Criticism And Empiricism: The Verificationist Theory Of Meaning

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The verificationist theory of meaning asserts that a statement’s meaning and whether it is meaningful or not lies in its method of confirmation or disconfirmation. This is a compelling, yet inadequate, theory. In this paper I will focus on exploring and explaining how this theory proves problematic. I will claim that this theory is immediately inadequate, since many sentences have no method of verification, based purely on content. If this were the case it would mean that outside of a scientific setting (i.e. ideally one where facts and experience are concerned) a sizeable amount of statements would be meaningless. Thus I will argue that the verificationist theory fails at addressing its own purpose, as it is inadequate for fully explaining …show more content…
The logical positivists actively sought to reject metaphysics and other such groundless grandstanding as being utter nonsense and having no basis for being meaningful. This formed the basis of the verificationist theory of meaning (verificationism) which proposes that there ought to be a way to absolutely measure and assess a statement and whether what it is saying is applicable or apropos hinges on this verification. A J Ayers in Language, Truth and logic introduced verificationism and defines it as follows, “we say that a sentence is factually significant to any given person, if, and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express—that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false” (Ayers, 1951, p. 16). Knowledge could, in this way, “achieve clarity by being symbolized in the language of logic.” (Misak, 1995, p. 56) However, this criterion poses many problems, not only with the issue of what is verifiability and factual significance, but how this can then be applied to …show more content…
As scientific experimentation and observation are only a fraction of the spoken and written word, this reveals a glaring irregularity between the theory and application. Verificationism can be said to encompass and encourage only one kind of meaning, as it ignores all that is not dealing with the logical and the empirically testable. (Misak, 1995, p. 78) Outside of a scientifically quantifiable scope, it is not possible for this theory to logically be pertinent, and most all non-scientific discussion is therefore meaningless. (Misak, 1995, p. 66) A sentence of poetry, say, may have no applicable relation to experience, and may simply be describing an action or a thought process, containing no facts or testable claims. This then means such a sentence is, by definition, meaningless. Clearly it is not, it is describing an observable and testable claim, only abstracted from the directness and logic of science. Verificationism proves heavily detrimental for anything outside of scientific thought, as it disregards and lessens the impact and importance of anything that is unable to be verified, constructing an artificial divide and hierarchy of language and meaning. Ayers himself admits that verificationism as a criterion is incomplete,

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