Ayer on Monism, Pluralism and Essence

  • David Wiggins


I read Language, Truth and Logic, then in its tenth impression, in 1954, and very shortly afterwards The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge. At that time I was an undergraduate at Oxford reading Literai Humaniores; neither work was an assignment for a weekly essay, nor on a vacation book list. Nor had I been prepared by undergraduate friends in other colleges, whose tutors had apparently used the first of these books to introduce their pupils to philosophy, for the liberating—in my case astonishing—effect of A. J. Ayer’s philosophical writings. It is perfectly true that Language, Truth and Logic and The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge did not equip me to please better my own kind but frighteningly irascible tutor in the subject, who was the last or second to last of the Oxford Hegelians. But what mattered was that Ayer restored to a student of philosophy the sense that, by deductive argument from premisses commending themselves simply to common sense, one with a mind can make some dent of his own on a philosophical problem. It was this as much as the doctrines of Language, Truth and Logic that made it the beacon it so quickly became for beginners hopelessly perplexed and baffled by the arcane criteria of interest and relevance which were so notable a feature both of the philosophy I was being taught and of the philosophy which was then replacing what I was trying to learn.


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  1. 3.
    See W. V. Quine, ‘Three Grades of Modal Involvement’ (1953), repr. in Ways of Paradox and Other Essays ( New York: Random House, 1966 ).Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    A. J. Ayer, The Central Questions of Philosophy ( London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973 ) p. 197.Google Scholar
  3. 18.
    W. V. Quine, From a Logical Point of View (Harvard U. P., Cambridge, Mass., 1953) p. 197. Cf. his Word and Object (MIT, Cambridge, Mass., 1960) p. 209. ‘Classes are like attributes except for their identity conditions.’Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    Patrick Suppes, Introduction to Logic ( Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1957 ).Google Scholar
  5. 26.
    Cf. Wiggins, in Synthèse, XXIII (1974) 336.Google Scholar
  6. 31.
    Cf. A. J. Ayer ‘The Identity of Indescernibles’, in Philosophical Essays (London: Macmillan, 1954) esp. p. 30, on these artificially particularised properties.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Graham Macdonald, Michael Dummett, P. F. Strawson, David Pears, D. M. Armstrong, Charles Taylor, J. L. Mackie, David Wiggins, John Foster, Richard Wollheim, Peter Unger, Bernard Williams, Stephan Körner and A. J. Ayer 1979

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  • David Wiggins

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