A.J. Ayer

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“A.J. Ayer! Put your hands in the air! Like you just don't care!”

~ R.M. Hare on A.J. Ayer

Sir Alfed Jules Ayer (1910-1989) was a famous British Philosopher and the first major proponent (termed 'Priest') of the cult of Logical Positivism in the English speaking world.


Early Life[edit]

Ayer was born at early age in London. At the age of one he was a baby and was heavily influenced by the thoughts of his two parents. After a brief period as a child, Ayer became disillusioned and came to regard the key ideas of immaturity, young age and small clothes to be untenable. In his first major but uninfluencial work, 'Objects, Reality and Affection' he developed his infamous womanising tendencies and rejected statements about Father Chirstmas and the Easter Bunny as meaningless utterances. Consequently he was not invited to his friend Isaiah Berlin's 8th birthday party and despite reconciliation between the two, this was to have a profound effect on the rest of his philosophic career.

After the publication of his later work in his nanny's library, he was offered a scholarship place at Eton, a school in England. Here Ayer continued with his research until eventually being relocated to Christ Church, Oxford University due to the recent invention of degrees. Here he met the powerful wizard named Gilbert Ryle and was at once taken under his spell. After many years of serving Ryle in Oxford, Ayer was coerced by the former into travelling to Vienna to spy on a group of suspected wizard-hunters. Fortunately the group were not wizard-hunters but in fact a group of thesbians who had turned their hand to amateur mathematics.

Vienna Circle[edit]

This group called themselves after the place they lived, Vienna, and the first shape they learnt, the circle. They included people like Rudolf Carnap and Hans Hahn, whilst including people who actually were Moritz Shlick, Otto Neurath, Herbert Feigl, Philipp Frank, and Friedrich Waismann. Here Ayer learnt the importance of proper stage lighting and the techinque of voice projection. During their weekly meetings they also developed their understanding of science, maths, logic and language. Thus forming what was to become known as 'Logical Positivism', which Ayer brought to England in his book 'Language, Truth and Logic'. The group derived a great deal of its thoughts from the neighbourhood bully, Wittgenstein and his work Tractatus Germanicus-Leviticus. The former resolutely denied any connection and went on to found a new club of his own.

Later Life[edit]

After the publication and almost complete veneration of his 'Language, Truth and Logic' Ayer, or Freddie as he was known to his friends, went on to write another book about Empirical knowledge, and then another about the problems of knowledge. His excellence thus assured, he was made a Professor in London until eventually he was relocated to Oxford due to a lack of space in the ever expanding London. Here Professor Ayer still maintained the major concepts of his earlier work but was faced with ever strengthening criticism from the likes of ArchWizard-hunter Karl Popper, Wittgenstein-worshipper J.L. Austin, the American Willard V.O Quine, and the Christian influence of Paul Archer. In a strangely paradoxical move, Ayer defended his rejection of metaphysics to Bryan Magee by appealing to the 'spirit' in which it was correct.

Fortunately however Ayer needed not to have taken such absurd measures, as in 1970 he was made a Knight. This was a step up from his status as Captain during the Great Second World War II. With this new power he was able to face off the likes of Popper and Quine. He taught or lectured several times in the United States, including serving as a visiting professor at Bard College in the fall of 1987. At a party that same year held by fashion designer Fernando Sanchez, Ayer, then 77, confronted Mike Tyson harassing the (then little-known) model Naomi Campbell. When Ayer demanded that Tyson stop, the boxer said: "Do you know who the fuck I am? I'm the heavyweight champion of the world," to which Ayer replied: "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men".[7] Ayer and Tyson then began to talk, while Naomi Campbell slipped out to await Ayer in his rooms wearing nought but neglige and adopting a voluptuous pose.

He died a couple of years later, having had a profound influence on the world. Some consider him to have been the successor to both Hume and Russell, and they are undoubtedly correct.

Language, Truth and Logic[edit]

Ayer's first major published work. He was very young when he wrote it. In fact, he still had acne. With the arrogance of youth, he wrote the book to show that he knew the answer to all the great problems of philosophy and those stuffy old ancient philosophers were simply too stupid to figure it out. In it he set out to prove a number of things:

1) Metaphysics is nonsense. 2) Religion is nonsense. 3) Ethics is nonsense. 4) Philosophy is nonsense.

He proved all this by using his famous verification principle: a statement is meaningful only if it can be empirically verified. By using the verification principle which cannot itself be verified, Ayer showed that sentences like 'God loves me', 'Edam cheese is superior to all other forms of cheese' and 'The verification principle is good' are complete and utter nonsense.

However, Richard Swinburne argued that even statements that can't be empirically verified can be meaningful. The statement 'The toys in the cupboard come out and play at night' cannot be empirically verified, but it is still meaningful as the human imagination can understand the concept. You can picture it, can't you? All the toys, middle of the night? Out of the cupboard, all horny? You Slag. You ove the though of Polly Pocket giving a lego-man head. Jack-In-The-Box is providing Barbie with cunnilingus, isn't he? They know you're watching. They like you watching. Look at the cock on Eeyore! He's a very big boy, isn't he? Action Man would like it in him. He's a bit gay. The statement is meaningful, and Ayer is talking his beloved nonsense.

Ayer is a big fan of Maths and Science because they are meaningful. He actually hated philosophy and would much rather have been a scientist; this is obvious from his declaration that 'Philosophy is the handmaiden of science'. It is rumoured that Ayer actually put this into practice and waited on the science professors teaching proper meaningful subjects during his time at Oxford University.

His book shows that Ayer is also a big fan of Facts. According to Ayer, ethical statements are not facts. Instead they express emotions. This led to his theory of emotivism or the Boo-Hurrah theory.

Ayer's analysis of moral statements: Normal person: Murder is wrong. Emotivist: Murder - boo!

Quite whether Ayer bothered to ask normal people if that's what they really meant is unclear. He also claimed that there is no such thing as moral argument. This offended a great number of philosophers who had written entire books on the subject, which now turned out to be a waste of paper. Unfortunately, they were unable to argue with him on this point since Ayer refused to take part in an argument which would prove his assertion to be false.

It is likely that Plato is having a slanging match with Ayer right now in heaven since Ayer threw his entire metaphysic, including his theory of Forms, out of the window, whereupon it smashed and Ayer refused to buy a new one.

His rejection of metaphysics also provided an amazing solution to many of the great problems of philosophy, including the realist-idealist debate, and the question, 'What's taters, preciousss?'. This amazing solution is... drum roll... these problems aren't meaningful so they aren't problems at all! Problem? What problem? says Ayer, and then sniggers at all those philosophers who spent their lives discussing the nature of Being and Existence and Nothingness (like Sartre and Heidegger).

'Language, Truth and Logic' follows the great Empiricist tradition because reason is clearly incapable of telling us anything about the world and we wouldn't have got anywhere if we only had our minds to rely on and not our senses.

Introduction to the 1946 Edition[edit]

For those without comedic tastes, the so-called experts at Wikipedia have an article about A.J. Ayer.

I see now that the first edition of this work was in every sense a young man’s book. It has since been pointed out to me that its main thesis was neither logically provable nor empirically verifiable and therefore by its own definition nonsense. However, I still think it is substantially correct, which just goes to show how age makes you lose interest in rigorously justifying yourself. I'll have a Werther's Original, if you don't mind.

Language, Truth and Logic (digested)[edit]

My teacher has asked to write about what I did in the holiday. Well I went to Vienna where I met a lot of very clever people called logical positivists. They were so cool! They reckon that most philosophy is a load of old rubbish. Things are true for one of two reasons. Either they’re true by definition (“1+1=2”; “Manchester is Grey”; “The English are superior”) or they’re true because the evidence says they are (“People from the south tend to make rude jokes about Manchester”, “Cultural stereotypes are funny, even though they’re not supposed to be.”) Everything else is hot air. I thought, wow, like this is wicked, you know? A whole new radical movement that the kids can get into, overturning the old order! So I’ve been thinking and I reckon they’re right. Morality, for example, is for losers. “Torture is wrong” is not true by definition, and nor can you prove it by torturing people, and like, measuring badness. I mean, how lame an idea is that? So it’s meaningless, isn’t it? You might as well say, “Torture – yuck!” Same goes for aesthetics. “Mozart is great.” Well, can you prove it? Does “Mozart” mean “great”? No. So drop it, granddad. You like what you like and that’s it. Same goes for recipes. Sure, you need steak in a steak and kidney pie by definition. But who says you need beef in spaghetti bolognaise? That’s just your opinion, isn’t it?

This theory is cool for chicks too. One hotty I was well into (and believe me, I’m into lots!) wanted to know if I loved her. I said, “Since such a statement is neither analytically true nor empirically verifiable, because actions which profess to express love could be interpreted in any number of contrary ways, I can only conclude it would be meaningless.” “But I don’t want empty, meaningless sex!” she replied. “Au contraire,” I said. “Sex is empirically verifiable, it’s only love that ain’t” and I proceeded to produce the evidence. I left her thoroughly verified!

Philosophy is dead! Long live linguistic analysis!