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Language, Truth and Logic Paperback – 26 Apr 1990

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (26 April 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140136592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140136593
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 156,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Philosophy. A book that reinvented analytic philosophy by one of the main proponents of logical positivism.


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Format: Paperback
This is a must read for anybody interested in philosophy. A.J. Ayer's forthright, self-assured style really captures the zeal with which he embraced the ideas of the Vienna Circle, giving the reader both a window into the quick mind of an individual and the excitement the new creed espoused in this book engendered amongst intellectuals at the time. It goes so far as to distinguish metaphysics from philosophy entirely, something many found scandalous. Whether or not you are a fan of Logical Positivism, it is well worth the read, even if only as an example of clear, interesting argumentation.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Should be 5 stars really as one of the most important works of modern philiosophy. However the prose now - almost 50 years since I first read it - seems clumsy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x90b19690) out of 5 stars 32 reviews
51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90ad7828) out of 5 stars A clear presentation of an important philosophical viewpoint 5 Jun. 2000
By David C. Moses - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
If you are tired of reading summaries and general introductions to philosophy and would like to start reading original works, "Language, Truth and Logic" is a great place to start. The book is clear and concise, and is the classic presentation of logical positivism in English.
The concept underlying Ayer's discussion is the "principle of verifiability," which defines a statement as being "literally meaningful" only if it either is logically necessary ("analytical") or can be empirically verified as being either true or false. Under this definition, metaphysical statements are not literally meaningful, and so are properly part of theology rather than philosophy.
Ayer believes that many philosophical debates (such as those about ethics or about the nature of the soul) stem from arguing about metaphysical statements as if they were literally meaningful. He believes that once metaphysics has been eliminated from philosophy, these debates will seem silly and the questions that underlie them will be recognized as theological rather than philosophical. So once he has established the principle of verifiability and explained how he identifies statements as either verifiable or analytical, Ayer spends the rest of the book applying this principle to various "philosophical" questions.
Of course, the place of metaphysics in philosophy is itself debatable. Ayer's conception of philosophy is relatively narrow, and many readers will prefer a wider definition of philosophy that includes some (or all) of the metaphysical statements that he banishes. Others will be thrilled to finally read a philosophical work that cuts through the mystical goo spread so liberally and destructively by other thinkers. Whether or not one agrees with Ayer's approach and conclusions, one has to appreciate his clear presentation of an important philosophical viewpoint.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x908a239c) out of 5 stars Read Hume Instead 9 Aug. 2009
By not me - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Language, Truth and Logic" burst on the philosophical world in the 1930s. A logical positivist manifesto, it rides hard a very simple thesis (inspired by Hume): that all meaningful statements are either analytic (i.e., are tautologies) or are empirical (i.e., are verifiable through sense experience) -- and that everything else is junk. This dichotomy led the author to embrace some radical positions on metaphysics, ethics, and consciousness, which, because of the book's brevity, come across as underargued and dogmatic, especially when joined to the outlandish claim that the book is the last word on questions that have perplexed philosophers for millennia. On the other hand, the writing is brisk and iconoclastic, and the reader is genuinely challenged to to figure out how exactly the arguments go wrong. Bottomline: "Language, Truth and Logic" is a fun read but readers interested in these issues would be better off going directly to Hume. He made similar arguments with more style, sensitivity, and nuance.
47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90a7981c) out of 5 stars Why Metaphysics Is Dead, or: Positivism for the Masses 16 Mar. 2004
By ctdreyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Despite its sundry philosophical flaws and its status as a work parasitic on the intellectual labor of others, this book, I think, is a philosophical masterpiece of the first rank. And by that I mean that it's a book that should be read by any serious student of philosophy and that should be interesting to anyone with some interest in the subject. If you've ever heard murmurings about the pernicious doctrine of logical positivism and wondered just what it could be, this is the book for you. But don't be misled: this book isn't of only historical interest--though it is, of course, an important historical document. While its central doctrines aren't currently in fashion and aren't in fashion for good reason, this book, like all historically important work in philosophy that's worth reading today, isn't of interest only to historians of the subject. If you want to understand the contemporary scene in English-language philosophy, you're going to need to understand the positivism Ayer and likeminded philosophers espoused since many major currents in contemporary philosophy can be fully understood only as reactions to their views.
Ayer's project here is the project of all young philosophical radicals--solving all the problems of philosopher, or at least showing that there were no real problems that needed to be solved. In less than two hundred pages of lucid prose Ayer gives you a brief statement of the central assumptions of the doctrine and a demonstration of how it can be applied to problems in nearly every area of philosophy. Needless to say, in Ayer's hands it appears to work wonders wherever it's put to work.
Ayer's positivism, as he himself admitted, was really an updated version of Hume's radical empiricism. But Ayer wasn't as a gifted a philosopher as Hume, and consequently, the strengths of this book aren't a matter of the truth of its conclusions (they're probably false), or the cogency of its arguments (they rarely convince), or the originality of its insights (they're really nothing new). Instead, the greatness of this work resides in its ability to inspire. This is a young man's book, and it's one written with the verve and self-assurance of a recent convert who's sure he's got all the answers and just needs to get them out there for the world to see. Ayer doesn't pause to consider objections; he doesn't draw back from his more eye-opening conclusions; and he certainly isn't worried about offending his readers' more delicate sensibilities.
The central tenets of Ayer's positivism can be stated in but a few sentences. (I'll ignore the niceties here and try to get the main ideas across.) The central component of positivism is a test for meaningfulness. A sentence, Ayer claims, is meaningful if it means either of two conditions: (i) its truth (or falsity) is analytic, or (ii) it is possible to acquire some empirical evidence pertaining to its truth (or falsity). If neither of these conditions is met, the sentence is literally nonsense (i.e. it doesn't say anything capable of being true or false).
The task of philosophy, then, is one of testing sentences of various types and seeing whether they're meaningful. First, the philosopher asks whether the sentence is true (or false) in virtue of the meaning of its words. If it is, it counts as meaningful and we're done. Math and logic, Ayer claims, are exhausted by sentences of this sort. If it isn't true (or false) in virtue of meaning, we proceed to the next step. In the next step the philosopher seeks to determine whether there is any empirical evidence that does or could bear provide evidence of the truth (or falsity) of the sentence. If we could imagine some method of acquiring observational evidence pertaining to the proposition, then it's meaningful and the philosopher sits back and waits for the sciences to determine whether or not it's true. If it turns out that there simply isn't any empirical evidence that could be gathered for or against the sentence, it's literally meaningless. Meaningless how? Well, sentences of this sort don't really say anything about the world; they doesn't make a claim that is true or false. People may find them important in some way, they may stimulate people's emotions and lead them to act in certain ways, but they're literally nonsensical. They say nothing about how the world is, and they have no place in a respectable philosophical or scientific view of the nature of the world. According to Ayer, this sort of nonsense is found in ethics, in religion, and in most of the weighty tomes of the great philosophers.
The task of Language, Truth and Logic is to defend these conclusions and the conception of philosophy that has led Ayer to them. So it's clear that the influence of Hume on Ayer's positivism extended beyond matters of philosophical doctrine; the influence was also a methodological and attitudinal one. For Ayer, like Hume, goes where his argument takes him and is happy to demolish whatever stands in his way, including common sense, religion, and a few thousands years worth of philosophy.
And, of course, this sort of willful iconoclasm also makes the book a lot of fun to read.
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90d863c0) out of 5 stars Classic popularization of logical positivism. 20 Mar. 2000
By John S. Ryan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This slim volume by Alfred Jules Ayer is probably the single book that did most to popularize the philosophy of "logical positivism," the movement that launched the great twentieth-century assault on speculative metaphysics in general and Idealistic rationalism in particular. At any rate it is still the clearest extant exposition of the basic doctrines of that now largely defunct school (whose influence, however, lives on in analytic philosophy).
It gets three stars because Ayer, unlike some of his Continental brethren, wrote clearly enough to be found out. While this book is of tremendous historical importance, its philosophical content should be evaluated only after one has read Brand Blanshard's _Reason and Analysis_, which put paid to the misbegotten "verifiability theory of meaning" and demonstrated once for all that logical positivism could not pass its own tests.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9093b690) out of 5 stars Classic exposition of logical positivism 26 Sept. 2000
By TheIrrationalMan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A.J. Ayer's "Language, Truth and Logic" (1936) merits the label "classic" on the basis of its lucidity and unaffected directness of expression. Ayer, one of the first philosophers of mind to convey the views of the logical positivists (Wittgenstein, Neurath, etc.) into English, is nonetheless a considerable thinker on his own right, adapting the criteria of the positivists to suit his own enquiries and concerns. His work is a continuation of the thought of the critical empiricist Kant, as well as the phenomenological idealist methodology inaugurated by his own countrymen, Bacon and Hume. In clear and engaging prose, he lays down the basis of his logical empiricist method as the distinction between statements of logical necessity (i.e., "analytic" statements), in which the predicate is embedded in the subject "a priori", and "synthetic" statements, whose verifiability is derived from sense-experience. Ayer adopts these principles and develops them throughout his treatise in attempt to solve the most pressing questions of philosophy. However, Ayer's method is quite stringent and reductive and leads him to repudiate an important realm of philosophical enquiry, namely, metaphysics. He dismisses all statements pertaining to metaphysics or theology as being outside his area of enquiry, since they do not correspond to verifiable sense-contents, nor to statements of logical necessity. This has led Ayer to become the object of much criticism, one critic dubbing him as "the man who hated knowledge". It's a fact that philosophy consists of more than just the analysis of statements. Various Continental philosophical trends and disciplines, such as existentialism and poststructuralism, tend to be more fulfilling in their address of the personal as well as spiritual dimensions of the human being, as opposed to the "traditional" Anglo-American schools of positivism and pragmatism. By the same token, logical empiricists such as Ayer may have been too reckless in consigning metaphysics to the dust-heap of philosophy, as speculation on metaphysical topics remains an ongoing imperative for many thinkers. Heidegger was correct in his answer to the logical positivists who sought to banish metaphysics: rejecting metaphysics because it does not meet the criteria of logical verifiability was "as absurd as rejecting a carpenter's bench for not being able to fly..."
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