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Frustrations with Ayer

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da fire wanted me to go on. Let me just say, it's slow going.

The following is a quote from a passage that made me just a little mad, and by that I mean a combination of angry and crazy:

The next step in the analysis of the notion of a material thing is to show how these separate groups of visual and tactual sense-contents are correlated. And this may be effected by saying that any two of one's visual and tactual groups belong to the same material thing when every element of the visual group which is of minimal visual depth forms part of the same sense-experience as an element of the tactual group which is of minimal tactual depth. We cannot here define visual or tactual depth otherwise than ostensively. The depth of a visual or tactual sense-content is as much a sensible property of it as its length or breadth. But we may describe it by saying that one visual or tactual sense-content has a greater depth than another when it is farther from the observer's body, provided that we make it clear that this is not intended to be a definition. For it would clearly vitiate any "reduction" of material things to sense-contents if the defining sentences contained references to human bodies, which are themselves material things. We, however, are obliged to mention material things when we wish to describe certain sense-contents because the poverty of our language is such that we have no other verbal means of explaining what their properties are.

Here are a couple of notes I made in the margins:

- Maybe Ayer is not saying we've been using language incorrectly since its inception, like I thought he was. Rather, he's just trying to explain how it works. But so far his explanations haven't cleared anything up for me.

- It is true that people miscommunicate with each other on a regular basis, but how does Ayer's analysis help with that problem? I don't see how renaming ideas "sense-contents" clarifies anything.

- I disagree with his sentence with the clause, "because the poverty of our language is such that we have no other verbal means of explaining what their properties are."

Am I totally missing Ayer's point? I wouldn't be surprised in the least. As I read the pages of this book it's as though I am peering at the words through a spiderweb that I can't brush away. I'll be thrilled to begin to feel as though this makes more sense than it currently does to me.

And The Heretic said this was the shallow end of the pool. Apparently I need to be actually out of the pool, standing in a small puddle. ;-)


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4 Comments

Posted

Ayer was great but he was only a philosopher. Philosophers only address unanswerable questions. Reality is elsewhere.

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Posted

I don't agree with you on that, Guest. Reality is not elsewhere. It's right where we are. This is the reality we have. And philosophers often think about issues important to human beings. I'm reading this book because I think it will be helpful and useful. Ayer worked out a way to think about this reality that I'd like to understand. That's really what I want to do, understand something I didn't. The idea that reality is elsewhere, that this life is illusion, if that's what you mean, makes it easier to ignore our daily reality. Thanks for your comment!

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Posted

All Blue, Ayer was limiting his comments to sensory data, because he is arguing that the only verifiable sentences must have sensory contents in them. He is not talking about the misuse of language, or miscommunication. He isn't in the business of explaining deviant uses of language, but merely which set of sentences, or propositions, are meaningful, or true, and that always consists of "sense-contents" and moreover, including reference to human bodies that experience them. This section leads to the criterion of meaning or significance, or the principle of verifiability (i think). Ayer's sole project in this book was to import the philosophy of logical positivism (established by the Vienna Circle) to an American/British audience. By keeping the big project in mind, you'll be able to follow Ayer easier, and see where he's going before he arrives at his conclusions. :)Guest, you remind me of a typical stereotype F. H. Bradley lampooned:The man who insists that philosophy is impossible is a brother philosopher with rival first principles. :(

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Posted

Accidenty hit a neg rep on this, silly iPad!

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