Verificationism Philosophy Essay

1206 words - 5 pages

The verification principle offers no real challenge to religious belief. Discuss.
Religious believers suffer with a problem of needing to explain the meaning of religious language, and what such language means when talking about a transcendent reality called God. The verification principle claims that language is only meaningful if it can be verified by sense observation, empirical evidence or it is a tautology as these are non-cognitive. This was devised by logical positivists who said the evidence that we obtain from our senses is the highest form of evidence and with logic, it is the only real knowledge. They believed that philosophers had no business to say anything about the world and ...view middle of the document...

Ayer supported verificationism, however he did not say that people couldn’t make types of statements that are of importance to them, just that these statements have no factual significance. He then suggested the need of a procedure for deciding if a statement is verifiable or not. The statement that is being tested whether it is verifiable or not is called a ‘putative proposition’. He distinguished ‘practical verifiability’ which referred to statements which could be tested in reality, from ‘verifiability in principle’ which are statements that are meaningful and verifiable in principle, but in practice we cannot verify these statements as we lack the technology or knowledge. Next Ayer distinguished ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ verification. Strong verification applied to anything that can be verified conclusively by observation and experience, whereas weak verification refers to statements that can be shown to be probable by observation and experience. He gives the example ‘all human beings are mortal’. It is impossible to demonstrate this statement in a ‘strong’ sense without killing every human being who lives or will live since it is impossible to do, but few people would doubt that all human beings are mortal, as all human observations to date suggest the truth of the statement ‘human beings are mortal’. If we support Ayer’s view then religious statements are nonsense if referring to God defined as infinite, impersonal and transcendent, because statements about God do not tell people anything about the world that is verifiable. He argues that believers saying they have seen God are simply recounting a set of emotions that are religious. However it could be said that there are signs of design in the world but this becomes a problem as we question what satisfies the weak verification criteria.
Ayer goes on to refine his weak and strong verification. He rejected the use of ‘putative statements’ and changed his definition of the principle of verification to ‘a statement is held to be literally meaningful if and only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable’. This was changed because his distinction wasn’t a real distinction as the strong form of verification could not apply to any statement. He then said that single experiences are what happens and when you have the experience it is a reality, it actually happens. You may not be able to describe it particularly well, but its occurrence is what makes it verifiable. He also rejected his previous definition of weak verification as ‘far too liberal, since it allows meaning to any statement whatsoever’, Ayer then suggested two new criteria - directly and indirectly verifiable. If something is directly verifiable it is...

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