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A.J. Ayer and Logical Positivism

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Alfred Jules Ayer (1910-89) was a philosopher and a leading English representative of Logical Positivism. He was responsible for introducing the doctrines of the movement as developed in the 1920s and 1930s by the Vienna Circle group of philosophers and scientists into British philosophy. Ayer’s philosophy was also influenced by empiricism of David Hume and the logic of Bertrand Russell. Although he was born and raised in London, Ayer’s father was a French Swiss national and his mother was a Dutch citizen of Jewish ancestry. He was educated as a scholarship student in classics at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. At the age of 16, while at Eton, he also read the work of Bertrand Russell and was impressed by his essay Sceptical Essays and its argument that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground for believing its truth. At Oxford, he was a student of Gilbert Ryle (1900-76) who described him as “the best student I have yet been taught by.” He also studied the works of the empiricist David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) and Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) by Ludwig Wittgenstein. On Ryle’s suggestion, after graduating from Oxford in 1932, he went to study with Moritz Schlick in Vienna for a year. Schlick was the leader of the influential Vienna Circle of philosophers, scientists and other intellectuals. At the age of 24, Ayer published a very influential first book, Language, Truth, and Logic (1936), which presented and built upon the logical positivist ideas of the Vienna Circle. It became one of the most widely read and successful philosophical books in the twentieth century. Its central doctrine is based on the principle that if something cannot be verified as true through our own sensory experience of the external world, it is meaningless. According to this principle, there are two sorts of cognitively meaningful statements: those which are empirically verifiable and those which are analytic. Scientific statements and. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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