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Ayer, Alfred Jules

anthony o'hear

Subject Philosophy » Metaphysics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631199991.1995.x


(1910–89) British philosopher. Ayer was famous for the attack on metaphysics in his Language, Truth and Logic (1936). According to the verification criterion of meaning ( see logical positivism ; principle of verifiability ), only analytic or synthetic statements were meaningful, and synthetic statements were understood to be ultimately verifiable in sense experience. One intention of the verification criterion was to rule out as meaningless the wordy, but empirically uncheckable claims of metaphysicians in the Hegelian tradition. But while the criterion did allow those who held it to dismiss much of hegel 's Science of Logic (1812–16), say, without the trouble of reading it, it had the not so welcome effect of rendering meaningless such unverifiable statements as ‘Every event has a cause’ or even ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ Even the proposal Ayer made to treat these statements as heuristic aids to living and to scientific enquiry implicitly admitted their meaningfulness. For reasons outlined in later editions of Language, Truth and Logic the verification criterion was dropped by Ayer, and metaphysics, at least in a certain sense, re-admitted to the canon of meaningful discourse. Ayer remained sceptical to the end of his life concerning the pretensions of some metaphysicians to inform us of any suprasensible reality, or to delineate the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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