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In Piam Memoriam

A.J. Ayer, 20 June 1985

Alfred North Whitehead: The Man and his Work.Vol. I: 1861-1910 
by Victor Lowe.
Johns Hopkins, 351 pp., £26.40, April 1985, 0 8018 2488 5
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... Alfred North Whitehead, who lived from 1861 to 1947, is chiefly remembered in England as Bertrand Russell’s collaborator in the three volumes of Principia Mathematica. He was, however, not only a professional mathematician – which Russell ceased to be after coming out joint seventh Wrangler in the first part of the Cambridge Tripos in 1893 – but a philosopher in his own right ...

Someone might go into the past

A.J. Ayer, 5 January 1989

... Professor Hawking’s Brief History of Time thoroughly deserves the praise with which it has been widely received.* With only one formula, Einstein’s celebrated E = mc2, which he could just as well have put into prose simply by saying that energy is the arithmetical product of mass and the square of the velocity of light, Hawking gives a more lucid account than any that has yet come my way of such arcane matters as quantum theory and its wave-particle duality, the general and special theories of relativity, the blending of space and time into a four-dimensional continuum, the ways in which physicists measure the age and structure of the universe, the ‘big bang’ with which it is thought to have started, the reasons for holding that it continues to expand, the shrinkage of stars into ‘black holes ...

Labour’s Lost Leader

A.J. Ayer, 22 November 1979

Hugh Gaitskell 
by Philip Williams.
Cape, 1007 pp., £15
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... If only Hugh Gaitskell had not died when he did. If only he had led the Labour Party into the General Election of 1964. He had at last succeeded in imposing his ascendency over the party – an ascendency repeatedly challenged in the eight years he had led it, all the time in opposition. Would he not have become Prime Minister with a larger majority? Would not his government have dealt more successfully with the economic troubles of the Sixties? Might he not have retained power in 1970, and so saved us from the disastrous years of the Heath government? Might we not consequently have been spared our present discontents? These are questions that I often put to myself ...

Saving the appearances

A.J. Ayer, 19 March 1981

The Scientific Image 
by Bas C. Van Fraassen.
Oxford, 233 pp., £15, December 1980, 9780198244240
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... Professor Van Fraassen’s book is a recent addition to the Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy which Mr Jonathan Cohen is editing for the Oxford University Press. Its aim, as expressed in the blurb, is ‘to develop an empiricist alternative to both logical positivism and scientific realism’. In fact, Van Fraassen has very little to say about logical positivism, which he regards as philosophically outmoded, and devotes nearly all his energy to confronting scientific realism with what he calls a constructive alternative ...

Diary

A.J. Ayer: More of A.J. Ayer’s Life, 22 December 1983

... On 29 October I celebrated my 73rd birthday. All in all, this has been a good year for me. A year ago I was living with my future family at Hanover, New Hampshire, as the result of being appointed a Montgomery Fellow and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Dartmouth College. Mr Kenneth Montgomery, a millionaire alumnus of the college, had endowed a fellowship which made generous provision for anyone whom the college chose to appoint ...

Koestlerkampf

A.J. Ayer, 20 May 1982

Koestler 
by Iain Hamilton.
Secker, 397 pp., £12, April 1982, 0 436 19191 1
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... It is not easy to see what purpose this book is meant to serve. Koestler himself has written two excellent works of autobiography, An Arrow in the Blue and The Invisible Writing, and two others, The Spanish Testament and Scum of the Earth, of which the main interest is autobiographical. Mr Hamilton admits to drawing heavily upon these works, but does no more than summarise their contents in a less forceful style than Koestler’s own ...

World Cup

A.J. Ayer, 24 July 1986

... When it comes to soccer’s World Cup, it is not always the case that the best team wins. One notable counterexample was the World Cup of 1954, when the West Germans defeated the Hungarians, and another, possibly, was that in which the West Germans defeated the Dutch. This year, however, I think it probable that the best team did win. Admittedly the first goal scored by Argentina against England in the quarter-finals ought not to have stood, but the second goal scored by Maradona was the most brilliant single episode of the tournament, and it is unlikely that the Argentinians would have allowed the English to come as near as they did to equalising at the very end of the match if they had not been two goals ahead ...

Cause and Effect

A.J. Ayer, 15 October 1981

Hume and the Problem of Causation 
by Tom Beauchamp and Alexander Rosenberg.
Oxford, 327 pp., £15, August 1981, 0 19 520236 8
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The Science of Legislator: The Natural Jurisprudence of David Hume and Adam Smith 
by Knud Haakonssen.
Cambridge, 240 pp., £17.50, September 1981, 0 521 23891 9
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... On the flyleaf of Messrs Beauchamp and Rosenberg’s book about Hume’s theory of causation, Professor Donald Davidson says of it: ‘This is certainly the best available discussion of Hume and causality. It is much more than that, however: it is the best book-length treatment of causality.’ Professor Davidson is perhaps a little biased by the fact that the authors’ views on the nature of causality coincide so very closely with his own ...

Psychoneural Pairs

A.J. Ayer, 19 May 1988

A Theory of Determinism: The Mind, Neuroscience and Life-Hopes 
by Ted Honderich.
Oxford, 656 pp., £55, May 1988, 9780198244691
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... The problem first of clarifying and then of answering the questions how far human thoughts and actions are subject to causality and whether this is consistent with their being free is one to which many different approaches have been made throughout the history of philosophy. I doubt if any of them has been the product of such intense research as Professor Honderich has devoted to the construction, the defence and the evaluation of his theory of determinism ...

What is what

A.J. Ayer, 22 January 1981

Sameness and Substance 
by David Wiggins.
Blackwell, 238 pp., £12.50, May 1980, 0 631 19090 2
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... Professor Wiggins’s new book was originally intended to be a revision of his book Identity and Spatio-Temporal Continuity, which appeared in 1967 and had been allowed to go out of print. Like the earlier book, it is concerned with questions of identity, and especially with the identity of things which persist through change, and it advances the same theory of individuation ...

Past, Present and Future

A.J. Ayer, 21 January 1982

Collected Philosophical Papers. Vol. I: From Parmenides to Wittgenstein 
by G.E.M. Anscombe.
Blackwell, 141 pp., £10, September 1981, 0 631 12922 7
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Collected Philosophical Papers. Vol. II: Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind 
by G.E.M. Anscombe.
Blackwell, 239 pp., £15, September 1981, 0 631 12932 4
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Collected Philosophical Papers. Vol. III: Ethics, Religion and Politics 
by G.E.M. Anscombe.
Blackwell, 160 pp., £12, September 1981, 0 631 12942 1
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... These three volumes of Professor Anscombe’s collected papers encompass everything of importance that she has published, apart from her work as literary executor and translator of Ludwig Wittgenstein and her three books: Intention, An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s ‘Tractatus’ and Three Philosophers, written in collaboration with Professor Peter Geach, and containing studies of Aristotle, Aquinas and Frege ...

In the beginning was A.J. Ayer

Brian Barry, 20 June 1985

Moral Relativity 
by David Wong.
California, 248 pp., £28, July 1984, 0 520 04976 4
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Beyond Subjective Morality: Ethical Reasoning and Political Philosophy 
by James Fishkin.
Yale, 201 pp., £17.50, January 1984, 0 300 03048 7
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... The creation of moral philosophy as we know it: in the beginning was A.J. Ayer, and moral assertions were without form, and void. More precisely, they were of a grammatically misleading form and lacking in meaning. In Language, Truth and Logic (published in 1936), Ayer maintained that what appears to be a moral assertion (e ...

Out of Sight, out of Mind

Frank Kermode: A.J. Ayer’s Winning Ways, 15 July 1999

A.J. AyerA Life 
by Ben Rogers.
Chatto, 402 pp., £20, June 1999, 9780701163167
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... A.J. Ayer, says Ben Rogers, had a ‘pampered upbringing, even by Edwardian standards’. He suffered much at prep school, then went to Eton, where he suffered less and got over it. The next move, to Christ Church, was painless. Oxford gave him Gilbert Ryle as his tutor and appointed him to a lectureship before he graduated ...

Minimalism

David Pears, 19 February 1987

A.J. Ayer 
by John Foster.
Routledge, 307 pp., £12, October 1985, 9780710206022
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Voltaire 
by A.J. Ayer.
Weidenfeld, 182 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 297 78880 9
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Fact, Science and Morality: Essays on A.J. Ayer’s ‘Language, Truth and Logic’ 
edited by Graham Macdonald and Crispin Wright.
Blackwell, 314 pp., £27.50, January 1987, 0 631 14555 9
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... at least, fires the imaginations, of people who have had no special training in the subject. A.J. Ayer’s first book, Language, Truth and Logic, published in 1936, achieved this effect, perhaps surprisingly, given that its main thesis was that much of what we say inside and outside philosophy is strictly meaningless. But there is pleasure in ...

Diary

Richard Wollheim: On A.J. Ayer, 27 July 1989

... June, a television channel rang me. Would I say a few words on their news programme about Freddie Ayer? It was the first I heard of his death. Then the Independent, for which I had written an obituary a year before, asked me if I would write 600 words for their front page. Then another television channel rang. Freddie’s death was about to become, I could ...

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