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A.J. Ayers and Verificationism

A.J. Ayers and Verificationism

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Published by mackus28397
A brief overview of A.J. Ayers verificationism and the truth theory of meaning.
A brief overview of A.J. Ayers verificationism and the truth theory of meaning.

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Published by: mackus28397 on Jun 21, 2009
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05/11/2014

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Mike MackusOctober 16
th
, 2008Ayers and VerificationismA.J. Ayers, in the now classic
 Language, Truth and Logic
, aimed to take down what he,along with the members of the Vienna Circle and other logical positivists, believed to bemeaningless branches of philosophy. These include the field of metaphysics, theology and the philosophy of religion, aesthetics and ethics. Ayer cut away what he thought of as deadintellectual tissue by pursuing a distinction in language that we can trace back to Hume: thedifference between relations of ideas and matters of fact. In this sense, logical positivists and the principle of verificationism is an extension of empiricism: verificationism allows for meaningonly to come through the way of our sense experiences. When manifested in a sentence, a proposition that expresses a relation of ideas is labeled
analytic
. An example would be of thesort, ‘The philosopher who wrote
 Language, Truth and Logic
is a philosopher.’ Such a sentenceis true in virtue of the meanings of its parts. We can think of endless examples of analyticsentences simply by following the definition set forth in logic for tautologies. Hence, anything of the form ‘
 x
=
 x
’ or ‘
 p
v
~p
’ is a synthetic sentence: ‘A tree is a tree’ or ‘I am either sleeping or Iam not sleeping.’ Ayer proposes that we have
a priori
knowledge of analytic statements; that is,such sentences do not require any experience in order to have knowledge of their truth. If someone utters the sentence ‘The sun is either out or it is not out,’ one does not need to have anyknowledge of the world at that moment to know that the statement is true.However, when dealing with a sentence that purports a proposition of a matter of fact onemust
verify
the claim (or claims) with empirical observations of the world in order to know itstruth or falsity. Ayer distinguishes these types of sentences as synthetic. One such example would be ‘Most married men are happy’- as opposed to a possible analytic counterpart ‘Most married
 
men are married.’ Where the latter claim is true simply in virtue of the meaning of its terms, theformer sentence requires empirical proof to have knowledge of its truth-value. In making thisdistinction between analytic and synthetic sentences Ayer has laid a clear framework for the principle of verificationism. The principle states that the meaning of any sentence is thatsentence’s verification conditions, where the verification conditions are the possible empiricalobservations (whether in practice or in principle) that show a sentence to express a truth (or falsity) about the world. Returning to the example ‘Most married men are happy,’ one wouldknow such a claim to be true or false by surveying every married man and judging from theresults. Then the verification conditions for this sentence could be the experience of asking everymarried man whether or not he is happy with his marriage and observing the results. Or, take theexample of an utterance such as ‘The carpet in the living room of the house at 150 Vineyard Rd.,Edison, NJ is blue.’ The verification conditions of this statement would be the sense experienceof blue when observing the given carpet. It is crucial, however, that one does not think of verification conditions as truth-values; rather, verification conditions are experiences andobservations. It is then that we take these experiences and observations and determine truth-values. In noting this distinction between the verification conditions and the actual truth or falsityof a sentence we see that Ayer equates meaning directly with experience, the consequence of which leads to his critique of the “meaningless” branches of philosophy.The verification principle has wide ranging implications, but Ayer deals mainly with theones that he had intended to imply with such a theory of meaning. First, we can see thatverificationism renders metaphysical statements meaningless. Given that verification conditionsare experiences and observations, a sentence depicting a transcendent reality cannot be verified.Furthermore, ethical statements, in Ayer’s eyes, are only personal opinions since there is no

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