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Language, Truth and Logic (Dover Books on Western Philosophy) [Paperback]

A. J. Ayer
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 May 2002 Dover Books on Western Philosophy
If you can't prove something, it is literally senseless - so argues Ayer in this irreverent and electrifying book. Statements are either true by definition (as in maths), or can be verified by direct experience. Ayer rejected metaphysical claims about god, the absolute, and objective values as completely nonsensical. Ayer was only 24 when he finished LANGUAGE, TRUTH & LOGIC, yet it shook the foundations of Anglo-American philosophy and made its author notorious. It became a classic text, cleared away the cobwebs in philosophical thinking, and has been enormously influential.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications Inc.; 2nd edition (31 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486200108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486200101
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.6 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Sir Alfred Ayer caused a furore with the publication of his LANGUAGE, TRUTH & LOGIC in 1936, when he was only 24. From 1959 until 1978 he was Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford. He died in 1989. Ben Rogers is the author of A. J.AYER: A LIFE (Chatto & Windus 1999, Vintage 2000). --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cult classic of analytical philosophy 10 Mar 2001
By A Customer
This book, which landed like a bombshell in the philosophical world of the 1930s, remains a thought-provoking read. In it, Ayer posits his own brand of highly sceptical empiricism. In the first chapter he sweepingly characterizes most philosophical enquiry up to the time of writing as pointless, and many of its theories and preoccupations as meaningless. Whatever is not empirically verifiable cannot be commented on, and to do so, in Ayer's view, is to spout nonsense. While Ayer's youthful writing sometimes makes unwarranted leaps of reasoning that make him vulnerable to criticism (as his opponents certainly realized), its vigour is also refreshing among the dryness of most analytic philosophy. I recommend this unreservedly as a must-read for anyone with a serious interest in philosophy.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Language is key 1 Sep 2006
I read Ayer's obituary in the Telegraph and he seemed like an interesting man, so I bought this book.

As a teenage layperson, I found it VERY heavy-going, I kept a dictionary nearby to refer to and my copy is littered with notes to myself on word meanings. It was worth the perseverance to discover so much. His debunking of inexact, ambiguous metaphysics really helped me to make the switch from being a wooley agnostic to a fully confirmed atheist.

Say what you like about positive optimism, it's Ayer's use and insistance of the importance of accuracy of meaning and expression in communication that I responded to.

This book modified my outlook on life and I have given away and bought the book 4 times now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epiphany 17 Jan 2013
This book, originally written in 1935, is, as Ayer says in his introduction, 'very much a young man's book'; that's his way of saying that perhaps he was a little strident at the time. As many of us know, the young tend to believe that everything they stumble across is revealed truth, and it's only after living for many more years that one finds that what they felt they had originally discovered was already known by most other people.
Ayer was one of the most famous logical positivists, had the gift of clear and concise writing and is able to maintain your interest throughout this not-too-long book, especially if you are interested in this sort of thing.
His epiphany? Well, if we refer to Anthony Lewis' characterization of Wittgenstein's early work, we find that 'Language consists of propositions that picture the world; propositions are the perceptible expressions of thoughts, and thoughts are logical pictures of facts'. Therefore, if we analyze propositions, we analyze the 'truth of existence' as it seems to us, anyway. Ayer takes propositions, determines them to be either synthetic or analytic, and judges their truth; i.e. determines reality.
Looking back through the history of Philosophy, the idea of the synthetic and analytic, of the one and the many, of induction and deduction, and of subjective and objective universalism have been fully explored in ancient times, and as (I think) Plato said 'Once a young man discovers the 'One and the Many' he finds it everywhere and there's no stopping him'. It's basically what it's all about, and every 'new' idea in philosophy has been some variant of it. Ayer calls it a 'little book', but I think it's a great book, and a good guide on how to look at things and think about them.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic work of British analytic philosophy 4 Mar 2010
This book expresses the core theory of Logical Positivism in its more developed form. In short: a factually significant proposition (i.e. a proposition that actually says something about the observable world) must be verifiable or falsifiable at least in principle, by some possible observations which would increase or decrease the probability of the propostion being true. The only other meaningful statements are tautologies, they say the same thing twice: a tautology is true of false in virtue of the defintions of terms used. Or put another way, in analytic language one may say anything they want and make up any defintions with the one condition that one may not contradict oneself. This doctrine (of logical positivism in general) derives from classic empiricism, which asserts that all knowledge of the world must derive solely from sense-data (using our 5 senses) and our human ability to conceptualise and organise such data.
From these claims, Ayer developes the emotivist theory of values and argues that literal assertions about God, of any supernatural entity, or of literally 'good' or 'evil' behaviour are literally senseless (they say nothing at all about the empirical world). Religious and moral language do, of course, have aethetic value in so much as they express how we feel about the world.
He also explains how Mathematical reasoning is possible and how Mathematically theories can be described as 'true' - Maths is a form of analytic reasoning so that a Mathematician may say anything he wants and define any symbol however he wants (i.e. lays down axioms and definitions) so long as he does not contradict himself. Theorums can be derived by carefully investigating what is implied by these axioms and defintions.
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1.0 out of 5 stars dont take this seriously 6 Jun 2014
I totally agree with the reviewer who said this is nothing more than a rant. It sounds like someone outlining an ideological program but with no real justification. It merely presumes what it is supposed to be arguing and that is really bad philosophy. In addition it is not original it is merely restating the philosophy of Hume and like Hume advocates a crude empiricism. Sense data is not the basis for knowledge after all where is the sense data that corresponds to the concept of verification. This book exemplifies a quote from H. L. Mencken who said that philosophers set out to show how everyone who came before is a Jack ass, they succeed in this and show themselves to be a Jack ass as well.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Educative
I will not add much to the other very positive reviews. The one negative review is I think unfair. Ayer developed his views expressed in the book while in Vienna in the 1936. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Hobbit
5.0 out of 5 stars Dated - but still brilliant
There are many valid criticisms that can be made of Ayer's attack on metaphysics and the book is now 80 or so years old, but I still think this is a brilliant book. Read more
Published 18 months ago by R. Newton
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent premise but slightly repetitive
This a highly interesting book and provides another new approach to philosophy, language and life in general. Read more
Published on 23 Sep 2011 by Bradley Barnes
5.0 out of 5 stars pure genius
AJ Ayer is dead. Is there any philosopher in the world that would like to tell him otherwise?
Published on 13 Nov 2005 by Johnny
1.0 out of 5 stars Of Antiquarian Interest Only...
Ayer's book was indeed groundbreaking - it made Logical Positivism the new cool topic in English philosophy. However, it now needs to be read with a healthy dose of scepticism. Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2003 by "hackloon"
3.0 out of 5 stars Experience is seated at the head of the table in this work.
How can metaphysics be real if we cannot verify it? This is the maint question in which this book deals. Read more
Published on 12 Sep 2001 by Dr Stuart D. Jackson
5.0 out of 5 stars Sense and Nonsense
Truth, Logic and Language presents an upbeat and passionate dissertation on the futility of metaphysical claims on God and absolute truth. Read more
Published on 13 May 2001
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