back in Sweden after my mother died and the house I grew up in was sold. I can't really remember the content of this particular book, only its cover.

  • sologdin
    2019-05-12 13:37

    logical positivism. verificationism. yaknow. superseded by popper's falsificationism. subject to the critique that the principle of verification is not subject to verification (nor however is popper's falsification doctrine self-reflexive, of course). despite all of its problems, there is something attractive about the basic premise that certain statements are so stupid that they don't even count. 'god exists.' huh? that has no truth value. revise & resubmit!

  • Lane Wilkinson
    2019-05-24 09:33

    This is the book that helped turn me into an expressivist.

  • Liam
    2019-05-21 05:43

    This book sets out to dispense with useless enquiry and to articulate the powers that philosophy has and which it doesn't have. This is a famous text in the history of logical positivism, which gained populary in English universites sometime after its origin in the German speaking intellectual world. I agree with this book in everything I can recall from it. It is, however, written in an aggressive style (by academic standards) and I can see how those with a preference for the philosophers which he discredits have attempted to give logical positivism such a bad name in the years after. People object to the word "truth" being limited to rational endeavours, and this book is not wishy washy about where truth lies: there may be some evocation of sympathy in the novelist's or poet's art, but this is simply not the same tier of truth as that of the propositional calculus, and if some writing is not attempting to evoke an aesthetic sense, and it doesn't allow for its propositions to be tested through the senses, then it is simply a set of meaningless propositions: Among those who recognize that if philosophy is to be accounted a genuine branch of knowledge it must be defined in such a way as to distinguish it from metaphysics, it is fashionable to speak of the metaphysician as a kind of misplaced poet. As his statements have no literal meaning, they are not subject to any criteria of truth or falsehood: but they may still serve to express, or arouse, emotion, and thus be subject to ethical or aesthetic standards, And it is suggested that they may have considerable value, as means of moral inspiration, or even as works of art. In this way, an attempt is made to compensate the metaphysician for his extrusion from philosophy. I am afraid that this compensation is hardly in accordance with his deserts. The view that the metaphysicians to be reckoned among the poets appears to rest on the assumption that both talk nonsense. But this assumption is false. In the vast majority of cases the sentences which produced by poets do have literal meaning. The difference between the man who uses language scientifically and the man who uses it emotively is not that the one produces sentences which are incapable of arousing emotion, and the other sentences which have no sense, but that the one is primarily concerned with the expression of true propositions, the other with the creation of a work of art. Thus, if a work of science contains true and important propositions, its value as a work of science will hardly be diminished by the fact that they are inelegantly expressed. And similarly, a work of art is not necessarily the worse for the face that all the propoisitions comprising it are literally false. But to say that many literary works are largely composed of falsehoods, is not to sya that they are composed of pseudo-propositions. It is, in fact, very rare for a literary artist to produce sentences which have no literal meaning. And when this does occur, the sentences are carefully chosen for their rhythm and balance. If the author writes nonsense, it is because he considers it most suitable for bringing about the effects for which his writing is designed. The metaphysician, on the other hand, does not intend to write nonsense. He lapses into it through being deceived by grammar, or through committing errors of reasoning, such as that which leads to the vieww that the sensible world is unreal. But it is not the mark of a poet simply to make mistakes of this sort. p.59-61The attack on metaphysics that I find most interesting is the one who takes language into account. A rather pointless debate called "linguistic deterinism" is carried on to this day by linguists regarding to what extent our native language influences our behaviour. But what's certain is that if we have a word for something, we are more likely to presume that it stands for something, and that if our syntax is the same for quite different phenomenon (such as, here, the verbs "to suffer" and "to exist"), we will presume that there is some other paralell between them:A simpler and clearer instance of the way in which a consideration of grammar leads to metaphysics is the case of the metaphysical concept of Being. The origin of our temptation to raise questions about Being, which no conceivable experience would enable us to answer,lies in the fact that, in our language, sentences which express attrivutive propositions may be of the same grammatical form. For instance, the sentences "Matyrs exist" and "Matyrs suffer" both consist of a noun followed by an intransitive verb, and the fact that they have grammatically the same appearance leads one to assume that they are of the same logical type. It is seen that in the proposition "Matyrs suffer", the members of a certain species are credited with a certain attribute, and it is sometimes assumed that the same thing is true of such a proposition as "Matyrs exist." If this were actually the case, it would, indeed, be as legitimate to speculate about the Being of martyrs as it is to speculate about their suffering. But, as Kant pointed out, existence is not an attribute. For when we ascribe an attribute to a thing, we covertly assert that it exists: so that is existence were itself an attribute, it would follow that all positive existential propoisitions were tautologies, and all negative existential propositions self-contradictory; and this is not the case. So that those whjo raise questions about Bein which are based on the assumption that existence is an attribute are guilty of following grammar beyond the boundaries of sense. (...) To this error must be attributed, not only the utterances of a Heidegger, who bases his metaphysics on the assumption that "Nothing" is a name which is used to denote something peculiarly mysterious, but also the prevalence of such problems as those concerning the reality of propositions and universals whose senselessness, though less obvious, is no less complete. p. 57-9Ayer also reins in the mystical appeal of earlier analytic philosophy, which he says was too concerned with "irrelevent psychological questions," confusing a system under our employ with the mechanisms of thought itself:The analytic character of the truths of formal logic was obscured in the traditional logic through its being insufficeintly formalized. For in speaking always of judgements, instead of propoisitions, and introducing irrelevent psychological questions, the traditional logic gave the impression of being concerned in some specially intimate way with the workings of thought. What it was actually concerned with was the formal relationship of classes, as is shown by the fact that all its principles of inference are subsumed in the Boolean class-calculus, which is subsumed in its turn in the propositional calculus of Russell and Whitehead. Their system, expounded in Principia Mathematica, makes it clear that formal logic is not concerned with the properties of men's minds, much less with the properties of material objects, but simply with the possibility of combining propositions by means of logical particles into analytic propositions, and with studing the formal relationship of these analytic propositions, in virtue of which one is deducible from another. p 107-8If this is what philosophy is not, Ayer proposes, as Wittgenstein prescribed, that the proper job of philosophy is to elucidate with the skills of logical analysis, and not to second-guess or pre-empt the scientist. It is the philosopher's business to give a correct definition of material things in terms of sensations. But his success or failure in this task has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of our perceptual judgements. That depends wholly on actual sense-experience. It follows that the philosopher has no right to despise the judgements of common sense. If he does so, he merely displays his ignorance of the true purpose of his inquiries. What he is entitled to despise is the unreflecting analysis of those beliefs, which take the grammatical structure of the sentence as a trustworthy guide to its meaning. Thus, many of the mistakes made in connexion with the problem of perception can be accounted for by the fact, already referred to in connexion with the metaphysiucal notion of "substance," that it happens to be impossible in an ordinary European language to mention a thing without appearing to distinguish it generically from its qualities and states. (...) if the philosopher is to uphold his claim to make a special contribution to the stock of our knowledge, he must not attempt to formulate speculative truths, or to look for first principles, or to make a priori judgements about the validity of our empirical beliefs. He must, in fact, confine himself to works of clarification and analysis of a sort which we shall presently describe.p. 68For our part we are concerned to emphasise not so much the unity of science as the unity of philosophy with science. With regard to the relationship of philosophy and the empirical sciences, we have remarked that philosophy does not in any way compete with the sciences. It does not make any speculative assertions which could conflict with the speculative assertions of science, nor does it profess to venture into fields which lie beyond the scope of scientific investigation. Only the metaphysician does that, and produces nonsense as a result. And we have also pointed out that it is impossible merely by philosophizing to determine the validity of a coherent system of scientific propositions. For the question of whether such a system is valid is always a question of empirical fact; and, therefore, the propositions of philosophy, since they are purely linguistic propositions, can have no bearing upon it. Thus the philosopher is not in a position to assess the value of any scientific theory; his function is simply to elucidate the theory by defining the symbols which occur in it.p. 200Philosophy is virtually empty without science. For a while the analysis of our everyday language is useful as a means of preventing, or exposing, a certain amount of metaphysics, the problems which it presents are not of such difficulty or complexity as to make it probable that they will remain long unsolbed. Indeed we have dealt with most of them in the course of this book, including the problem of perception, which is perhaps the most diffciult problem of those which are not essentially connected with the language of science; a fact which explains why it has played so large a part in the history of modern philosophy. What confronts the philosopher who finds that our everyday language has been sufficiently analysed is the task of clarifying the concepts of contemporary science. But for him to be able to achieve this, it is essential that he should understand science. p. 201That philosophy and science are continious has been influential for philosophers, but I think that the notion that the philosopher shouldn't pre-empt or propose hypotheses is at odds with this first, since anyone who "understands science" enough to eluciade its illogical areas may well also be able to suggest new hypotheses too. In other words, if science and philosophy are the same enterprise, why not have philosopher-scientists? I think we have them, in fact, though perhaps they were not conceivable when Ayer wrote this book.Finally, I found it interesting that Ayer does not believe we all inheret the same moral axioms. While he makes a strong point about how it is through our belief in propositions about the world that affect our final moral judgement, he declines to seek an ultimate reality. As far as he is concerned, upbringing provides a "moral conditioning" that shape what ethical logic we will accord with.When someone disagrees with us about the moral value of a certain action... we do admittedly resort to argument in order to win him over to our way of thinking, but We do not attempt to show by our arguments that [our opponent] has the "wrong" ethical feeling towards a situation whose nature he has correctly apprehended. What we attempt to show is that he is mistaken about the facts of the case. We argue that he has misconceived the agent's motive: or that he has misjudged the effects of the action, or its probable effects in view of the agent's knowledge; or that he has failed to take into account the special circumstances in which the agent was placed. Or else we employ more general arguments about the effects which actions of a certain type tend to produce, or the qualities which are usually manifested in their performance. ... as the people with whom we argue have generally received the same moral education as ourselves, and live in the same social order, our expectation is usually justified. But if our opponent happens to have undergone a different process of moral "conditioning" from outselves, so that, even when he acknowledges all the facts, he still disagrees with us about hte moral value of the actions under discussion, then we abandon the attempt to convince him by argument. We say that it is impossible to argue with him because he has a distorted or undeveloped moral sense; which signifies merely that he employs a different set of values. p 147This book is short but very dense. Every page has something provocative on it, and not a word is wasted. I stand convinced by its arguments and would read it happily again simply for the elegantly precise style of the writing, and well as for the depth of its content.

  • Seyed
    2019-05-09 09:32

    If you take the British Empiricists and American Pragmatists to their natural conclusion you get the philosophy of Ayer which is mostly, but not completely, aligned with the Vienna Circle logical positivists. This is an important milestone marking the linguistic turn of 20th Century philosophy. Its central tenet is that there is no metaphysics. Out of this a system that dispenses with some of the Kantian distinctions, tramples over the realism/idealism debate and throws most of the field of ethics into a bin of subjectivism/emotivism. It is quite convincing if you don't dwell too long upon it and are moved to treat philosophy as merely the tool to clear the underbrush of natural sciences. I was not wholly convinced but I did enjoy it for the most part.

  • Kenneth
    2019-05-07 13:28

    A.J. Ayer had studied philosophy with the Vienna Circle of philosophers in Vienna and after returning to the U.K. wrote this book, which has remained a classic outline of Logical Positivism in English.

  • Dmitri
    2019-05-13 10:31

    I found the reading pretty dense at times -- mostly due to my own ignorance. Nevertheless, the author's slapping of the metaphysicists is mesmerizing. This is a short book, and I will likely re-read it in a year or two.

  • Dave
    2019-05-24 05:43

    A strident explication of logical positivism.

  • Robert Hazelet
    2019-05-20 09:19

    A rather acerbic and thus hilarious attempt to show scientism is the end all be all. Enjoyable, and very readable but in my estimation quite nonsensical!

  • Elizabeth Chabe
    2019-05-06 06:35

    I can never get into philosophy texts, no matter how I try.

  • Zarathustra Goertzel
    2019-04-29 11:28

    ^_^ Some parts are very good, and given the age, likely classic.The core realization of the book is very valuable. Essentally Hume's Fork: there is a limited to what can be gotten purely analytically, and this rest must have "empirical" basis. So Ayer proceeds to rule out metaphysics as something sensible to talk about, and later to further define what is meant by "empirical." (I first noticed this due to values not being "rationally" based >.<)The worse parts of the book are where Ayer applies this realization to all the big areas of philosophy, which can tend to be somewhat shallow. Of course, there are still good points.Chapter 1, The Elimination of Metaphysics, is very good and elegant. Worth a read ;-)Chapter 2, The Function of Philosophy, is pretty dull and overly focused on language. (Especially as even Ayer admits at the end that we shouldn't worry too much about separating science and philosophy.)Chapter 3, The Nature of Philosophical Anyliss, has some interesting points about "in use" definitions.Chapter 4, The A Priori, is also a very good chapter. I think one can argue slightly further because axioms have to be aligned with verifiable principles to be 'meaningful'. The points about analysis and synthesis are good ^_^.Chapter 5, Truth and Probability, frames 'truth' in a very simple, clear way.Chapter 6, Critique of Ethics and Theology, is probably the most shallow part of the book. However he mentions analyzing ethics based on moral systems built by observing what morals different groups of people have. Alas, this is just a brief aside at the end of the chapter -_-Chapter 7, The Self and The Common World, is rather plain too, however the treatment of the idea of 'mental' and 'material' reality is put down fairly well ^_^.Chapter 8, Solutions of Outstanding Philosophical Disputes, has two good parts. Rationalism and Empiricism brings up a good point about flaws in both views, though leaning toward the empiricists. Realism and Idealism is the best part, and leans toward neither. There's a good description of what is 'real, etc. Finally, Monism and Pluralism is just a long rant about the ways in which the distinction is nonsensical.All in all, I'd advice Chapters 1 and 4. Maybe 5 and 8 if you're interested.

  • Shane Wagoner
    2019-05-25 06:29

    Ah yes, that gospel of scientism "Language, Truth, and Logic." In this tract, A.J. Ayer attempts to demonstrate that that all meaningful propositions are either analytic (true by definition) or synthetic (dependent on empirical observation). In service of this goal, he introduces the criterion of verifiability which serves as a standard of meaning for factual statements. According to this criterion, the only way for a proposition to be meaningful is for it to refer to something empirically verifiable. This allows Ayer to wipe ethics, aesthetics, and religion off of the philosophical table in one fell swoop. Instead of appealing to real properties, ethical and aesthetic language is nothing more than a way of expressing feelings of approval or disapproval. Talk of God is nothing more than meaningless nonsense. The true purpose of philosophy, according to Ayer, is to analyze sentences and clarify their logical relations. Gone are the days when philosophy could support various schools of thought. With the advent of Logical Positivism (Ayer's preferred identification), philosophy has been discovered to be nothing more than a system of logical analysis over which there can be no true debate, only faster or slower progress.One can already see how revolutionary this approach to philosophy was. It effectively changed the entire face Anglo-American philosophy and introduced analytic philosophy to a whole new set of concepts and questions. While most of them were later modified, changed, or refuted (Ayer himself later recanted, saying that almost everything in the book was wrong), it was the initial thrust that left a lasting impact. It is no exaggeration to say that analytic philosophy as a whole is now defined with regards to how philosophers reacted to positivism. I can certainly say that, in my own personal thoughts, while I disagree with much in the book, the general approach to philosophy it chose is one that governs much of my own philosophical exploration. It is undeniable that many great learning experiences come from reflecting upon our mistakes. Western philosophy learned a great deal from this one.

  • Ashot Martirosyan
    2019-05-10 10:47

    Check out this video by the author.

  • Jeff
    2019-05-11 06:26

    {i found the beginnings of a review of this book, so why not just paste it in here and be done with it, right?}I cannot agree with Ayer's idea of what philosophy should be — or, as he would have you believe, what the only real, true, valid Philosophy Is. I claim that his form of obsession with truth and logic yields only a sterile definition of Philosophy, which offers not even the coldest of comforts. Not even 24 hours after finishing Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic, i again turned to Luc Ferry's A Brief History of Thought. I thought i was looking for what to read next. So, if i believed in a personal god or in a universe capable of intentionality, i'd say, "Something was trying to tell me why Ayer's book wasn't persuasive."In the first chapter Ferry talks about a teacher's description of philosophy and his own assessment of it as "entirely non-specific." Ayer certainly doesn't lack specificity, but Ferry's conclusion of chapter 1 leads me to believe his main concern was that philosophy shouldn't be lifeless.David Gross's review is a beautifully brief synopsis of Ayer's main points.Ali Reda's review begins with a wonderfully appropriate series of panels from the graphic novel Logicomix.

  • Chandra
    2019-05-25 10:23

    Language, Truth, and Logic is a clear, systematic presentation of A.J. Ayer's metaphysics (which I say because he should've listened to Bradley's advice near the beginning of the book, which he cites), metaphilosophy, and general logical ideology. Developed from the ideas of Russell and Wittgenstein, it rightfully deserves its place as an introductory textbook to logical positivism. It's is undeniable that Ayer is a smart writer, who knows when and how to explicate an idea. This treatise is well-organized and precise. In his Introduction, Ayer was right to note that LTL is "in every sense a young man's book". It is definitely written with a furor, an almost bitter rage against transcendental metaphysics and most of the history of philosophy. If he made arguments based on explicative readings of those he dismisses, there would be stronger claims (The one "metaphysical" quote of his by Bradley is certainly an act of definition of use, and not a nonsense assertion; he hilariously thinks Heidegger believes Being is a predicate). While he makes decent arguments, the conclusions of many are weak. Emotivism, for one example, may be the worst ethical theory out there, if we can call it a theory at all (at least Randian egoism helps you make a decision). Regardless, it is worth reading to find and absorb good argumentation, as well as interesting dissections of old metaphysical debates.