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Love among the Cheeses

Lidija Haas: Life with Amis and Ayer, 8 September 2011

The House in France: A Memoir 
by Gully Wells.
Bloomsbury, 307 pp., £16.99, June 2011, 978 1 4088 0809 2
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... of life with her mother, the journalist Dee Wells, and her stepfather, the philosopher A.J. Ayer. Using their holiday house in Provence as a starting point, she wanders between family stories, anecdotes of mid-century London society and the sort of travel writing that mixes picturesque scraps of history with hymns to the local food and drink – all of ...

Monk Justice

Kieran Setiya, 30 August 2018

Philosophy within Its Proper Bounds 
by Edouard Machery.
Oxford, 224 pp., £40, August 2017, 978 0 19 880752 0
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... work of inquiry that ventures beyond the bounds of quantitative and experimental reasoning; A.J. Ayer, who insisted that much past and present philosophy is unverifiable nonsense; and, more recently, Daniel Dennett, who indicts the discipline as largely ‘self-indulgent, clever play’. In almost every case, the philosopher who criticises philosophy wants ...
The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell. Vol. VII: Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript 
edited by Elizabeth Ramsden Eames and Kenneth Blackwell.
Allen and Unwin, 258 pp., £35, May 1984, 0 04 920073 9
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Freedom and Morality, and Other Essays 
by A.J. Ayer.
Oxford, 182 pp., £15, June 1984, 0 19 824731 1
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More of My Life 
by A.J. Ayer.
Collins, 224 pp., £12.95, September 1984, 0 00 217003 5
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... by treating the attachment of words to things as a part of human life. Hilary Putnam has reviewed Ayer’s Philosophy in the 20th Century against this background in a recent issue of Partisan Review. The pattern is complex but the main lines are easily discernible. Russell is one point of origin for contemporary analytic philosophy and Wittgenstein is ...

Old Scores

Colin McGinn, 30 August 1990

The Meaning of Life, and Other Essays 
by A.J. Ayer.
Weidenfeld, 212 pp., £17, June 1990, 0 297 82041 9
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... point), and afterwards I felt I had a long way to go philosophically. A few days later Professor Ayer, who was one of the examiners, informed me that he had been obliged to require that my papers be typed, on account of their extreme illegibility: I would have to dictate them to a typist in the presence of an invigilator, both of whom I would have to pay. I ...

An End to Anxiety

Barry Stroud, 18 July 1985

by A.J. Ayer.
Weidenfeld, 155 pp., £14.95, May 1985, 0 297 78612 1
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The Legacy of Wittgenstein 
by Anthony Kenny.
Blackwell, 150 pp., £12.50, September 1984, 9780631137054
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Wittgenstein on Meaning 
by Colin McGinn.
Blackwell, 202 pp., £12.50, December 1984, 0 631 13764 5
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Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of ‘Philosophical Investigations’ 
by J.M.F. Hunter.
Edinburgh, 248 pp., £20, March 1985, 0 85224 497 5
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... have even found his descriptions of his own procedures disingenuous. That is the reaction of A.J. Ayer in his new book, Wittgenstein. He thinks there is no doubt about it. He roundly declares that Wittgenstein’s ‘repeated preference for description over explanation and the avoidance of theory which he claimed to practise and enjoined upon his readers are ...

Ayer, Anscombe and Empiricism

Alasdair MacIntyre, 17 April 1980

Perception and Identity: Essays presented to A.J. Ayer with his replies to them 
edited by G.E. MacDonald.
Macmillan, 358 pp., £15, December 1979, 0 333 27182 3
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Intention and Intentionality: Essays in Honour of G.E.M. Anscombe 
edited by Cora Diamond and Jenny Teichmann.
Harvester, 205 pp., £16.95, December 1979, 0 85527 985 0
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... our own time, the latest and perhaps the last of this chain of great figures has been Sir Alfred Ayer. Ayer shares with Russell and with Mill not only an intellectual allegiance to empiricist doctrine, and a willingness to identify himself with a certain kind of public cause: he shares, too, a certain temper of mind, which ...

Gains in Clarity

P.F. Strawson, 4 November 1982

Philosophy in the 20th Century 
by A.J. Ayer.
Weidenfeld, 283 pp., £12.50, September 1982, 0 297 78179 0
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... Philosophy in the 20th century’ or ‘Analytical philosophy in the 20th century’? Ayer is well aware that the two descriptions are not co-extensive. He marks his recognition of the fact by devoting one chapter of his history to Collingwood and another to selected representatives of phenomenology and existentialism ...

Is It Glamorous?

David Simpson: Stefan Collini among the Intellectuals, 6 March 2008

Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain 
by Stefan Collini.
Oxford, 544 pp., £16.99, July 2005, 0 19 929105 5
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... appeared was only about half that of the publication you are now reading. On the other hand, A.J.P. Taylor wrote some 1500 book reviews in the course of his career, many of which appeared in the Sunday Express, which in the late 1950s had a circulation of four million and paid him up to £100 a time – a very considerable sum. These are among the many ...

Why praise Astaire?

Michael Wood: Stanley Cavell, 20 October 2005

Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow 
by Stanley Cavell.
Harvard, 302 pp., £18.95, May 2005, 0 674 01704 8
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... reason’. One of Cavell’s heroes, J.L. Austin, would say on occasion (arguing with A.J. Ayer, for example) that the reasons we have are sufficient; it’s only a fantasy of perfection that makes them seem inadequate. But Cavell doesn’t want us to go in that direction. For him scepticism is irrefutable and inescapable, the mistake we need to keep ...

The Flow

Paul Myerscough: ‘The Trap’, 5 April 2007

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom 
directed by Adam Curtis.
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... which J.B. Priestley sits smoking a cigar and reaching for the port while Isaiah Berlin and A.J. Ayer discuss concepts of liberty. Curtis stays with Berlin for an unusually long time, perhaps as relieved as we are to have a talking head worth listening to, especially one so idiosyncratic, caught at a time when television still made room for such voices. It ...

Just one more species doing its best

Richard Rorty, 25 July 1991

The Later Works 1925-1953. Vol. XVII: Miscellaneous Writings, 1885-1953 
by John Dewey, edited by Jo Ann Boydston.
Southern Illinois, 786 pp., $50, August 1990, 0 8093 1661 7
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by J.E. Tiles.
Routledge, 256 pp., £35, December 1988, 0 415 00908 1
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John Dewey and American Democracy 
by Robert Westbrook.
Cornell, 608 pp., $32.95, May 1991, 0 8014 2560 3
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Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank and Lewis Mumford 
by Casey Blake.
North Carolina, 370 pp., $38.45, November 1990, 0 8078 1935 2
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... A.J. Ayer began his Bertrand Russell with his customary insouciance, saying that Russell was ‘unique among the philosophers of this century in combining the study of the specialised problems of philosophy, not only with an interest in both the natural and the social sciences, but with an engagement in primary as well as higher education, and an active participation in politics ...
The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848 
by Robin Blackburn.
Verso, 560 pp., £27.95, April 1988, 0 86091 188 8
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Pro-Slavery: A History of the Defence of Slavery in America, 1701-1840 
by Larry Tise.
Georgia, 501 pp., $40, March 1988, 0 8203 0927 3
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Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean 
by Alfred Hunt.
Louisiana State, 196 pp., £23.75, March 1988, 9780807113288
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Thomas Paine 
by A.J. Ayer.
Secker, 195 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 436 02820 4
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Paine and Cobbett: The Transatlantic Connection 
by David Wilson.
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 218 pp., $27.95, April 1988, 0 7735 1013 3
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... with physical bondage, though this always carried with it fetters of the mind as well: Professor Ayer’s is concerned very much with mental fetters, and some of mankind’s attempts to shake them off, but his subject brings him, too, in contact with the history of slavery. He cites a late writing of Paine, denouncing Louisiana’s wish to be allowed to ...


Susannah Clapp, 23 July 1987

A Life with Alan: The Diary of A.J.P. Taylor’s Wife, Eva, from 1978 to 1985 
by Eva Haraszti Taylor.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £14.95, June 1987, 0 241 12118 3
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The Painted Banquet: My Life and Loves 
by Jocelyn Rickards.
Weidenfeld, 172 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 297 79119 2
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The Beaverbrook Girl 
by Janet Aitken Kidd.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 00 217602 5
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... When the London Review of Books began to run a Diary in 1982, A.J.P. Taylor was one of its authors. He always delivered to an exact length, well before the deadline, and often in person. A new editorial assistant, handed copy by the small seventy-five-year-old in a deerstalker who had scaled the steep stairs to our earlier offices, decided he must be a Mercury messenger ...


John Bayley, 17 March 1988

End of a Journey: An Autobiographical Journal 1979-1981 
by Philip Toynbee.
Bloomsbury, 422 pp., £25, February 1988, 0 7475 0132 7
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... There must be more than this.’ Perhaps Toynbee imagined himself talking with his old friend A.J. Ayer, whose good-humoured scorn for these non-propositions, and especially for the idea that anything we cannot know is ‘better’ than anything we can, would be boundless. Yet the bosoms of the restless, the dissatisfied and the miserable would return an echo ...

A Billion Years a Week

John Ziman, 19 September 1985

Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age 
by David Bolter and A.J. Ayer.
Duckworth, 264 pp., £12.95, October 1984, 0 7156 1917 9
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... A computer is a tool, working the intentions of its designer or user. It is no more malevolent than the village clock whose chimes wake us in the night, or the car whose failed brakes run us down. We invest it with personality because it is an instrument of the mind, rather than of the hand. It extends and mimics the very function that has always seemed to distinguish us biologically from other organisms – the capacity to reason ...

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