I am studying Logical Positivism on my own, and though I get the most of it, I am confused about some points, and I will be really grateful if you can help me here. I am studying it from here.

In the sub-heading Man, the author writes:

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. What then is the self which is not substantive?

What exactly does substantive ego means here? And finally the last sentence, what then is the self which is not substantive?

Moreover, under the sub-heading God, the last line of second paragraph:

If God is identified with natural objects, not much is being said about God.

What does the author implies here?

Finally in the Criticism sub-heading:

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.

Concretely, what first principle is he talking about? If, from what I understand it is being factually correct, how does it imply engaging in metaphysics?

To conclude, the point regarding sense and perception of world 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." Ayer's appeal to intuition for believing these facts make his position diluted.

Well, I am lost here.

I will be absolutely grateful for a response.

  • 2
    It's not you, it's the reading. Do yourself (and your brain) a favour: do not learn about logical positivism by the way of Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic. And don't study an introduction to logical positivism that tries to explain Ayer's book. You can find good overviews (they not introductions though) by consulting SEP here and here.
    – DBK
    Jan 26, 2014 at 1:26
  • Yes to what DBK says. As someone who knows something about Logical Positivism, I find this text very hard to follow. Sometimes the opponents of ideas do not cast them in the most positive light. Start with the texts DBK recommends. Jan 26, 2014 at 3:41

2 Answers 2


I agree with the previous comments that SEP articles are the best way to start with. Then you can move on to some of the volumes in the serie Cambridge Companions to Philosophy; you have at your disposal at least: Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap and Quine.

Specifically, I don't think that Ayer is the most representative of logical positivists. Is first book had a good success as the first syntheses in the english-speaking world of a new trend in philosophy that was basically "continental".

About the metaphysical aspects of LP, according to your source, I think that the comments point at a general aspect: it is impossible to make an argument in philosophy avoiding all kind of presuppositions.

So, if presuppositions are not "scientifically" based, and science cannot prove everything, also the general position of LP, that all knowledge is empirically-based and that every argument that is not scientifically proved has to be banished because "metaphisical", is in itself subject to the same criticism of being "unprovable", ans so methaphisical.


This isn't an answer to your main question but one of your question headings:

If God is identified with natural objects, not much is being said about God.

This is Pantheism. What Ayer is saying is that if the world is God, then one might as just as well talk of the world rather than God.

One could argue that the world is part of God, which is what Spinoza did, and then one has a distinction. One can argue if the world was created by God, then by being of his creation, and supposing nothing can be created out of nothing, then the world must be of Gods substance. Hence the World is part divine. This may or may not be Spinozas argument but given as an example how one can argue this position.

From another perspective, identifying the World with God is saying rather a lot - for then God is there. to be found. After all some people see Gods will writ in its laws. Others say the World is the greater Quran. And what little we know about the world has been wrestled from it with immense effort. It is no small thing.

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