Implications paper – Ayer


Summary – in own words!

Implications – points for discussion

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He accepts that the assertions concerning gods whose attributes are associated with the natural world have at least some sense. For example where a god may be associated with a physical thing like a volcano when that volcano erupts it makes sense if a primitive man asserts that the god must be angry; it is, Ayer says, an equivalent use of language in light of him not knowing any better. But where a God is regarded as outside the empirical realm and has non-empirical attributes such as ineffability, transcendence, immutability etc. these become meaningless statements.

In other words unless we can assert God has any empirical qualities, measurable, quantifiable, verifiable, then these assertions become ‘unintelligible.’

Hence he regards gods as nouns and therefore objects whose physical characteristics can at least be asserted with meaning in a context; whereas God a transcendent being is not a genuine noun or name and is therefore meaningless.

Seems ridiculous to suggest that primitive man’s categorising of gods as linked with physical phenomenon is more meaningful than a more sophisticated belief that God is transcendent


Surely if god is ‘outside’ then to use non-cognitive language is the only way!

Is there nothing outside the empirical realm?

Though to use the via negative seems totally negative the terms can be thought of as meaningful; at least we know what God is not!

Meaninglessness vs. meaning – who says? What criteria? Why unintelligible? Renders much of human experience ‘unintelligible’ and therefore invalid – insulting!

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Here Ayer asserts that believers can make no meaningful propositions about transcendent knowledge. We can only know things about the world not anything which goes beyond it; (the implication here is this is speculation rather than knowledge.) and therefore any of these “‘truths’ are not literally significant.”

Knowledge – what is it? What counts? Knowledge of and knowledge about.

Truth – the nature of, who says.

Only know about the world? What else?






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Here he argues that actual theists would agree! That all matters pertaining to transcendent truths’ are a matter of ‘faith not reason’. We cannot know! We cannot define God in ‘intelligible terms’! However he suggests if this is true then the sentence is contradictory since it cannot be both significant in terms of meaning and about God since theists have already agreed it is impossible to say anything significant because we don’t know! If it cannot be described because it makes no sense then it is in fact non-sense

‘matters of faith and matters of reason’ are they different? How? Does it matter? Is one less valid than the other? To whom?

But should we then give up trying?

Are meaning and God mutually exclusive? Whose meaning? Whose is being denied?


No sense and non-sense are they the same?

What about to believers?

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The mystic suggests Ayer, is really talking about a different realm / level of knowledge: that is intuition. The mystic would argue that it is a valid cognitive faculty, but Ayer disagrees. The mystic’s intuition has not revealed any factual knowledge that can be passed on, nothing that can be validated. Indeed, Ayer says, all the mystic really does is give us ‘indirect information about the condition of his own mind.’

What is a mystic? Starving man… Russell’s analogy.

What is intuition? See Donovan pa 113 of anthology. Is there such a thing? Who says? Documentary evidence? Is intuition essential?

Cognitive vs. affective faculties.

Effect of mystic’s experience on own life.

Language games – only believers can fully play the game. [bit of a catch -22!]

What kinds of people would we be if no intuition?

[Ayer is here open to countering by the Donovan extract]

Cumulative nature of religious experience arguments; psychoanalysis; the religious gene; bundle of changing perceptions – Hume; neurological response etc.

Is Ayer implying religious people are mad? Deluded?

Isn’t it a bit of a cop out to say ‘oh you wouldn’t; understand?

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Even though many philosophers accept the validity of the argument from religious experience, Ayer says no. those philosophers who argue that it is illogical to believe someone who says they see a pink bus and then disbelieve them when they say they’ve experienced God are making a category mistake. A pink bus can exist and its existence can be verified as a synthetic proposition and we can all know what the person means. However the exp of God is an emotion-laden one. Even if we could accept that the person is having a religious experience it still doesn’t mean God exists because it cannot be verified as a proposition.

Difference between philosophers and Ayer’s camp.

Principles of credulity and testimony.

Religious experience

Synthetic and analytic.

Hick – said we can experience God thorugh categories but God himself obscures them by His very nature: God is ‘transcategorical’.

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Ayer believes the religious experience is ‘fallacious’; though interesting from the point of view of psychoanalysis, he asserts that there is no religious knowledge. Because the theist cannot make any cognitive assertions which can be empirically verified then Ayer says, he is ‘deceiving himself.’ Claiming therefore to

have religious knowledge is actually only another indication of the ‘condition of the theist’s mind.’

There can be no truth but what can be asserted in verifiable propositions and these propositions which can be empirically tested are in fact scientific.

Cognitive / affective

Truth? Nature of.

Any less real?

Only science has anything meaningful to say about the world? What about love, art, poetry etc. few would deny the power of the poet to make a meaningful statement about the world e.g. Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’


General points:

Place the extract in its context: ‘earlier in the passage… talks about …’ ‘however in this part of the passage…’

Try and identify the key point in the whole article to see the relationship between the extract and the passage as a whole.


Write a sentence about each of the paragraphs showing how the author moves his argument on.


The trouble is that Ayer completely ignores the millennia of human experience and the contributions both good and bad of religions to the history and development of mankind.

It is impossible to look at any event or area in the world and subtract the religious heritage of it if we are to understand its place in the world today or its significance in history.

What would the world be like today if the Hebrews had not left Egypt? Or if the Crusades had never happened? If Islam had not spread to Europe or the Pilgrim Fathers not founded the American colonies?

Indeed how stunted and limited life would be without Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ painting or Michael Angelo’s Sistine chapel? Without religious poetry or Handle’s Messiah?

To these people the existence of God probable or otherwise profoundly influenced their thoughts, their lives and their works and others as a result.

Would Ayer deny that this creativity of humans had any value? If so clearly he is wrong! Whatever he may think about the existence of God, the concept at least most definitely has meaning.

Even Dawkins…


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