Alex Peek blog

List of posts    Blog archive    About


Friday, August 31, 2018

A. J. Ayer and verification

A. J. Ayer (1910-1989) was a British philosopher best known for his contributions to logical positivism and the verification principle. Ben Rogers said,


"In seeking to refound philosophy as an analytic discipline, Ayer was not just trying to separate philosophy from life but to liberate life from philosophy... To Ayer all this was not only unjustified - talk of supernatural reality, of beings existing outside space and time, or of the fundamental unity of things was literally senseless - but also reactionary." (A. J. Ayer: A Life, 1999)


Philosopher Julian Baggini said,


"Ayer's central mistake was to think that his principle could distinguish between the meaningful and meaningless. This error has two parts. First, a better distinction would be between the objective and subjective... The second part is to make the distinction binary where it should be spectral." (The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World, 2016)


The rest of this post is some quotes from Ayer.


What is philosophy?


"I see philosophy as a fairly abstract activity, as concerned mainly with the analysis of criticism and concepts, and of course most usefully of scientific concepts." (Quoted in A.J Ayers: A Life by Ben Rogers)


"In other words, the propositions of philosophy are not factual, but linguistic in character... Accordingly, we may say that philosophy is a department of logic. For we will see that the characteristic mark of a purely logical enquiry, is that it is concerned with the formal consequences of our definitions and not with questions of empirical fact." (




"The criterion which we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion of verifiability. We say that a sentence is factually significant to any given person, if, and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express - that is, if he knows what observations, would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false." (Language, Truth and Logic, 1936)


"There never comes a point where a theory can be said to be true. The most that one can claim for any theory is that it has shared the successes of all its rivals and that it has passed at least one test which they have failed." (Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, 1982)


Transcendental reality


"Theism is so confused and the sentences in which God appears so incoherent and so incapable of verifiability or falsifiability that to speak of belief or unbelief, faith or unfaith, is logically impossible." (


"I do not believe in God. It seems to me that theists of all kinds have 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." (


"The fact that people have religious experiences is interesting from the psychological point of view, but it does not in any way imply that there is knowledge... unless he can formulate this 'knowledge' in propositions that are empirically verifiable, we may be sure that he is deceiving himself." (




"...It is possible to be a metaphysician without believing in a transcendent reality; for as 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." (