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CHAPTER ONE

1.0  GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Philosophy which began vigorously from the Ancient periods with its attendant rigorosity and criticality in reasoning have apparently gone beyond the era of animism and anthropomorphism that marked the works of Homer and Hesiod no thanks to the seeming criticality with which the early lonian philosophers philosophized. Various philosophies were put up, some rejecting the existing culture status quo ante, others supporting the prevalent culture condition by way of proffering solutions. This brings out the truism in the fact that there is no subject or field of study which began without any basis or what Heidegger would call the prestructure of understanding extending also to the maxim of Gardemer that no one speaks from nowhere. Bringing out organically therefore the importance of Heideggerian prestructure of understanding to the development of philosophy, F. Copleston avows “one does not need to know very much about the history of philosophy in order to realize that philosophy does not develop in complete isolation from other elements of human

culture.”1 In the light of the above, the emergence of the logical positivists with their principle of verification is precipitated by some antecedents.


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The principle of verification became for A.J. Ayer, a member of the Vienna circle, and indeed all the logical positivists a vademecum for their philosophical activities.

It must be noted that the first glimmers of the principle of verification were first observed in the ancient philosophers who tried to situated being or reality with what could be seen. Thales choice of water as the cause of reality is a telling sign of this long marathon. Furthermore, the echo became louder and clearer in the late medieval times when William of Ockham came up with the idea of nominalism which postulated that “science as objective knowledge of necessary connections can be validated

without postulating mysterious universal entities out there.”2

This brought about a complete over hauling of the dominant views as it opposed other views such as conceptualism, realism, moderate realism etc. Capturing the scenario more aptly, Copleston opined “…the nominalist spirit if one may so speak, was inclined to analysis rather than to synthesis, and to criticism

rather than to speculation.”3 The full import of the nominalists’ spirit was that “…through their critical analysis of the metaphysical ideas… the nominalists left faith hanging in the air

without (so far as philosophy is concerned) any rational basis.”4


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This view when pursed to its logical conclusion set the ground for the elimination of metaphysics. It must be noted and just in line with what Copleston said that “the development of mathematical

and scientific studies by such 14th century figures as Nicholas of Oresme, Albert of Saxony and Marsilius of Inghen is generally

associated with the Ockhamist movement.”5 Bacon’s idea of induction and the distempers of learning gave a sure background to this in the late Renaissance.

In the modern period, Descartes’ quest for certainly and clarity of knowledge was informed by the Renaissance trail blazing effort, although Descartes toed the rationalist line, he was nevertheless triggered off by the sole desire to make philosophy certain and clear with his “methodic doubt”. Empiricism, it must be noted rose at this period with John Locke and David Hume as the notable progenitors. As a matter of fact, Empiricism could be taken to be the most pronounced and indeed the foremost background to logical positivism.

In the contemporary era, the rise of idealism became a blessing in disguise; idealism opposed to logical positivism in all ramifications inadvertently gave rise to the idea of logical


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positivism. The effect of the attack carried out against idealism (both British and German) by B. Russell and G.E. Moore which swoop the up-coming philosophers had a lasting impression on them as so logical positivism was evolved. Suffice it, to say that though both Russell and Moore were joint in their attack against idealism, nonetheless they were non-aligned in their mode of the attack. R.R. Ammerman succinctly captured this position when he aptly observed:

Moore and Russell were in complete agreement about what was wrong with idealism or how best to expose the error contained in it. On the contrary, their differing interest soon led them in diverging directions, although they remained united always in their rejection of Neo-Hegelianison.6

In this joint rejection, each carved a niche for himself of course with parallel positions, Moore vacated with common sense realism, Russell parted with logical atomism. They each anchored their philosophies tenaciously on their divergent positions. The introduction of Ludwig Wittgenstein was by no means a surprise as he was the sharpest of B. Russell’s students. His Tractatus Logico-Phiosophicus was somehow anticipated as he built hisphilosophy upon that of Russell. These simmering philosophical attitudes become as they were the fountain-head and the prelude to the rise of logical positivism as pursued by the Vienna circle.


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Be that as it may, the logical positivists have the principle of verification as their major arrow head on which their project is foundationed. This principle of verification implicitly means that the meaning of a proposition is the method of its verification. In this sense, it looks set to provide a criterion of meaningfulness. By extrapolation, this verification principle suffocates those propositions that does not fall under its ambient and tagged them meaningless. In this way, metaphysical statements, ethical statement and the likes were branded as nonsensical and pseudo-statements.

By and large, when we beam our critical torchlight on the strength of the philosophies of Ayer and the logical positivists, to say that it contains an inherent contradictions and inconsistencies will be to belabour the obvious, for it will be apodictically true, that the verification principle is masquerading in some incoherencies and inconsistencies. This suggests that their (logical positivists’) views may not altogether be correct or dogmatically conclusive. This essay takes it upon itself therefore to be a critique of the verification principle in its quest to deny and eliminate metaphysics. In the end, we shall deduce whether the verification principle emerged victorious in its quest to


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eliminate metaphysics or whether it is only crying wolf where there in none.

A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF SIR ALFRED JULES AYER

Sir Alfred Ayer was born in 1910. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church as a King’s scholar and as a classical scholar respectively. His interest in philosophy was developed by Gilbert Ryle who encouraged him to spend some time in Vienna. It was while at the University of Vienna that he attended the meetings of the Vienna circle and subsequently got converted to logical positivism. During the Second World War, he spent most of his time in military intelligence. After the war, he became Grote Professor of philosophy of mind and logic at the University College London. He left London to become the Wykeham Professor of logic at the University of Oxford, and also a fellow of New College Oxford from 1959. During this period, Ayer became a fellow to many colleges. He became a prominent and well-known public figure in England at this point and began appearing in radio and television programmes. He was knighted in 1970.

Ayer made his name as a philosopher with the publication of his major work, language, logic and truth in 1936; this work also established him as the leading English representative of logical positivism, a doctrine put forward by a group of philosophers that


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are known as the members of the Vienna Circle. The major argument of the logical positivists which was defended greatly by Ayer was that all literally meaningful propositions were either analytic (true or false in virtue of the meaning of the proposition alone) or verifiable by experience. Ayer was influence by the philosophers of the Vienna Circle especially Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap, Gilbert Ryle whom he calls mentor and Isaac Berlin.

Ayer took special interest in encouraging the young philosophers who more often than not refer to him as “Freddie”. After his rest from strenuous philosophic activities, he continued to support the annual British philosophical journals. Ayer married four times and one remarriage.

Ayer saw himself as one of the descendants of the British empiricism fathered by John Locke and David Hume and which was continued by B. Russell and G.E. Moore. He wrote extensively both articles and books in the areas of philosophy of mind and science. Sir Alfred Ayer died in June 1989.



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