The metaphysical doctrine which is upheld by rationalists, and rejected by empiricists, is that there exist a supra-sensible world which is the object of a purely intellectual intuition and is alone wholly real. We have already dealt with this doctrine explicitly in the course of our attack on metaphysics, and seen that it is not even false but senseless. For no empirical observation could have the slightest tendency to establish any conclusion concerning the properties, or even the existence, of a supra-sensible world. And therefore we are entitled to deny the possibility of such a world and to dismiss as nonsensical the descriptions which have been given of it.
A. J. Ayer (from Language Truth and Logic, 1936)
[A. J. Ayer would have been loathe to think of himself as a man of faith, but like every philosopher he had a deep faith in the foundations of the philosophy he propounded. In his case it was logical positivism, a school of philosophy that he discovered in the Vienna Circle, brought back to England in a modified form, and then popularized with his well known book Language Truth and Logic. It spread throughout the English speaking world and for a few decades was all the rage at Oxford. Today it is about as dead as a philosophical movement every becomes. For it turned out that logical positivism, which attacked metaphysics by declaring all metaphysical propositions nonsensical, was itself based on a metaphysical principle. In the preface to a subsequent edition written ten years after Language Truth and Logic first appeared, Ayer weakly conceded this fact as follows:
It used to be said by positivists of the Viennese school that the function of philosophy was not to put forward a special set of “philosophical” propositions, but to make other propositions clear; and this statement has at least the merit of bringing out the point that philosophy is not a source of speculative truth. Nevertheless I now think that it is incorrect to say that there are no philosophical propositions. For, whether they are true or false, the propositions that are expressed in such a book as this do fall into a special category; and since they are the sort of propositions that are asserted or denied by philosophers, I do not see why they should not be called philosophical.
The attempt to build intellectual systems that are completely independent of anything reminiscent of faith or intuition has been the grand ambition of many Western philosophers since the Enlightenment. None of these attempts have been successful, and it looks increasingly probable that none ever will. However, those systems that don’t admit to faith, and often hold it in contempt, tend to be less durable than systems that are frankly faith based, such as the major religious traditions.]
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