A.J. Ayer’s Phenomenalism

5 Oct

A.J. Ayer, a philosopher at the end of the logical positivist movement, wrote a paper called Phenomenalism, creating a ‘theory of perception’ of how sense data is taken in and understood. Even though he does not say so at the outset, he picks on positivist protocol statements stating previous sense data observations. I have not addressed protocol statements that much before, but the things that make them up are what Ayer attacks to promote phenomenalism. Ayer’s writing envelops a lot of philosophy and thought, and here I only aim to discuss the 3 problems of sense data and protocol statements (in a sense) that he addresses, and why he lands on phenomenalism as the true theory of perception. Ayer specifically addresses many other things in this essay that I do not wish to venture into, such as what logical constructions are, and what sense data is defined by Russell as, along with some other specific arguments.

Protocol statements is a part of the logical system unified under science that Carnap, Neurath, and Schlick have advocated and changed throughout the logical positivist movement. Protocol statements are the recorded past versions of immediate observations. They are recorded as X was observed by observer W,  at place U , and at time C. Once something is observed it immediately becomes this protocol statement. It is this that the logical positivists used in their system of unified science. I discussed this in my first writing about Carnap. This occurs where intuitions are divided between analytic and synthetic. In analytic are the implicit definitions, and in that, geometries (Euclidean, Lobachevskian, and Riemannian) and physics (relativistic, or Newtonian). Also in analytic are the coordinating definitions which are the language  chosen to convey the subject/object, and those are either thing language, or physics language. The synthetic intuitions by Carnap are observations, that immediately become these protocol statements. This is the system you would use to go from your observation to protocol, to implicit definition, and coordinating definitions to have physics language, and later theoretical physics language statements. When Neurath published his thoughts, he focused on the protocol statements by putting most emphasis on them by eliminating observations from the system totally (as an observation only has a microsecond to actually be an observation before it becomes a protocol). This caused a collapse of the system until Schlick published his Foundations of Knowledge where he made the protocol statements the starting points of all knowledge.

I elaborate so much on this because it has been through Carnap, Neurath and Schlick that the protocol statement has traveled only to be dismantled by Ayer with phenomenalism. Again, Ayer does not talk about protocol statements directly but he addresses the observer, place, and time that are all a part of a protocol statement, which is why understanding what it is is so important. With the observer, time and place of a protocol statement Ayer states each to have its own problem to be addressed. From addressing these problems, is where he gets phenomenalism.

The problem of the observer is that the observer observing a situation is really no different from what he observes. Ayer discusses the observer as equal to the physical objects he observes, and that trying to point out which physical object among the many is doing the observing is a worthless task. Physical objects are subject to creating more sense data and only being another question of sense data and its relation to the physical object (if you know phenomenalism already, I have not yet gotten to the main principle of it yet). The problem of the place is similar, in that one place is mixed with all other places that are all placed in question together: “Thus the phenomenalistic analysis of ‘x is at P’, will be something like the following: ‘X is sensing a visual or tactual field such that if he had replaced it by another spatially adjoined to it, and if he had replaced that by another spatially adjoined to it, and if he had replaced that in turn by still another, and so on, then eventually he would have been sensing the visual or tactual field which is actually being sensed by the speaker at this moment”.  I quote Ayer, simply because I could not have said it better myself. If one place is singled out from the others, it could conventionally be replaced with spaces around it and still work with the place and observer. This creates a large sense field with a set of places, set of observers, and also a period of time. The problem of time is again similar with the other two. It is so much more than just one instant that the place and observer are consistent with the sense data. Ayer states that not only would S2 and P2 be consistent with t (time), but so would S5 and P5.  These are all problems that Ayer states to be issues for the phenomenalist. He then in the fifth section of the paper, gives the solutions to these three problems.

For the time and place, Ayer creates a ‘local scenery’ where time and place are all contained into one construction. For place, in the local scenery is the large somewhat finite area where things are perceived as sense data, so that way in a sense, there is no one space, but there are many places within the local scenery. For time, there is no set time for something to be seen within the local scenery. If someone is to ask ‘when’ something is perceived within the local scenery, that person would be asking an ‘illegitimate’ question because at one time or another, things are perceived in the local scenery. It is that local scenery where the place and time is included. He also addresses the observer problem where he answers it by stating that there is no observer at all. The local scenery is set up basically as the given, in the possible event that in some point of the existence of the local scenery that someone would happen to observe something within it. This local scenery is the visual sensory field that Ayer has been creating throughout the paper that is the logical replacement for protocol statement sense data.

So, entirely, phenomenalism is a the perception theory that physical objects are not exactly real material beings, but are “logical constructions out of sense data.” We see things, we believe a physical object to be there causing the sense data we perceive. Ayer and other phenomenalists believed that sense data had no ties to a physical object, but the physical  object was only sense data’s logical construction.  Not only is this a different perceptional theory, but it is a new take on positivist ideas.

Phenomenalism says nothing about what physical objects are or what they tell us, it only says that our sense data does not often denote physical objects. We only see sense data, and think it always to be physical objects, when really, even in real life, our sense data only 50 % of our lifetime denotes a physical object. I agree with all of this essay and all other phenomenalist work because of that fact. I disagree with all other philosophies that discredit all sense data (i.e. solipsism and neutral monism), but I agree with this because of how this is a milder version of philosophies that discredit the perception.  Solipsism discredits all perception, and only states the soul to exist. I entirely disagree with that.

Phenomenalism is different from solipsism. Phenomenalism only decides to make the rule to always take sense data as sense data only before it is taken as anything else. Sense data (as constituents of a  local scenery/visual sensory field) takes a lot of understanding and research before it might be considered to be representative of a physical object. Ayer seems to take phenomenalism to discredit the sense data as representative of physical objects more than phenomenalism does as a whole,  so I would endorse a softer form of phenomenalism.

The kind of phenomenalism that I would endorse would be less strict than Ayer’s. The kind I would endorse would be discrediting all sense data until further notice. Upon further understanding, research, and verification of my sense data when paralleled with reality, I might consider that my set of questioned sense data is closer to a real physical object. I believe that this can be easily done by experiencing more sense data, and comparing them side by side, face value for face value, and any similarities and corresponding themes between them can denote some reality in perception.

I think that with Ayer’s Phenomenalism essay, I have explained it well to a degree to help my own, and others’ understanding. Also, I think I took my own turn on it, by altering Ayer’s phenomenalism version towards my own beliefs about sense data.

I find it interesting also that in the beginning of the essay, Ayer begins talking about sense data, and states that Bertrand Russell first used the term in the teens and 20’s, when really the first philosopher who used it was Josiah Royce in 1882. I want to eventually read him, and possibly write about him in the future.

Thanks for the support.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: