The Place of Theological and Moral Expressions in Logical PositivismJune 26, 2021
Ayer tried to make an explanation by quoting the following statement of F. H. Bradley:
“The Absolute intervenes, but its own situation does not allow evolution and progress.”
However, such theological statements can neither be verified nor disproved. Likewise, “All reality is material.” Statements like these are beyond the bounds of experience and are therefore neither false nor true. These are just false propositions.
British Philosopher Antony Flew also used a similar logic to Ayer’s regarding other theological statements. Flew, “God loves his children as a father loves his son.” argued that his statement was not actually falsifiable. Indeed, religious people continue to believe that a loving God exists even when their lives are painful. Ayer then argued that such flamboyant theological claims were not falsifiable, and thus were truly meaningless.
According to Antony Flew, one condition of meaningful statements is that they are falsifiable. The expression “water freezes at 0 (zero) degrees” is meaningful; for one could imagine conditions under which this statement could be falsified if necessary; that is, if the water was frozen at some other degree. It has passed the falsifiability test as it has been empirically proven that water freezes at zero degrees.
It is not just the statements themselves that are meaningless, but also the denial of those statements. For example, the atheist’s claim that “there is no God” is just as unverifiable and meaningless as the positive claim that he exists. Metaphysical and theological statements reflect, at best, our feelings about the world. Even moral statements such as “Abortion is wrong” are meaningless because, unlike, for example, “redness”, “wrong” cannot be perceived by the senses. As a result, statements containing theological and metaphysical statements, as well as values related to values, can only make as much sense as the following examples: “Turquoise water is virtuous” or “Profrots blaspheme blikier.”
According to positivists, when someone says, “You did something wrong by stealing that money,” that is not making a verifiable, complete, and true claim about stealing. Conversely, when one morally condemns the act of stealing, what one is actually doing is stating a fact as well as expressing a feeling or attitude about that fact; “You stole the money!—Uh, ugh, Aa!” This idea is further developed in Charles Stevenson’s “emotional” philosophy. According to Ayer, statements that include terms related to values such as good, bad, right, and just are not empirical because they do not describe the world. Therefore, statements of value—such as metaphysical and theological statements—are nonsense, meaningless.
According to Ayer, statements containing terms that denote value are not true propositions, but false propositions. “Murder is morally bad.” The expression can mean many things. However, none of these are experimental. The phrase “the bottle is green” makes sense; because we have the possibility to verify the green color. But can we justify “good” or “evil” by seeing? If we cannot verify it by sight, then statements involving such terms are nonsense.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook