A.J. Ayer and the Act Object Analysis of Sensation

3 Nov

Here I am referring back to Ayer’s Phenomenalism, yet just another aspect in his entire argument that I have explained before. In case you did not know, I started another website http://herodotean.wordpress.com where I talk about history, politics, and current news.

Ayer begins Phenomenalism with a discussion about Bertrand Russell’s definition of sense data where he describes them as “objects of acquaintance.” He finds confusion and need for further explanation with Russell’s sense data because this implies that he is describing sense data as objects of knowledge. For something to be an object of knowledge, Ayer says,  it is something that we know to be or not be the case. Ayer states that knowing things is something meaningless to say, and therefore there are no objects of knowledge.

This all leads to Ayer’s conclusion that it  “is meaningless to speak of knowing objects.” He continues further: ” Failure to realize this has contributed , I think, to a famous piece of philosophical mythology, the act-object analysis of sensation. For once it is assumed that having a sensation involves knowing an object, then it may seem reasonable to apply to this case the principle that what is known must be independent  of the knowing of it…..”

This at first implies that its meaningless to talk about knowing objects, because knowing objects involves saying that it is or isn’t the case in certain situations, or it means knowing it in other ways, making it entirely meaningless. Ayer talks about knowing being a transitive verb carrying many meanings that are variously used by philosophers and people that do not philosophize creating many confusions. All of this together makes it meaningless to talk about knowing things. This leads further to say that we often assume that knowing an object always involves  having a sensation. Finally, the act object analysis of sensation says that what is known, call it A, can be thought that because of all of the above, is independent of the action of knowing it.  Because of all this A is thought to be independent from the action of knowing it.

Because we cannot really talk about knowing objects, we are lead to this act object analysis of sensation where the act of sensing an object is separate from the actual object.  I like to think of this as if the act of sensing an object was  a part of, or dependent on, the object. If this is the case in any sensation, the object cannot have any postulates made upon it as to whether or not it is a real object that can be known.

If the act and the object are together and dependent on each other, we cannot speak of knowing an object, because most likely the object is not real anyway. Ayer seems to think that this is the best way to go about thinking about things. If this were the other way, where the act and object are separate and independent, this would imply that an object may be out there to be known, and the act would be used for just that purpose.

Ayer states that the act and object cannot be independent or separate because this would lead to objects being able to be known. To Ayer, however, objects cannot be discussed as to how they can be known.

First, I do not know how meaningless it is to discuss knowing objects. Because of how transitive of a verb knowing is, I think it needs much clarification as to what knowing means when talking about sense data and objects. Ayer only says that its meaningless to talk about objects being known because of how physical objects are logical constructions of sense data, and he wants to end discussion about objects in the beginning words of his essay.  I disagree here, because I think objects can be discussed as to if we know certain ones or not. What we mean when we say we know of an object needs to be clarified. I think it should be clarified to say the following: knowing an object is the apprehension of an actualized existence or being.

This view is contrary to Ayer’s and it endorses a modal realism discussed by David Lewis. Lewis states in On the Plurality of Worlds that each thing we see is an actualization of a being in one way or another. When we see anything, we are apprehending objects that are existent. This would lead me to think that the act of seeing an object and the object itself are totally independent…..

This is true in most cases I think. Lewis’s modal realism would still work in the case that the act of seeing the object and the object itself are dependent and together. This scenario I think is existent in the case that one is hallucinating, dreaming, or seeing anything usually not actualized. Any hallucination or dream is still an actualized existence, even if the act of seeing it, and the seen object are dependent and together.

All in all, I disagree with Ayer’s originating proposition that begins discussion of the act object analysis of sensation. When Ayer says that discussion of knowing objects is meaningless, I think he is wrong. Yes ‘knowing’ is a confusing transitive verb that has meanings that can be confused between each other, but this only needs clarification to return to discussion of knowing objects. Anyway, I think we can know objects anyway because we see something all the time that is actualized existences in one way or another. We are always seeing real objects whether the act and object are independent or dependent, together or separate.

This modal realism and its following ontology dismantles Ayer’s thought that discussion about the knowledge of objects is meaningless.

This is only a  tiny part of Ayer’s entire argument in Phenomenalism, but the act-object analysis of sensation making one choose between the two options made me think about it, and how my specific philosophy at the moment totally tears it apart. Hopefully this wasn’t too hard to understand as I am sleepy and incoherent. I shouldn’t be writing in this state of incoherence, but if there are any inconsistencies, misuse of information, or misinformation, please let me know.



Thanks for the support.


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: