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Language, Truth and Logic (Dover Books on Western Philosophy) Paperback – June 1, 1952

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

"A delightful book … I should like to have written it myself."—Bertrand Russell
First published in 1936, this first full-length presentation in English of the Logical Positivism of Carnap, Neurath, and others has gone through many printings to become a classic of thought and communication. It not only surveys one of the most important areas of modern thought; it also shows the confusion that arises from imperfect understanding of the uses of language. A first-rate antidote for fuzzy thought and muddled writing, this remarkable book has helped philosophers, writers, speakers, teachers, students, and general readers alike.
Mr. Ayers sets up specific tests by which you can easily evaluate statements of ideas. You will also learn how to distinguish ideas that cannot be verified by experience—those expressing religious, moral, or aesthetic experience, those expounding theological or metaphysical doctrine, and those dealing with a priori truth. The basic thesis of this work is that philosophy should not squander its energies upon the unknowable, but should perform its proper function in criticism and analysis.

About the Author

Sir Alfred Ayer caused a furore with the publication of his LANGUAGE, TRUTH & LOGIC in 1936, when he was only 24. From 1959 until 1978 he was Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford. He died in 1989. Ben Rogers is the author of A. J.AYER: A LIFE (Chatto & Windus 1999, Vintage 2000). --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Books on Western Philosophy
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; 2nd edition (June 1, 1952)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486200108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486200101
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By David C. Moses on June 5, 2000
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.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By not me VINE VOICE on August 9, 2009
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.
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By ctdreyer on March 15, 2004
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.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on March 20, 2000
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.
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