A.J. Ayer’s Principle of Verifiability

13 Oct

My apologies for not having written in about a week. I do not know if this is the end of my prolonged break from posting frequency, but I might have another one later today, or on thursday. Im just not sure right now. I will keep posting at least every once per week to make aware of my existence. I am reading and writing a lot of things for classes and other purposes so I have less time this entire month. Today, I feel it is good to bridge the gap of my break by discussing verifiability and meaning.

One thing I love about Ayer’s writing is that he continuously talks about one other philosopher’s work and refutes each point of that person’s philosophy. Like in his Phenomenalism, he talked about Price, Stout, and Hardie, and he refuted their philosophy (and built off those refutations). In Principle of Verifiability he does the same with W.T. Stace who discusses verifiability and meaning. This leads to and proceeds his understanding of verifiability. Ayer is also awesome because he was a British spy….just a sidenote.

Concerning verifiability of the logical positivists this is the essay where Ayer puts his views on the subject of verifiability. I will quote him because of how well he puts it: “The first point that I must make clear is that I do not hold that a sentence can be factually significant only if it expresses what is conclusively verifiable; for I maintain that no empirical propositions are conclusively verifiable” (Ayer). This sentence says that things that are conclusively verifiable are not a big deal at all, and are not what is important to philosophy, science, or empiricism.  Empiricism, he says, does not have propositions in it that are verifiable. Things that are conclusively verifiable are things that are known to the common sense and that our mind has most likely previously verified anyway. These things I would think are sentences like ‘everything I see is perceived by my eyes and brain.’ That sentence is granted and needs little process of verification. He also says that no empirical propositions are conclusively verifiable (again empirical meaning things experienced and observed). This shows a light on Ayer’s philosophy that makes it seem like he does not rely too much on empirical propositions (he does not rely on his perception and observation very much to find truth and verification). He continues: “All that I require of a putative statement of fact is that it should be verifiable in what I have called the ‘weak’ sense of the term; that some possible observations should  be relevant to the determination of its truth or falsehood” (Ayer). And: “Let us call a proposition which records an actual or possible observation an an experiential proposition. Then we may say that it is the mark of a genuine factual proposition, not that it should be equivalent to an experiential proposition, but simply that some experiential propositions can be deduced from it in conjunction with certain other premises without being deducible from those other premises alone” (Ayer). I find this neat because of the two kinds of propositions denoted by Ayer. Experiential propositions are propositions created upon experience, and a genuine factual proposition is a fact stating proposition where multiple experiential propositions can be ‘deduced.’ This principle of verifiability relies entirely on empirical, observational, and experiential propositions, which all three rely on perception, and seeing what you believe to be factual. Ayer also contributes to the logical positivists’ rejection of all meatphysics by saying that since all genuine factual propositions are deduced from experiential propositions, metaphysics cannot be meaningful or true. By this he also states that a genuine factual proposition that deduces multiple experiential propositions  is verified, has meaning, and is justified. The status of a genuine factual proposition to Ayer is the verification that all logical positivists set forth.

Just to refresh the understanding of what logical positivist verification conditions (specifically Carnap):

Justification cond. = Meaning cond. = Truth Cond. = Verification Conditions

Justification being the experimental hypotheses and theories to justify its truth and verification, and meaning being exactly what meaning is (meaning is later totally dismantled by W.V. Quine in his paper Two Dogmas of Empiricism), and those equal truth and verification.  What Ayer does in his paper Principle of Verifiability is further rejects metaphysics and narrows down what is to be verified and how it is done.  With his genuine factual proposition, justification and meaning are achieved by the experiential propositions deduced from the genuine factual proposition (and justification and meaning equal verification and truth).

Ayers 2 kinds of propositions to get to verification is one way to think about it, but I disagree. I disagree with Ayer here simply because genuine factual propositions deduce experiential propositions. These experiential propositions are created empirically, observationally, and by experience, and not all things in philosophy and even science are asked, deduced, or created by empirical observations. Mostly I disagree with his rejection of metaphysics in this verifiability proposition manner. I want to eventually create a metaphysician’s way to redeem propositions from a pseudo-statement status (Carnap’s understanding of a proposition not really saying anything). I would even like to have verification conditions for metaphysics as well. I think it is best now to discuss what meaning can mean to metaphysics and epistemology (even if Quine threw out meaning).

Meaning, I now believe, should not be achieved by definition or reference. Both of those cause one to enter into an infinite regression of statements that end up going way beyond the subject of the questioned proposition. Meaning is not understood by definition or reference because definition is reference. When something is defined in a search for meaning, you are referred to another set of words saying something about the questioned thing. This then can lead you to define these defining words, and those defining words need to be again defined, and so on. Definition is reference. I think that meaning is the possibility to be understood of a proposition or statement. If the proposition can be discovered and cohesively understood by the philosopher/scientist, the proposition has meaning. Meaning is not definition of the proposition in the verification process, it is the possibility to be understood. If a proposition means something it can push its understanding on others, and can be understood beyond 1 person, or a localized group also. Just because 1 person or 20 localized, deserted, isolated people understand it doesn’t mean the rest of the world will.  I will talk more on this later especially when I talk more about W.V. Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism.  And justification is scientific experiments and other things that justify it. It is my belief that in a possible metaphysics verification conditions,  justification would be eliminated because of its vagueness and necessity to have scientific testing, hypotheses and theories. Metaphysics and philosophy as a whole exists a lot because there are things we can verify that scientists cannot with their experiments.

Hopefully this will not be the only writing this week, and sorry again for my absence.

Thanks for the support.

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