Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The strange case of A.J. "Freddie" Ayer

Alfred Jules ("Freddie") Ayer (1910-1989) was a brash young English logical positivist who took the philosophical world by storm in the 1930s, insisting that whatever couldn't be verified must be "nonsense." Late in life, he had an experience his younger self would certainly have dismissed as such. 

The experience, make of it what you will, seems to have improved him.

A sentence is factually significant to any given person, if, and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express — that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false. 
Stealing money is wrong” has no factual meaning — that is, expresses no proposition which can be either true or false. It is as if I had written “Stealing money!! 

Theists of all kinds have very largely failed to make their concept of a deity intelligible; and to the extent that they have made it intelligible, they have given us no reason to think that anything answers to it.

The existence of a being having the attributes which define the god of any non-animistic religion cannot be demonstratively proved... [A]ll utterances about the nature of God are nonsensical.

[Much later in life, Ayer had a Near Death Experience and wrote about it in an essay he titled "What I Saw When I Was Dead"...]

My recent experiences have slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death, which is due fairly soon, will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be. They have not weakened my conviction that there is no God.

A few days later he added:
What I should have said is that my experiences have weakened, not my belief that there is no life after death, but my inflexible attitude towards that belief.
His wife said "Freddie became so much nicer after he died… not nearly so boastful. He took an interest in other people."

He now admitted:

There is philosophy, which is about conceptual analysis — about the meaning of what we say — and there is all of this … all of life.

Not long before his NDE, Ayer had an improbable run-in with prizefighter Mike TysonAyer -- small, frail, slight as a sparrow and then 77 years old -- was entertaining a group of models at a New York party when a girl ran in screaming that her friend was being assaulted in a bedroom. The parties involved turned out to be Tyson and Naomi Campbell.

''Do you know who [the bleep] I am?'' Tyson asked in disbelief when Ayer urged him to desist: ''I'm the heavyweight champion of the world.'' ''And I am the former Wykeham professor of logic,'' Ayer answered politely. ''We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men.''
That must have been an interesting conversation.

1 comment:

  1. Section 9 Group 3:
    1. Before Russell's ultimate rejection of God, what argument did he believe proved the existence of God?
    2. Name one of the conditions Ayer believed made a sentence meaningful.

    1. Do you believed we were created for a specific purpose or do we have complete freedom?
    2. Are there different kinds of truths? If so, what are they to you?

    Link - more on Ramsey: http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/DD056SECT2