With that example made, I wish to express caution when it comes to matters of metaphysics and their rejection based on their non-empirical nature. An outright rejection based on the idea that "striving to describe such a reality has been devoted to the production of nonsense," (Ayer, 34) indicates that metaphysics (or the examination of things not perceived or processed by our immediate senses) has been misinterpreted, and most clearly prematurely dismissed.
Metaphysics is easily misinterpreted because it's like we require it, by definition, to describe reality in non-physical terms, or non-empirical ways. Indeed, when it's put like that, metaphysics looks silly and useless. This misrepresentation hides the issue of the inadequacy of our five senses, by claiming that something like metaphysics is absurd simply because our physical means for processing the world is enough. This latter point, I claim, is just as absurd as outrightly dismissing metaphysics. Because our sense experience is so limited, metaphysics cannot be so prematurely dismissed. We need it to acknowledge our puny existence in a universe we can't comprehend. Unlike empiricism, which attempts to provide facts and figures based on physical data, metaphysical ideas can provide the context in which these so-called facts are gathered.
This is not an outright defense of metaphysics. To be sure, a lot of it is full of nonsense, just as empiricism has much nonsense attached to it, because our reality is governed by our processing and perceiving the world. It is an attempt to show Ayer's definitions to be flawed, and to show that philosophy as an exercise in dismissing non-empirical inquiries (Ayer, 134) while promoting empirical inquiries may not be philosophy, or the entirety of philosophy, but rather mere science conducted under the rigorous controls of the scientific method. Some may find fundamental disagreement with philosophy being handled in this exclusivist way. Some may even suggest philosophy is discrediting itself because under this criteria, philosophy is obsolete. For philosophy to operate in such an exclusivist way, meaning only in ways empiricists would acknowledge, the risk is high that philosophy is no longer able to deal with the questions that can't be tested empirically. That would be ridiculous in and of itself, as philosophy has been dealing with non-empirical questions for centuries. Why should the philosophy of science become such that we can no longer ask "what is justice?" "What is God?" "What is ethics, and what does it mean to be ethical?" Why should philosophy continue to operate under a white male system of "objectivity" and "sense-experience" because the western method of science and data-gathering is somehow held to be superior to the rest of the world?
The entire branch of the philosophy of ethics is now suspect under philosophy as defined by logical positivism. If philosophy shouldn't, or can't, ask these non-empirical questions, what ought it to do?
Empiricism is tantamount to positivism, which I maintain can only be one branch of philosophy for those who choose to follow it. I don't disagree with it - I too strongly support empirical inquiry. For Ayer's discussion of ethical philosophy, he is right to say that "it is of interest to reduce ethical terms to non-ethical terms (definitions). Can statements of ethical value be translated into statements of empirical fact?" (Ayer, 104). While Ayer maintains they are only descriptive symbols, indefinable by empirical means, I would challenge those interested in ethics to establish independent and universal means of justifying which things or actions are ethically unjustifiable. If we only have our empirical sense to guide us (which itself is very limited) and we are the judges and juries of ourselves, then we must deduce which of those things or actions can be independently judged to be wrong. Wrong is a cultural word, another metaphysical thing which cannot be dismissed in its practical sense. This is why not all cultures and societies are equal - some may detest that which another culture practices. Actions to reduce universally known non-ethical behaviors and actions - things we can independently judge to be wrong - persist throughout most of the world. Ayer would have done himself a favor had he saved this portion of the book to follow from his discussion of God. Instead he comes very close to suggesting ethics is a waste of time because there is no empirical way of validating those things which are wrong or right. I say that's no excuse, and that bubble world mentality is dangerous and restrictive. Definitions of these words are not actually necessary, though he seems to believe they are. Furthermore, by suggesting this, Ayer calls into question his own ability to use his senses and faculties empirically to make judgments. It is also important to distinguish between morals and ethics, as Ayer uses them interchangeably as though they are synonymous with each other. They are not. He is right to point out that moral behavior stems from fear of a god or society's displeasure. Morals stem from religion, the bible/other religious texts and often make very little logical sense. For the most part, they are not supposed to. I offer that ethics is independent of gods or society, even if we use sense experience examples to attempt to logically describe ethical behaviors and actions and what they look like. Morals look like this: "it is wrong to take that money, because the bible says don't steal." Without a bible, I can independently and logically judge stealing to be ethically wrong by saying this: "it is unethical to steal that money because you would be most upset and disturbed if someone were to steal it from you."
Morals have distinct and clear religious connotations. It is immoral to love someone of the same sex. It is immoral to eat of the pig. It is immoral to marry after divorce or after a spouse dies. (But it is perfectly moral for a brother to take his sister-in-law as his wife in the event of his brother's death). It is moral to keep and own slaves. Morals are sets of guidelines based on religious convictions, and while we don't subscribe to some of these guidelines today, we wouldn't call these guidelines ethics.
There are a great many moral deal-breakers in Christianity, but that's a discussion for another paper. The point is to contrast with ethics, which I argue is strictly secular and completely independent of any religion. If religion were to never exist (I know, hard to imagine) it's likely morals would nor either, but ethics would. We do not need religion to formulate logical ethical steps toward mastery of the greater good (or reduction of the greater evil) as well as education of the next generation and improvement of the self. Again, items like good and evil don't really require definitions for the purposes of distinguishing between ethics and morals and the pursuit of a useful (though non-empirical) set of ethics.
Now the subject of God. Ayer acknowledges that this god can't be proven to exist or not exist (Ayer, 114) which makes me ponder his definition of science and empirical inquiry. Science never "proves" anything, only lends to existing theory or take away from old theory. So even if we empirically investigated God, we would get data to support or take away from that god's possible existence. Ayer also suggests that these sophisticated religions are based on man's awe and natural processes he can't sufficiently understand (Ayer, 116). Absolutely correct - the brain is the ultimate delusion generator, constantly reformulating and adapting to cope with a reality that is only a tiny portion of all that is or could be by the mere senses we have. Again, we are forced to question our original empirical means at understanding our world and universe. Man (and Ayer) seem to believe the human brain is not constantly tricking itself, coping with a staggering existence in a bottomless, topless universe - that we are capable of knowing anything and everything. This is utterly laughable! Our senses, he asserts, are enough to make sense of this and proceed with only empirical means to understanding. Perhaps to a certain extent this is true - intelligence is not physically real, it cannot be experienced through sense-experience but we know it's not metaphysical, we learn and develop. In my opening example I showed that the brain's existence could not be empirically validated with simple conversation (or by the thousands of years of study previous to CAT scans) but we knew intelligence existed in various forms. We knew there are those born severely retarded on one end of the spectrum and then those born gifted, with strong mental power. Can we touch this intelligence, see it, feel it? Of course not, but it still can't be metaphysical - it's too real.
Fundamentally, I put forth that his assertion that we can make sense of our universe through our senses is plain wrong. How can we be so arrogant that we assume it's possible to know and understand all things through our very restricted reality? Ayer acknowledges these things like god and history are neither true nor false, but he oversteps his sensory bounds by asserting they need to be dismissed for the sake of empirical science. This is dangerous, I believe, and reveals serious flaws in logic. On the subject of god, logic may in fact work in our favor. Can something come from nothing? Did the universe and everything in it always exist, as in it had no beginning? Can our brains process this idea? If not, how are our brains even capable of the possibility of understanding everything by empirical means? We know, roughly, Earth's age. Are we to assume life sprang up by chance merely because our physical limitations don't allow for anything that can't be seen or heard with those limitations?
Let's not forget science and reality are governed by our senses, which are severely restricted to specific ways of knowing based on where we live, how we are raised, and the culture in which we exist. This is the only way to establish some sense of reality, and it is constantly in flux, constantly unreliable. Ayer makes his fundamental mistake here. We can only create artificial reliability when it comes to examinations of objects in science. It is impossible for a human to be objective - completely so - in the empirically scientific sense. Of course we try, but it is foolhardy and premature to rely only on our sense experiences for matters of exploration and attempts to define the world. We must always remember human limitations, and on the flipside of that, human natures, which don't lend themselves well to empirical analysis (though psychology has made incredible strides in this regard). Can happiness be looked at? Is it heard or felt? Technically, happiness is a metaphysical thing, and yet no one would deny it is real, humans feel it or don't feel it, and we can even study it.
The word science itself is problematic. Kuhn knew this when discussing the paradigms forming our science and how they shape it - crises in science, and the paradigms which resist them (Kuhn, 146). Our science is guided by these paradigms, which implies we are never involved in the pursuit of knowledge in a totally empirical way. Yes, we are curious creatures, and we don't stop trying to establish some basis for our reality in a universe we can't understand fully. But what is science in light of these revelations? Are we to give up completely on Ayer's push for strict empiricism and logical positivism and never acknowledge the existence of "facts?" or is Kuhn the one who had it right the whole time, knowing how non-objective we really were as biased creatures, shaped by an environment of which we had little control?
Always, our science is guided by our environment. Always, do we study that which feels important based on political, social, economic, and legal issues facing a society. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. What might be a bad move is to endorse strict empiricism, turning a blind eye to obvious and problematic limitations of the human and the society in which the human exists. What could be a good move is to work for as much empirical objectivity as possible while fully acknowledging hidden limitations and irrelevant bias inherent in that which we study.
Is this science, then? A balance between the pursuit of facts and supported theoretical concepts as well as acknowledgement of the formulation of these facts and theories against the backdrop of a unique society governing the rules of the game?
We have to believe we study in an objective manner, or rationale for continuing our pursuit of knowledge becomes meaningless. Kuhn was apt to point out our limitations, while Ayer is quick to claim our senses as enough to understand that which we study. One extreme end versus another serves no one, however. Can they be reconciled in such a way that our study improves just as our limitations are more readily acknowledged? At the very least, we would be more prepared to deal with crises in science, as well as expanding our own understanding of the walls set up in the human brain - this would actually allow us to, ironically, become a little more open-minded.
Sense-experience, in short, is not enough to understand all that could be understood. Additionally, sense-experience is a result of the delusion generator: the brain. We cannot say something is not worth knowing when we don't know the thing which our senses can't perceive. Ironically, this makes philosophy's definition "to be a science of sciences" an oxymoron.
At the same time, sense-experience is all we have to understand all that could be understood. While the brain is a masterful delusion generator, it is also the most superior mind on our planet and as far as we're concerned, the universe. It is capable of complex processing, analyzing, organizing and theorizing. It can learn, develop, evolve. That cannot be ignored simply because it's limited to understanding a tiny portion of our universe. Our limited sense-experience is no excuse to completely abandon Ayer's stance of absolute empiricism just as it's no excuse to accept Ayer's stance that non-empirical, or metaphysical means to understanding, is a waste of time and human energy.