Logical Empiricism

There are many strange sentences that men use. Compare these two: (1) Wheat is a major crop in Kansas, and (2) the fountain of youth is located in Kansas. Each has a subject, a verb, and a predicate. The first sentence is regarded as true in a matter-of-fact way. The second one may bring a smile or wrinkle to your face. Why the two reactions? Why is one regarded as true and the other as fiction? How can we speak of the non-existent in the same way as the existent? A vast literature involving the novel in its various forms depends upon the use of language implying its truth.

Nevertheless, there are other sentences that may be more serious and widely believed, but not so easily seen as false. The point is: the sentences themselves give no clues on whether they are true or false, or refer to something real or unreal. What can be said about all of this?

Some philosophers became intensely interested in the subject of language around the turn of the century. Naturally throughout the centuries of philosophy, thinkers had also been interested in precise meanings, clarification, and communication. At the turn of the century a variety of philosophers as well as other thinkers became interested in understanding the use and function of language itself. Bertrand Russell and Alfred N. Whitehead published their work, Principia Mathematica, which is regarded as a landmark work for the new direction that many philosophers would go for the next decade or two.

However, it was an Austrian, Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose inspiration and influence motivated a group of scholars known as the Vienna Circle, which was organized in the early l920s.1Wittgenstein's work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was generally accepted by the Vienna Circle although it has some "mystical" or quasi-religious tendencies that were usually rejected by the Circle. Actually, it has been shown that Wittgenstein was not anti-mystical, nor anti-metaphysical in the sense that the Vienna Circle regarded him.

Philosophers have also called the Vienna Circle by the name of Logical Positivism. To help clarify the use of titles and names, it should be remembered that empiricism is a larger movement than logical empiricism. One may be an empiricist in the Humean sense without being a logical empiricist. The modern term often used to describe the heirs of this early movement is analysts.

Logical empiricism is quite different from traditional philosophy. It may help to understand the new style of viewing philosophy to contrast it with some of the things we have been seeing in other philosophies. We have been looking at metaphysical issues such as God, values, man, and the nature of reality. There has been diversity but in many instances these issues are regarded as legitimate. Now we are involved in a philosophical emphasis that regards all metaphysical issues, particularly, God, values, and the question of the human soul, as meaningless. How did it come about? What are the ingredients in such a position?

The study of the role and nature of language begins the movement. From the study of language and the analysis of syntax, structure, and form, it was concluded that there are two basic types of sentences only and none outside these types.

The first owed its definition to Wittgenstein. It was called a tautology.2 Other philosophers called these logically determinate statements and they included all propositions whose truth or falsity can be determined solely on the basis of logic. As an example, "all bachelors are unmarried." This is a tautology. The statement is obvious once one thinks about it.

Tautologies, or logically determinate statements such as the above do have a problem with them. They may or may not refer to anything actually real in the world. There may or may not be any bachelors in existence at all. But the statement is true even if none ever exist. This type of statement appears to be limited to definitions, mathematics, or abstract areas without referring to the world of experience.

There is a secondary category of sentences, statements, or propositions that are concerned with the real world. The real world reflects the world of the senses. The term "factually determinate statements" was used by members of the Vienna Circle to describe the statements of experience. The truth of these statements is known only by appealing to fact.

Factually determinate, or statements arising out of experience are many, but the problem arose concerning how one could know what was really a factually determinate statement. As an example, God is good, is not a logically determinate statement. Is it a factually determinate one? By what means could one deal with a sentence like that? The answer came in the acceptance of the verification principle. A statement was true if one could validate it scientifically. But can the verification principle be applied to our statement, God is good? Since no one has ever seen God or goodness, then it was believed such a statement was not merely false, but literally nonsensical. The drastic conclusion was reached that almost all of philosophy, religion, and ethics was of this nature. The body of literature called metaphysics, which included many forms of philosophy, religion, and ethics, was arbitrarily cut to shreds by virtue of the either/or definition of language. Since philosophy, religion, and values were certainly not logically determinate statements, and since neither of these disciplines could be regarded as an empirical science, there was no other category left but that of nonsense. All of philosophy, except where it deals with language analysis, is now to be discarded as nonsense.

Although the early writings of Wittgenstein were appealed to as inspiration for the movement, he was not the systematic philosopher that was needed to make application of the program. In due time a short work came into existence that did much of this. A.J. Ayer's work, Language, Truth and Logic, dealt with a general explication of the new philosophical stance. Ayer attempted to explain the verification principle. He wrote:

We say that a statement is factually significant to any given person, if, and only if he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express--that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false.3

But Ayer makes some reservations about the definition. He distinguishes between practical verifiability and verifiability in principle. Writing before the space age, he regarded information about the other side of the moon as verifiable in principle, but not practical. Moreover, he distinguished between "strong" and "weak" verifiability. Strong verifiability was the claim to conclusive, almost absolute truth born of experience, and "weak" was a more probable truth-claim. Ayer opted for the weak view and believed that we are always talking about probability of truth in our claims. He believed that "A hypothesis cannot be conclusively confuted any more than it can be conclusively verified."4 But if statements can be sensibly verified one is justified in regarding them as true.

Since philosophy does not contribute ideas or meanings but merely has the role of analyzing to see if meanings are true, false, or nonsense, then it is more difficult to put together our customary format of the previous chapters. This can be done by way of negation and explanation, i.e., what is not accepted and why.

Ayer's book may serve as the brief example.

A. Reality.

The idea that there is a "super-sensible world which is the object of a purely intellectual intuition and is alone wholly real" was rejected by Ayer and others.5 The rejection is based on these words:

No empirical observation could have the slightest tendency to establish any conclusion concerning the properties, or even the existence of a super-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 to it.6

But Ayer does not go so far as to reject completely that which is non-sensible. Such things as "atoms, molecules, and electrons" do not appear as sensible, nor do the symbols that we use about familiar things such as table, chair, wheel. Although one cannot see these things it is reasonable to use them if they can be empirically substantiated.7

The result of Ayer's methodology leads to the conclusion that very little or almost nothing can be asserted about reality beyond the sensible description of it. The philosophical questions on whether reality is one or many is a nonsensical issue again. There is "no empirical situation" which could have any bearing on its truth.8 Ayer can only give a phenomenalistic view of the world. One can describe what one sees and no more. Even then one can only admit the certainty of what one sees, but if it is described, then error can enter. Moreover, there is no possible comparison of what people see jointly to ascertain if there is identity between them, or if their statements compare with what is seen.

Logical positivism must be content with a scientific view of things. Ayer confesses that "philosophy is virtually empty without science."9 The view of reality found in positivism is another variety of naturalism.

B. Man.

The logical positivist's view of man arrives by way of rejection. Ayer rejected the realist's view of perception that there is a subject, act, and object. The subject is the substance of human nature that is supposed to "perform the so-called act of sensing," and the self as a substance is non-empirical.10

Further, Ayer spoke of self-consciousness, but not in the sense that a substantive ego is required. Self-consciousness is just the ability of the self to remember some of its earlier states.11 What then is the self which is not substantive? Ayer spoke of the self as "a logical construction out of sense-experiences."12 The self is not a thing, but a collection of sense-experiences. This is very close to Hume's view. Personal identity is linked closely with bodily identity. Bodily identity is defined by "the resemblance and continuity of sense-contents."13 He spoke of a man surviving the loss of memory, a change of character, and yet be the "same" man. A loss of body annihilates the idea of a man. It may well be questioned whether the word "man" refers to the same body in the loss of memory if it is complete. Nevertheless, Ayer pushed the implication of all this to reject life after death. This follows since bodily existence is the only type of existence he is affirming. A collection of sense-contents has nothing to survive beyond the sense-contents.

If the self is reducible to sense-experience, how can one talk about other selves? He reasons to the existence of other selves because the bodies he sees in sense-content appear to act and behave like he does. Moreover, the experience of life is that we seem to communicate with these things that inhabit our world. It seems easy to conclude their actual real existence.

Beyond this, Ayer makes no claim for any metaphysical aspects about man's existence. Man is no image of God, or son of the divine. He is what one sees and can verify, and nothing more.

C. God.

There is a certain sense of fairness about the view of Ayer concerning God, at least at one point. If all talk about God is nonsensical, it is equally nonsensical for the atheist to assert that God doesn't exist. In a similar vein Ayer made it impossible to defend an agnostic view. Ayer claimed that "all utterances about the nature of God are nonsensical."14

Attempts in arguing for God's existence are rejected because one must take a leap from the argument to the conclusion that God exists. For example, one may argue that certain phenomena exists in the world and this requires one to believe in God. Ayer asks: does a belief in the world's phenomena (regularity, orderliness, etc.) express what is meant by the word God? Is God equivalent to regularity? No religious person would admit that this is all he is claiming for his argument about God's existence. If God is identified with natural objects, not much is being said about God.

Give Ayer his ground and he wins both ways. God is not the equivalent of nature, and if one is arguing for a super-sensible definition of God, one loses again. The super-sensible is not seen and Ayer concludes that one is talking about non-sense. This leads naturally to the "mystical" approach to God. The mystic says he knows God but he cannot discuss what he knows since it is ineffable, and indescribable. The mystic must submit his intuitive descriptions to the test of verification. But since he can't stand by his statement as they are not adequate to describe his experience, the mystic is only producing unintelligent statements. On top of it is the fact that his statement would not stand up to verification and all we really have from the mystic is "indirect information about the condition of his own mind."15

Give Ayer his grounds and he wins hands-down. The bigger issue is the limitation of the method of investigation by the principle of verification. The limitation can also be seen in the next topic.

Before we turn to the next topic of Values, it is interesting to note the near death experience of A.J. Ayer as described in the October 14, 1988 issue of the National Review. Ayer wrote: "The only memory that I have of an experience, closely encompassing my death, is very vivid. I was confronted by a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful even when I turned away from it. I was aware that this light was responsible for the government of the universe . . . ."15a

What kind of response and evaluation arises out of this for one of the most famous of atheists? He concluded: "My recent experiences have slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death, which is due fairly soon, will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be. They have not weakened my conviction that there is no god."15b

D. Values.

Logical positivism as expressed by Ayer disposes of values with more sophistication. He contended that ethical discourse fits into four main proposition-types.

First of all, propositions which express definitions of ethical terms, or judgements about the legitimacy or possibility of certain definitions. Secondly, there are propositions describing the phenomena of moral experiences and their causes. Thirdly, there are exhortations to moral virtue. And lastly, there are actual ethical judgements.16

Only the first type "constitute ethical philosophy." The second type are really in the domain of sociology or psychology. In other words, if I describe the experience of being mugged or robbed, this is to be studied by psychology or sociology as a discipline, and no judgements are needed in it about its rightness or wrongness. The third category of exhortation is nothing more than that of a parent who tells a child, "Be good on the way to school," "Don't lie to me," and other statements. These statements are not relevant to philosophy or science, or ethics. The last type of statement, actual ethical judgements, really do not "belong to ethical philosophy."17 Take an example: "It was wrong to gas the Jews in World War II." One may certainly prove to general satisfaction that Jews were gassed in that notorious era. But the phrase "it was wrong" cannot be so proven. What does a statement like this mean? The answer is that "it was wrong" expresses one's emotional reaction to what happened. "It is used to express feeling about certain objects, but not to make any assertion about them."18 There is no way of scientifically verifying "it is wrong," and for that reason ethics is just another word for nonsense. 
The conclusion that is reached is that ethical statements are no more than pseudo-propositions. They are not saying anything sensible. One can only speak of how one feels about war, poverty, capital punishment, space exploration, exploitation of women and minorities, and other serious issues of the time. One may encourage others to feel the same way, but these are appeals only to feelings, or political expressions, and not to truth. Thus logical positivism relegates ethics as traditionally conceived to the discipline of sociology or psychology where feelings can be studied. Science cannot deal with feelings because feelings cannot be dealt with on the basis of verification.

E. Comments and criticisms.

There are many problems with positivism. Ten years after Ayer published his work a revised edition came out with some softening of his views. Many critics arose and one of the more interesting works was written by C.E.M. Joad.19 Joad directed his attention to the first edition because that is where the impact came from and the retractions are scarcely read by anyone but professional philosophers.

Joad charged the movement with a dogmatism as harsh as any.20 Positivism claimed to solve many problems of philosophy, but the charge was made that "there is (not) a single instance of an analysis effected by logical positivists methods which has resulted in the solution of a philosophical problem which is an agreed solution . . . ."21 Not only were there no solutions to the problems, but the problems were regarded as pseudo-problems. The nature of logical positivism was such that "it cannot help us to understand the universe, it cannot provide us with a synoptic view of the whole whose different departments are explored by the sciences and it cannot light up the dark places of the world.22

Ayer's commitment to the principle of verification is examined by Joad. A statement is significant if one knows how to verify the proposition. This position of Ayer is announced without reason or justification. It is a dogma that is assumed. For a view of philosophy that claims to assume nothing metaphysical, the first assumption concerns the important method of the system. Not only is no evidence offered, but it is questionable whether evidence for the principle can be offered at all. Can one verify verification? One must accept the principle as valid on the basis of intuition which is a non-sensory experience of the mind which does not really exist. 
Further, the verification principle ignores other important aspects of normal living. Joad argued that there are non-sensory experiences which occur and in which the verification principle has no application. The facts of history are reflected upon without images. Speculative deliberation in arithmetic that is done mentally is not sensory. Practical deliberations, i.e., questions one asks oneself about misplacing an object, or the potential moves and consequences of a move in chess, are also non-sensory. Other experiences such as moral temptation in which one contemplates an act, struggles internally with the doing of it, and the rejection of the action in moral victory, are likewise non-sensory. Last of all, Joad mentioned poems and music which involve images but they are transcended when one comes to a sense of their aesthetic sense of beauty.23

The verification principle is questioned in another context. Is it a factually or logically determinate statement? It certainly does not seem to be a logically determinate statement or a tautology as Ayer described them. But neither does it fit the category of a scientific discipline. If Wittgenstein's and others are followed here, then the conclusion should be reached that the principle is nonsensical.

On the other hand, if it is accepted as a first principle, then positivism claims a privileged status for its principles that it denies to other systems of philosophy. It engages in metaphysics although it denies the legitimacy of metaphysics.24

Ayer's view of the self also poses problems, essentially the same problems that Hume had. Denying the continuous substantive self, the self is composed of sense-contents. How does one know there are other selves who will listen to me? The ability to reason that there are is not scientifically grounded. Joad asked: "If . . . I never know anything but my own sense-contents, what possible right have I to take their occurrence as indicating or as being caused by or as being equivalent to somebody or something else."25 Ayer's appeal to intuition for believing these facts make his position diluted.26

Joad is very critical of the emotive theory of ethics advanced by the logical positivists in general and Ayer in particular. There is a sense of impatience with a system or approach that rules out such statements as

(l) it is wrong to steal 
(2) it is wrong to gas the Jews 
(3) cruelty to children is wrong 
(4) murdering is wrong.charges that logical positivism paved the way for moral indifference and gives silent approval to almost any act of wrong by virtue of its attitude toward ethical discourse. Joad concluded:

In fact, I find it hard to resist the conclusion that if one really believed that the doctrine of Logical Positivism were true, there would be no bar of principle to the leading of that life which Plato called "democratic"--a Bohemian in art, a Laodicean in affairs, a skeptic in philosophy and religion, an inconstant in love and a dilettante in life.27

II. Other Applications

It was generally concluded that verification is the scientific sense is detrimental to religious faith. Various responses are possible to this claim: (l) reject the faith, (2) reject the verification principle, or (3) seek a religious application of it. A number of writers have done work on number 3, and John Hick is one of the better known.

Hick appealed to verification in showing the validity of religious facts. His sense of verification is a personal one in that any verified fact requires the participation of someone in it. This raised the question of how public verification must be. Hick responded that the requirement of verification depends upon the subject matter. If a scientist predicts an ice age 30,000 years hence, and it does come about, though no human life may exist then, does this stand for verification?

Hick opted for the verification done by a single person although no one else may be involved in the verification process. Believing that everyone can does not require belief that everyone does verify a belief.

Hick spoke of falsification as well as verification. Some statements presumably cannot be verified. A statement like God exists is regarded as incapable of direct verification. Can you approach this issue negatively? Can one falsify the statement God exists? What would count against the statement God exists?

Verification and falsification appear to be two different sides of the coin, but this is not true. There are instances in which they appear to be both sides of the coin, but others in which they are quite unrelated. Hick used the example on the value of " " which has been worked out. 

It does not contain a series of three sevens, but it will always be true that such a series may occur at a point not yet reached in anyone's calculations. Accordingly, the proposition may one day be verified if it is true, but can never be falsified if it is false.28

In the case of life after death, this can be verified if it is true, but it cannot be falsified if it is false. So verification and falsification attempt to deal with different issues occasionally.

The main argument of Hick's view of verification about life after death depends upon the ideas associated with verification. Verification is personal, relative to certain subjects over others, related to conditional predictions about events in the future, and has relevance to the issue of God existing.

Hick spoke of eschatological verification which arises out of two experiences.

I suggest, two possible developments of our experience, such that, if they occurred in conjunction with one another (whether in this life or in another life to come), they would assure us beyond rational doubt of the reality of God as conceived in the Christian faith. These are, first, an experience of the fulfillment of God's purpose for ourselves, as this has been disclosed in the Christian revelation, and second, in conjunction with the first, an experience of communion with God as he has revealed himself in the person of Christ.29

The fulfillment of the first is seen in the achievement of a quality of life as given in the character of Christ, involving eternal life as real life. Although this may not be fully realized now, it may be fulfilled in the future.

Hick noted that unless one goes further than this there is not adequate verification of God's existence. One may know that one lives in a future life, but this is not the same as knowing God. The answer is found in the Incarnation. Knowledge that God exists is seen in the Incarnation.

God's union with man in Christ makes possible man's recognition of the fulfillment of God's purpose for man as being indeed the fulfillment of God's purpose for him. The presence of Christ marks this kingdom as being beyond doubt the kingdom of God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.30

Hick regarded this verification as conditional as are other types of verification. I can say, "you can see my car if you will go into the garage," but not everybody wishes to see my new car. No one is compelled to check it out. Likewise, no one is compelled to check out the situation on God, but it is eventually verifiable. Time does not negate the principle of verification, and likewise, there is no time limit on it. Some hypotheses in science have existed for years before they were verified. By the same token the hypothesis of God's existence is eventually verifiable on a personal level.31

Hick's application of the verification principle to the issues in religion received a mixed response from writers favorable to religious ideas.32 If the validity of the verification principle is admitted as a universal criteria, it might be more useful, but if the principle is questioned, circumscribed in its use, then Hick's application of it may not be that important.

III. New Directions

One of the more remarkable features of the development of logical positivism is seen in the change that took place in Wittgenstein's thinking. He came to abandon the narrow view of language expressed in the Tractatus. Yet in the Tractatus there was no frank condemnation of metaphysics that was characteristic of the positivists. Wittgenstein appears to have left some room for the mystical which is reflected in Bertrand Russell's disapproval in the introduction to the Tractatus. Fann argued that "Wittgenstein has never said and would never have said, 'Metaphysics is nonsense,' or 'the inexpressible (what cannot be said) is just nonsense.'"33 What he did say was, "Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical." In other words, to attempt to present a metaphysical statement as a "scientific" statement is nonsense. To put it another way, to use the criteria of scientific verification for a nonscientifically verifiable statement is nonsense. In vindication of this, Wittgenstein is quoted as having a sympathy for metaphysical writings of the past as among the noblest productions of the human mind.34 His favorite authors were Augustine, Dostoyevsky, and Kierkegaard--all fairly metaphysical in orientation.

Some of the statements of the Tractatus have been used to imply a negative view toward metaphysics, but they can be expressive of what some theologians have said all along. Compare: "It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed. Ethics is transcendental."35 "The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time."36 "God does not reveal himself in the world."37 These enigmatic statements could very well be understood in compatibility with the Christian view of things in which ethics is transcendental in its origin. A transcendent ethic would not be sociology, or culture orientation, but a norm given by God who would be the author of a normal lifestyle. Much of religion finds the solution to the riddle of life outside space and time, or rather in terms of God's will which transcends space and time. There has been a strong emphasis in modern theology that God does not reveal himself in the world, that is, in nature itself. If Wittgenstein's statements are taken literally, they are certainly not incongruous with some of modern theology. However, these statements of Wittgenstein do not require these interpretations for they are so brief and without full context, but they certainly could be used to support some of the positions described above.

Obviously, these propositions do not give much for a commentary on positive value and belief in God. They suggest the possibility that Wittgenstein was not entirely a positivist. Even if this is doubted, the next work of Wittgenstein that we will mention surely shows that language is not so limited as described by the positivists. A different view of language is presented in the last work of Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein's book, Philosophical Investigations, was published after he died.38 In this remarkable work about the nature of language he came to modify his earlier opinions and now asserted that "there are countless" kinds of sentences and even new kinds come into existence as others become obsolete. He introduced the idea of "language-games" to indicate the forms of life and language activity. He wrote:

Review the multiplicity of language- games in the following examples, and in others: 
Giving orders, and obeying them-- 
Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements-- 
Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)-- 
Reporting an event-- 
Speculating about an event-- 
Forming and testing a hypothesis-- 
Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams-- 
Making up a story; and reading it-- 
Singing catches-- 
Guessing riddles-- 
Making a joke; telling it-- 
Solving a problem in practical arithmetic-- 
Translating from one language to another-- 
Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying, 
--It is interesting to compare the multiplicity of tools in language and of the ways they are used, the multiplicity of kinds of words and sentences, with what logicians have said about the structure of language.39

Even though language is inadequate it is yet useful and meaningful. Can one describe the aroma of coffee? It can't be done; words to describe it are lacking. There is now the necessity of admitting that language is not limited to two forms as in the positivistic contention, but now has a multiplicity of uses. The rules of the game now are necessary to know the meaning attached to the words. Kenny summarized: "For without the rules the word has no meaning; and if we change the rules it has a different meaning, or none."40

What can the later Wittgenstein mean then for theological language about God? Certainly, Wittgenstein did not draw great conclusions in support of theological statements or language. Others have attempted to describe the nature of language about God in light of the total positivist movement. One such example is that of Frederick Ferre who admits that theological language does not have visual references. When I speak of God, I do not see God as I see a tree. Thus to talk about God means a different sort of language and meaning. Different rules apply to the words in this context over against those in a scientific setting.

Statements about God certainly refer to reality. If one means less than this, then real meaning about God is lost. Facts about God are important, but facts are related to the minds which receive them.41 Ferre introduced the idea of conceptual synthesiswhich is a "construct of concepts designed to provide coherence for all 'the facts' on the basis of a theoretical model drawn from among 'the facts.'" A "metaphysical fact," therefore, "is a concept which plays a key role within the system, without which the system would founder."42

Ferre then offers the model of consistency, coherence and relevancy to experience, as the criteria for accepting metaphysical models. The model of language about God and the world include not only the material aspect of human existence, but the elements of personality which include will, purpose, wisdom, love, compassion and other human features of man's existence.43 Putting all of these things together one arrives at a model that is more aesthetically satisfying to one's experience of the world than a mere positivistic view.44

One of the leading language philosophers in America is Willard Van Orman Quine of Harvard University. Quine's most important book is Word and Object.45 It is a book about language and the way language is used. The concluding section (56) of Quine's work may be used as the summary section on the intention of the book. Quine declares that "semantic ascent" becomes the philosophic direction for an analysis of language. Semantic ascent "is the shift from talk of miles to talk of 'mile.'"46 The "talk of miles" involves such questions as a length of 1760 yards, or the distance between two cities on earth, or other similar questions. But the talk of "mile" means that one can talk about contexts in which words make sense and for what purposes the word may be used.

The advantage of this shift, says Quine, is that

it carries the discussion into a domain where both parties are better agreed on the objects (viz.., words) and on the main terms concerning them. Words, or their inscriptions, unlike points, miles, classes, and the rest, are tangible objectives of the size so popular in the marketplace, where men of unlike conceptual schemes communicate at their best. The strategy is one of ascending to a common part of two fundamentally disparate conceptual schemes, the better to discuss the disparate foundations. No wonder it helps in philosophy.47 

With the shift in philosophy to the discussion about words, one can gain quickly the nature of the book--it is a discourse about how people in general and philosophers in particular use words. Quine's philosophy of language is the investigation of the ways in which words function in many facets.

Much of the material in Word and Object reads very much like a lesson in language syntax concerning the rules and limitations of parts of speech. Note the following examples:

l) Demonstratives, i.e., "this" and "that" relieve us from knowing specific names, "that river," "that child," "that woman," "that tree," etc.48

2) Relative terms, like "bigger than," "part of," "brother of," function as comparative statements, or location statements as well as other functions.49

3) "Identity" is expressed in English by those uses of "is" that one is prepared to expand into "is the same object as."50

4) Abstract terms, often words ending in "ness," as in roundness, deal in qualities or attributes.51

5) Vagueness relates to the indeterminateness of language. Words are often used with a certain understanding but also with a certain fuzziness. A mountain appears to be a good word, but where does the mountain really start, at sea level, or the height above the normal terrain? Where does Lake Michigan end and Lake Huron begin?

6) Eternal sentences are those sentences "whose truth value stays fixed through time and from speaker to speaker."52 Such an example is "copper oxide is green."53

7) Subjunction or if-clauses. Such clauses help the speaker to entertain or consider facts that may or may not be accepted or true. An example of this is seen in the following, "If Caesar were in command, he would use the atom bomb."54

Quine covers many other functions of words in language use. One may read of modality, the double standard, synonymous and analytical sentences, observation sentences, nominalism and realism and many others.

There is little concern to relate the use of words to the object. Naturally, there are many words that are learned that way when a child is told "Mama" and the mother is there. The chief concern relates to the use of words within the confines of the language not the world apart from the language. Quine accepts the existence of physical objects because of the way in which physical object-terms function in our language, but it is left to the scientists to tell us whether there are wombats or not.

The advantages of semantic ascent are apparently more in Quine's mind than others. In a series of essays, Words and ObjectionsEssays on the Work of W.V. Quine, Quine answers his critics which are numerous. Noam Chomsky, among others, had written an essay criticizing Quine at certain points. Quine's reply is interesting especially when one considered the alleged gain in communication and agreement by semantic ascent.

Chomsky's remarks leave me with feelings at once of reassurance and frustration. What I find reassuring is that he nowhere clearly disagrees with my position. What I find frustrating is that he expresses much disagreement with what he thinks to be my position.55

Semantic ascent has other kinds of problems that are seen in Chomsky's criticisms and Quine's reply. One of the most obvious concerns the nature of words to which one ascends. Dallas Willard has catalogued the various theories of word use in recent times. Are words "tokens" as F.P. Ramsey indicated, or a "type" as first used by Charles Pierce? Words are also designated "tokens" when referring to individual signs or "symbols" when referring to a class of tokens (Han Richenbach).56 The fact is, words appear to be just as mysterious and metaphysical as the entities or things about which Quine exhorts us to remain silent, that is, the metaphysical entities to which the words refer. There is no reason to assume that when it comes to words "both parties are better agreed on the objects." It is difficult to conceive of what such an agreement would be about, i.e., the meaning, use, referrent, intonation, spelling, history, color, etc.


In our sketch of the emphasis on language analysis, we have seen its development along the lines of the verification principle to the language games of Wittgenstein, and then finally to Quine in the contemporary era. There are several concluding observations. First, language gave up philosophical content for a technique of finding out when language referred to real things. Philosophy is transformed into a method without content of its own. With Quine philosophy of language turns to the use of words without concern for the referrent.

Whatever extremes have been found in the movement, it is yet necessary, and has always been, to ask for the meaning of words, terms, and sentences. While avoiding the once strict limitations of the verification principle, thinkers will continue to examine terms for the sake of concise, meaningful communication.

For Further Study

Ayer, A.J. Language, Truth and Logic. New York: Dover Publications, 1952. 
_______. Logical Positivism. New York: The Free Press, 1959. 

Fann. Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy. Berkeley: University of California, 1969. 

Ferre, Frederick. Language, Logic and god. New York: Harper and Row, 1961. 
Hick, John. Faith and Knowledge. 2nd ed. Ithaca: Cornell University press, 1966. 
_______. Philosophy of Religion. Engelwood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963. 
Joad, C.E.M. A Critique of Logical Positivism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950. 
Kenny, Anthony. Wittgenstein. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973. 
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus. London: Routledge and Karen Paul, 1922. 
_______. Philosophical Investigations, translated by G.E.N. Anscombie. New York: Macmilla Co., 1953. 
Quine, W.V.O. Word and Object. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1960.


1They included Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap, Otto Neurath, Herbert Feigle, Friedrich Waismann, Edgar Zilsel, and Victor Kraft--all being philosophers. Philip Frank, Karl Menger, Kur Gödel and Hans Hahn were also in the group and were either scientists or mathematicians.

2Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, London: Routledge and Kegen Paul Ltd., 1922, p. 99.

3A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, New York: Dover Publications, 1952, p. 35.

4Ibid., p. 38.

5Ibid., p. 134.

6Ibid., pp. 134-135.

7Ibid., p. 136.

8Ibid., p. 146.

9Ibid., p. 152. 
., p. 122.

11Ibid., p. 126.

12Ibid., p. 125.

13Ibid., p. 127.

14Ibid., p. 115.

15Ibid., p. 119.

15aA.J. Ayer, "What I Saw When I was Dead," National Review, Oct. 14, 1988, p. 39.

15bIbid., p. 40.

16Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, p. 103.

17Ibid., p. 103.

18Ibid., p. 108.

19C.E.M. Joad, A Critique of Logical Positivism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950.

20Ibid., p. 12.

21Ibid., p. 26.

22Ibid., p. 30.

23Ibid., pp. 53-54.

24Ibid., p. 72.

25Ibid., p. 104.

26Ibid., p. 106.

27Ibid., p. 145.

28John Hick, Faith and Knowledge, 2nd edition, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966, pp. 174-75.

29Ibid., p. 187.

30Ibid., p. 191.

31John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963, pp. 100ff.

32Frederick Ferre, Language, Logic and God, New York: Harper and Row, 1961, pp. 52-53.

33Fann, Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

34Ibid., p. 86.

35Wittgenstein, op. cit., p. 183.

36Ibid., p. 185.

37Ibid., p. 187.

38Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, translated by G.E.N. Anscombie, New York: Macmillan Co., 1953.

39Ibid., p. 12e.

40Anthony Kenny, Wittgenstein, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973, p. 176.

41Ferre, op. cit., p. 160.

42Ibid., p. 161.

43Ibid., p. 164.

44Ferre surveys different proposals on the use of theological language. The student who is interested in the topic will find his survey useful.

45Willard Van Orman Quine, Word and Object, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1960.

46Ibid., p. 271.

47Ibid., p. 272.

48Ibid., p. 100.

49Ibid., p. 105.

50Ibid., p. 114.

51Ibid., p. 118.

52Ibid., p. 193.

53Ibid., p. 12.

54Ibid., p. 222.

55Words and Objections, Essays on the Work of W.V. Quine, edited by Donald Davidson, and Jaakko Hintikka, New York: Humanities Press, 1969, p.302.

56Dallas Willard, Why Semantic Ascent Fails, unpublished paper.