Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday traditio: A.J. Ayer

Earlier this week I was speaking with my friend and fellow philosopher Sondra Charbadze (if you don't know how to say that last name don't worry, neither do I) about the relationship between philosophy and science. The conversation started off because as I have come to think about my own philosophical commitments, I am a mix between logical positivism, ordinary language philosophy, and pragmatism. I had made the comment to her that science should be our metaphysics because as Quine points out in Two Dogmas of Empiricism science is able to show us how the world and universe works and because it is tentative it is able to be changed when new data arrives. She responded that science does not accurately portray our experience of the world. I am not sure what that means, but at any rate it struck me as an interesting insight.

As mentioned before, logical positivism is a school of thought has had profound impact on me as a philosopher, in particular the views that were expressed by A.J. Ayer in his book Language, Truth & Logic, which is one of my favorite books of philosophy. In particular, the doctrines of verificationism and emotovism as Ayer enunciated them in the book are ones that I accept and find very important to doing philosophy carefully and clearly. One must reverence the natural sciences and evolve their philosophy alongside it if the philosophy is to be meaningful because philosophy is the handmaiden of science.

In this interview Ayer sits down with Bryan Magee and discusses the central doctrines of logical positivism, and where the defects in the theory were. He also at the end defends what he still thought was useful and true of the movement as a whole.


  1. Tarik,

    I really haven't understood your position on science being its own metaphysics. It seems to me like you are saying that we don't need eyes because we already have light. Philosophy is the eyes and science is the light that the eyes see. But change the eyes and the light will seem to change. To be distorted or clarified.

    Logical positivism, empiricism and other philosophies undergird science. But they cannot be proven by science themselves. Or else, what scientific test would you use to prove that logical positivism is true? What scientific test proves the empiricism is true?

    1. Collin,

      What you say is true, science cannot prove itself. In fact, I would say, as Karl Popper did years ago, that science doesn't prove things at all. But, science must be falsifiable to be good science.

      Philosophy likewise should try, as much as it can, to model itself alongside the sciences by finding ways to verify and falsify the statements it makes.