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[There is a kind of sophisticated fundamentalism to which intellectuals are highly susceptible, and the school of philosophy known as ‘Logical Positivism’ is a textbook case. Popularized in England by A. J. Ayer in his 1936 book Language Truth and Logic, logical positivism was soon undone by its own internal contradictions. However, it was very well received when it first appeared, and even someone as intelligent as Bertrand Russell could write of it, ‘A delightful book...I should like to have written it myself.’ From Russell’s later philosophical writings it is clear he came to think differently. Even Ayer admitted in a 1979 interview that “nearly all of it was false.” Because it is such a blatant violation, the following passage from Ayer’s book vividly illustrates the important philosophical principle ‘Just because you can’t define something as a truth doesn’t mean you can’t feel it as a fact.’ Moreover, for anyone who likes to savour the quiet lunacy that characterizes so much of modern philosophy, this is a prize specimen.]

We are often told that the nature of God is a mystery which transcends the human understanding. But to say that something transcends the human understanding is to say that it is unintelligible. And what is unintelligible cannot significantly be described. Again, we are told that God is not an object of reason but an object of faith. This may be nothing more than an admission that the existence of God must be taken on trust, since it cannot be proved. But it may also be an assertion that God is the object of a purely mystical intuition, and cannot therefore be defined in terms which are intelligible to the reason. And I think there are many theists who would assert this. But if one allows that it is impossible to define God in intelligible terms, then one is allowing that it is impossible for a sentence both to be significant and to be about God. If a mystic admits that the object of his vision is something which cannot be described, then he must also admit that he is bound to talk nonsense when he describes it.

A. J. Ayer (from Language Truth and Logic, 1936)

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