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A. J. Ayer (Alfred Jules Ayer) Biography

(1910–89), (Alfred Jules Ayer), Language, Truth and Logic, The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge

English philosopher, born in London, educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford; he also spent some time at the University of Vienna. He lectured at Oxford from 1933, became Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at University College, London, in 1946, and Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford in 1959. His highly influential first book, Language, Truth and Logic (1936), offered a synthesis of the logical positivist ideas of the Vienna Circle and more traditional British linguistic analysis. Combining the sceptical intelligence of his tutor Gilbert Ryle with the logical austerity of Rudolf Carnap, Ayer zestfully demolished the notion that philosophy was engaged in identifying and disseminating arcane metaphysical truths about some transcendent reality, and so helped to set the terms of reference for the academic study of philosophy in Britain for the next fifty years. In debate with critics such as J. L. Austin, much of Ayer's subsequent work sought to reconstruct the possibilities of rigorously empirical knowledge. Ayer maintained his forceful presence in British academic life in works such as The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge (1940), Thinking and Meaning (1947), The Problem of Knowledge (1956), and The Concept of a Person (1964). In later years Ayer turned to belles-lettres with two frank volumes of autobiography and brief studies of Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Hume, and Wittgenstein.

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