A.J._Ayer

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From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Entry: A.J. Ayer Truth In LTL Ayer, following Ramsey (as he thought, but see Field 1986 for a dissenting view), put forward a redundancy (deflationary) view of truth: “…in all sentences of the form ‘p is true’, the phrase ‘is true’ is logically superfluous” (LTL p. 117). The function of such a phrase is simply to mark an assertion (or denial, in the case of ‘is false’), so there is no ‘real’ relation of truth, and so no problem of truth for philosop
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  From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Entry: A.J. Ayer TruthIn LTL Ayer, following Ramsey (as he thought, but see Field 1986 for a dissenting view), put forward a redundancy (deflationary) view of truth: “…in all sentences of the form ‘pis true’, the phrase ‘is true’ is logically superfluous” (LTL p. 117). The function of such a phrase is simply to mark an assertion (or denial, in the case of ‘is false’), so there is no‘real’ relation of truth, and so no problem of truth for philosophers to worry about.Similarly, when we say a proposition is probable, or probably true, we are not assigningany intrinsic property to the proposition, nor saying that there is any relation it bears toany other proposition. We are simply expressing our confidence in that proposition, or,more accurately, it expresses the degree of confidence it is rational to possess in the proposition.This deflationary attitude to truth was supported by his verificationism about meaning;Ayer did not have to provide truth-conditions for the meaning of sentences. Assertionshad meaning in virtue of their verification conditions, and propositions were defined justas an equivalence class of sentences with the same verification conditions.Deflationism about truth replaces a concern for a substantial theory of truth with aconcern about which sentences, or utterances, are deemed to be truth-apt. Ayer deniedthat moral utterances were truth-apt. Given that he thought that asserting that p wasequivalent to saying that p was true, he had to deny that moral utterances could beassertions (see section 7).EthicsThe emotivism espoused by Ayer in LTL was supported by his belief in the distinction between fact and value. Given, he thought, that there were no moral facts to be known,there could be no verification of such facts, and so moral utterances could have nocognitive significance. And given the connection between moral ‘judgment’ andmotivation, and the connection between motivation and feeling, it was natural to seemoral utterances as having the function of expressing our feelings, or ‘emoting’. Thisview, Ayer was careful to point out, was not that associated with subjectivism, that inmaking moral claims we are describing our feelings. This latter view would make moralclaims truth-evaluable, and Ayer's moral emotivism denied that they were so evaluable.So when we say: “Cruelty towards children is wrong” we are really expressing a negativeattitude towards killing children, and when we say “Being kind to old people is good” weare expressing positive feelings towards such acts of kindness. The expression of such positive or negative feelings, he later thought, also contained a prescriptive element, so insuch expressions we are also encouraging others to share those feelings, and to actaccordingly. As this makes clear, the attitudes expressed were towards classes of acts,and not particular acts.Emotivism was thought by some to be the reductio ad absurdum of the verificationisttheory of meaning, but it was not the preferred meta-ethical position of other positivists,some of whom preferred a consequentialist approach, and so emotivism could be seen as  From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Entry: A.J. Ayer separable from verificationism. In fact, in the “Introduction” to the second edition of LTLAyer stated that his commitment to emotivism would survive any demise of his positivism, and it later became clear that it was because Ayer thought moral judgments to be not fact-stating that he concluded they were unverifiable (see “The Analysis of MoralJudgments” in Ayer 1954). Emotivism was given additional support by C.L.Stevenson,who had developed his ideas independently of Ayer, in his book Ethics and Language(1944).It has been suggested (Dreier 2004) that Ayer faced a particular difficulty in defendingthis brand of non-cognitivism; the combination of affirming a redundancy theory of truthwith the denial that moral claims can be true looks suspicious. Although the two viewsare not incompatible (Ayer denied that moral claims were assertions, and the redundancyof the truth-predicate held only for assertions) the tension between the two issymptomatic of the worry that moral claims have so many of the features of truth-evaluable assertions that one has to be unjustifiably revisionist in construing them as non-meaningful. They are, after all, typically expressed in indicative sentences, and peopleappear to dispute moral claims. This latter point Ayer did respond to: moraldisagreements were, he (and Stevenson) claimed, either genuine disputes about non-moral facts, or simply not genuine disagreements. (For an examination of the trouble thatmoral disagreement makes for emotivism, see Smith 1986). There was, however, afurther, more troubling, point about the role of moral terms in arguments: moral termscan be used in arguments in which the moral term appears in a conditional, and so is notthere contributing to the expressive force of the utterance, so not expressing any emotionof the speaker. This latter point has been developed into a line of reasoning (called the“Frege-Geach” argument) against expressivism in general. The problem for theexpressivist is to make sense of the following little argument: (1) If John killed Jane hedid something wrong. (2) John killed Jane. So (3) John did something wrong. Theargument appears to be valid, and so not to involve any ambiguity, but the moral term can be construed as having expressive force only in (3), not in (1). Expressivism, and soemotivism, seems to introduce an unwarranted equivocation into the argument.It is perhaps these ‘surface’ features of moral discourse, those that make it look likemoral claims are assertions, and hence expressions of belief, and so truth-evaluable, andthat moral disagreement appears to be genuine moral disagreement, that later temptedAyer to consider Mackie's ‘error’ theory of moral language (Mackie 1977) as closer tothe truth (in Ayer 1984). The details of emotivism tended to disappear from the meta-ethical scene in the latter half of the twentieth century, but its guiding thoughts haveremained very much alive in the expressivism of Blackburn 1984, 1998, and Gibbard1990. (See Altham, 1979, for a sympathetic defense of these guiding thoughts, andSchroeder, 2010, for a thorough treatment of the development of expressivism, with particular attention paid to the attempts to tackle the Frege-Geach argument.)
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