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Ayer and the Meaning of Life




This article considers Ayer’s two main statements on the meaning of life; the first written in the prime of life, and the second at the end of life. The first, which is the focal point of this article, is heavily influenced by scienticism, and attempts to show that the question of the meaning of life is meaningless, rather as Ayer had earlier tried to show that statements about God, whether positive or negative, are meaningless. I show that Ayer’s argument fails on multiple counts and that, once clarified, lacks all plausibility. Nevertheless, part of his conclusion – that even if there is an all-powerful author of reality, this would be irrelevant to the meaning of life – has been highly influential and remains so; I make a suggestion as to why this might be. I then turn to Ayer’s final statement on the meaning of life, made when scienticism had lost some of its grip on his philosophy, and the strong antipathy he always felt to religion now issued instead in a plausible combination of atheism and nihilism. The intervention of Ayer’s famous near-death experience adds extra interest to these final reflections.


Tartaglia. (2018). Ayer and the Meaning of Life. In The Meaning of Life and the Great Philosophers (237-244).

Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2017
Publication Date May 4, 2018
Pages 237-244
Book Title The Meaning of Life and the Great Philosophers
ISBN 9781138220959
Keywords philosophy, meaning of life, A.J. Ayer
Publisher URL


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