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A. J.

Ayer, The Elimination of Metaphysics

The traditional disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful. [418.1]
Start by criticising the metaphysical thesis that philosophy affords us knowledge of a reality transcending the
world of science and common sense.
Ask of the metaphysician: from what premises are your propositions about this reality deduced? Possibilities:
1. From the evidence of the sense
BUT: impossible for sensory evidence to give us knowledge of transcendent reality
2. From intellectual intuition

Line we shall take: no statement which refers to a reality transcending the limits of all possible sense-
experience can possibly have any literal significance[481.2]
That is, such claims are not true or false, rather they are meaningless.

What is the criterion of significance for statements? Answer:

the criterion of verifiability: 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. [419.2]

Necessary distinctions regarding the criterion:


1. practical verifiability vs. verifiability in principle
obviously we cannot actually in person verify statements like there are diamonds underground on Mars
but we can describe conditions necessary to do so. Thus it is verifiable in principle. Contrast with
Bradleys assertion that the Absolute enters into, but is itself incapable of, evolution and progress
2. strong vs. weak sense of verifiable
a) Strong: if and only if its truth could be conclusively established in experience
b) Weak: if it is possible for experience to render it probable
Strong is too strong, because it would exclude all laws

Anti-Popper [420.2]: falsification is not a viable criterion because a hypothesis cannot be conclusively
confuted any more than it can be conclusively verified

Thus, we ask of any putative statement of fact Would any observations be relevant to the determination of its
truth or falsehood? If not, that statement is nonsensical.
To put it another way: it is the mark of a genuine factual proposition, not that it should be equivalent to an
experiential proposition [i.e. a proposition that records an actual or possible observation], or any finite
number of experiential propositions, but simply that some experiential propositions can be deduced from it in
conjunction with certain other premises without being deducible from those premises alone. [421.1]
[Problem: this allows even Bradleys statements to count, because, suppose we call a Bradleyism M and E is
an experiential statement, then O is derivable from M together with If M then O but not from If M then O
alone]

Things that turn out to be meaningless (not just false):


1. Skeptical claims like the world of sense-experience is unreal
2. The dispute between monists and pluralists
3. The dispute between realists and idealists (contrast with debate over the authenticity of a Goya painting
[421.2]

A Priori statements are certain because they are tautologies (which renders rationalism pointless)
Thus: tautologies and empirical hypotheses form the entire class of significant propositions [422.2] and as
metaphysical statements are neither, they are meaningless.
How do they come to be made then? Answer, because of the deceptiveness of the grammatical structure of
ordinary language (compare Russells point about The King of France is bald)
For example, it is assumed that to every word or phrase that can be the grammatical subject of a sentence,
there must somewhere be a real entity corresponding [423] as in Unicorns are fictitious