Ayer - 1: Eliminating Metaphysics

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A.J. Ayer, a twentieth century British philosopher, was a major defender of logical positivism.

Logical positivists see empirical science as our main source of knowledge. They are skeptical of traditional philosophy. They reject metaphysics as nonsensical -- since it tries to tell us about a reality beyond sense experience.

These summaries and problems deal with Chapter 1 of Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic. These materials are copyrighted (c) 1998 by Harry J. Gensler but may be distributed freely.

Logical Positivism

The logical positivists thought that philosophers often debated nonsensical issues. They proposed this principle -- the "verifiability criterion of meaning" -- to test if a statement makes a genuine truth claim:
    VCM Any genuine truth claim is either empirically verifiable (testable by sense experience) or analytic (true by definition).
Any statement that fails this test is "cognitively meaningless" -- neither true nor false.

Ayer claimed, for example, that "God exists" is neither empirically verifiable nor analytic -- and so fails the test. So "God exists" isn't true or false; it lacks cognitive meaning and has only emotive meaning. So Ayer called "God" a pseudo-concept.

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A general description of logical positivism:

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This set has 17 problems.