The Philosophy of A. J. Ayer

The Philosophy of A. J. Ayer

The Philosophy of A. J. Ayer

The Philosophy of A. J. Ayer


This, the 21st volume in the Library of Living Philosophers, is more than Sir Alfred Ayer's final word on the philosophical issues that preoccupied him for more than sixty years; the list of contributors is a roll-call of some of the greatest living figures in philosophy, each expertly addressing a key problem arising in Ayer's work. Most of the critical papers are answered directly and in detail by Sir Alfred-he completed his replies to 21 of the 24 papers before his death.

Contributors include: A. J. Ayer, Evandro Agazzi, James Campbell, David S. Clarke, Michael Dummett, Elizabeth Eames, John Foster, Dimitri Ginev, Paul Gochet, Martin Hollis, Ted Honderich, Tscha Hung, Peter Kivy, Arne Naess, D. J. O'Connor, Desiree Park, David Pears, Azarya Polikarov, Hilary Putnam, Francisco Miró, Quesada C., A. Anthony Quinton, Emanuele Riverso, Ernest Sosa, T. L. S. Sprigge, Barry Stroud, and David Wiggins.


Founded in 1938 by Professor Paul Arthur Schilpp and edited by him until July 1981, when the present writer became editor, the Library of Living Philosophers is devoted to critical analysis and discussion of some of the world’s greatest living philosophers. The format for the series provides for setting up in each volume a dialogue between the critics and the great philosopher. The aim is not refutation or confrontation but rather fruitful joining of issues and improved understanding of the positions and issues involved. That is, the goal is not overcoming those who differ from us philosophically but interacting creatively with them.

The underlying conception of the Library, however, is admirably summarized in Professor Schilpp’s general introduction as it appeared year after year in earlier volumes from the first one on John Dewey through the one on G.H. von Wright; and in view of its historical importance we are reprinting his account immediately after this introduction. As he notes in it, the basic idea for the series came from the late F.C.S. Schiller, who declared in his essay on “Must Philosophers Disagree?” (In Must Philosophers Disagree? London: Macmillan, 1934) that the greatest obstacle to fruitful discussion in philosophy is “the curious etiquette which apparently taboos the asking of questions about a philosopher’s meaning while he is alive.” The “interminable controversies which fill the histories of philosophy,” in Schiller’s opinion, “could have been ended at once by asking the living philosophers a few searching questions.” And while he may have been overly optimistic about ending “interminable controversies” in this way, it seems clear that directing searching questions to great philosophers about what they really mean or how they think certain difficulties in their philosophy can be resolved while they are still alive can produce more comprehensible understanding and more fruitful philosophizing than might otherwise be had.

And to Paul Arthur Schilpp’s undying credit, he acted on this basic thought in launching in 1938 the Library of Living Philosophers. It is planned that each volume in the Library of Living Philosophers shall include preferably an intellectual autobiography by the principal philoso-

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