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on 4 March 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.

Language, Truth and Logic is not too long (it can be read in about 6 hours or so) but clearly and systematically developes a coherant account of human logic. Ayer answers many classic problems in Philosophy while at it - problems such as God, monism vs pluralism etc can often be reduced to meaninglessness. He attempts to answer the problem of whether there is any reason to believe in other minds, through analogy of observable body to unobservable mind, but he himself (in his introduction) admits that he had not resolved the dialema altogether (e.g. it may still be questioned why other material bodies may behave as humans without experiencing sensations like you yourself do [assuming you yourself have a mind!].)

This work ranks alongside Russell's 'Problems of Philosophy' and Russell and Whitehead's 'Principle's of Mathematics' as one of the key works of early 20th Century analytic philosophy; crucial to anyone with an interest in Philosophy (or to some extent any Science).
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on 1 September 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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on 12 January 2014
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. It is written with the enthusiasm of a young man and is a great read. Basically his view is that statements are only meaningful if they are based on logical argument (which gives one mathematics) or they have some empirical input (which gives one all the physical sciences). Otherwise they are meaningless. Goodbye theology. I think this is generally correct in that we can all think of theological debates that have continued for centuries without resolution and which have no means of resolution. Such an activity is pointless (and in my view, highly immoral). My criticism would be that we use the words "know" and "knowledge " in another sense. "I know how to read" (or write etc). This is quite a correct use of "know". It defines a skill and we do describe skills as knowledge but they cannot be achived by logical thought or experiment. They are acquired by lots of practice and can only be taught to other people if they are prepared to make the same effort (e.g.playing the piano!). Hence I feel that the definition of knowledge needs extending to cover skills. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and discussing it with various colleagues who also study philosophy with me.
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on 30 October 2014
Philosophers know that the thesis presented here is as dead as a dinosaur but this book should not just be read out of historical interest, the remnants that can be salvaged provide the groundwork for our modern philosophical framework.

Things of interest: Analyticity, Ignosticism, Descriptivism, Verificationism and a pro-scientific/anti-metaphysical outlook.

I think the weakest part of the book above anything else is on Ethics so go and read Kant afterwords to make up for it.
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on 12 February 2013
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. It is written with an unusual amount of energy for a philosophical text, and at times you can almost feel the angry passion of a young man with a clear vision of what is wrong and how it should be put right. I think this is worth reading for at least a couple of reasons. Firstly, as philosophy books go, it is very clear and enjoyable. Secondly, although philosophy has advanced and rejected some of his key ideas, understanding what has come since is a lot easier if you understand what Ayer said.
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on 10 March 2001
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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on 23 September 2011
This a highly interesting book and provides another new approach to philosophy, language and life in general. However once you have understood the fundamental premise it becomes a bit repetitive. This is typical of most philosophical texts since they obviously need to bulk up the book in order to sell it. Luckily Ayer does not spend too long doing this and so allows for a relatively short and enjoyable read. Definitely worth reading but could easily be summarized in a few paragraphs.
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on 13 May 2001
Truth, Logic and Language presents an upbeat and passionate dissertation on the futility of metaphysical claims on God and absolute truth. Indeed, he provides a fierce attack on non-verifiable knowledge which he insists is nonsense. This work presents a powerful and persuasive argument for logical positivism and exemplifies many of the weaknesses of traditional metaphysical debate. Truth, Logic and Language is a milestone in the development of philosophy of language and embodies a passionate and controversial theme which attacks many of the established structures in Western thought.
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on 24 May 2016
An excellent primer for the subject.
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on 6 June 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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