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Let us suppose that I assert the proposition ‘This is white’, and my words are taken to refer, not, as they normally would, to some material thing, but to a sense-content. Then what I am saying about this sense-content is that it is an element in the class of sense-contents which constitutes ‘white’ for me; or in other words that it is similar in colour to certain other sense-contents, namely those which I should call, or actually have called, white. And I think I am saying also that it corresponds in some fashion to the sense-contents which go to constitute ‘white’ for other people: so that if I discovered that I had an abnormal colour-sense, I should admit that the sense-content in question was not white. But even if we exclude all reference to other people, it is still possible to think of a situation which would lead me to suppose that my classification of a sense-content was mistaken. I might, for example, have discovered that whenever I sensed a sense-content of a certain quality, I made some distinctive overt bodily movement; and I might on one occasion be presented with a sense-content which I asserted to be of that quality, and then fail to make the bodily reaction which I had come to associate with it.

This is quote from Ayer's "Language, truth and logic", chapter 5.

Can someone give an example of the situation described in the end of the quote, the one about bodily reaction?

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  • Suppose whenever you sensed the ostensive proposition 'this is a post' your eyes perused, but on one occasion you sensed the same your own asserted quality without any perusing association, therefore like the argument of private language such seemingly direct sense content is impossible but mistaken due to the necessity of such bodily association under so and so hypothetical possibility... Jan 30 at 18:12
  • How is the argument of private language connected with the topic? Please explain Jan 30 at 23:40
  • I used the word 'like' not 'link', as they're similar in the sense that both are seemingly obvious and mundane yet impossible as clear and distinct meta knowledge. As for their connection you may ponder further... Jan 31 at 2:18

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It seems Ayer is making a basic confusion. First:

Let us suppose that I assert the proposition ‘This is white’, and my words are taken to refer, not, as they normally would, to some material thing, but to a sense-content. Then what I am saying about this sense-content is that it is an element in the class of sense-contents which constitutes ‘white’ for me; or in other words that it is similar in colour to certain other sense-contents, namely those which I should call, or actually have called, white.

Ayer says his sentence, ‘This is white’, does not refer to any material thing, but refers instead to a sense-content, which presumably we would now call "whiteness". It is presumably the same thing as the quality we experience subjectively whenever we are looking as something which we see as white. What we also call the quale of white.

Yet, the sentence is not appropriate to this particular species of references. We use "this" to call someone else's attention to something which is visible at least for us. Our mind is not part of that. Nobody has access to our mind except ourselves. It is pointless to call someone else's attention on something which is inside our own mind.

so that if I discovered that I had an abnormal colour-sense, I should admit that the sense-content in question was not white.

This is absurd. It is as absurd as saying that on using the word "red" to mean the colour white, I am wrong not in using the wrong word but in mistaking the colour white for the colour red.

But even if we exclude all reference to other people, it is still possible to think of a situation which would lead me to suppose that my classification of a sense-content was mistaken. I might, for example, have discovered that whenever I sensed a sense-content of a certain quality, I made some distinctive overt bodily movement; and I might on one occasion be presented with a sense-content which I asserted to be of that quality, and then fail to make the bodily reaction which I had come to associate with it.

This seems wrong, too. Ayer claims to be talking again about what he called "sense-content", something presumably inside someone's mind, but then seems to shifts the reference to some bodily movement, something presumably outside the mind, and therefore part of the material world he just pretended not to be talking about.

Either Ayer didn't understand something, or failed to articulate properly his idea.

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  • " '...so that if I discovered that I had an abnormal colour-sense, I should admit that the sense-content in question was not white.' This is absurd. It is as absurd as saying that on using the word "red" to mean the colour white, I am wrong not in using the wrong word but in mistaking the colour white for the colour red." Why is it absurd? Jan 30 at 23:46
  • @ЕгорГалыкин Ayer says "white" refers to the sense-content, but the sense-content is by definition whatever it seems to be. If is seems white to the subject, so be it. There is no mistaking it for something else. Maybe the subject is using the wrong word, but this is not what Ayer wants to say. If "white" was meant instead to refers to the colour of some object, it would be possible to be mistaken, but this is also not what Ayer wants to say. Jan 31 at 17:12

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