Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic (Digested)

#5 in an increasingly unreliable series.

Introduction to the 1946 edition
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.

Language, Truth and Logic (1936)
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!

  1. Mr. Baggini, dat vas ferry funny — Schlick, even! Dose Wiener boys vur krate comedians, too. Vel ton!

  2. Devin Carpenter


  3. Now I understand why the Circle meetings were so exciting and its long influence in the English speaking world after the young Ayer and Quine attended them…

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