29 JULY 1989, Page 26

Discourse on method

Sir: Paul Johnson (8 July) points out that Freddie Ayer was good company — he was — but is otherwise dismissive: 'superficial brilliance'. Ayer's lucidity and occasional flippancy misled Johnson. Ayer as a philo- sopher was by no means superficial.

Whereas Johnson is dismissive, Roger Scruton in his splenetic attack on Ayer in the Sunday Telegraph is guilty of a surpris- ing error. He writes that, since Ayer's verification principle 'cannot itself be ven- fied [it] condemns itself as meaningless'. However the principle, even in its crudest form, is not a factual assertion, subject to the verification principle, but a methodolo- gical prescription. Ayer never thought that prescriptions, however justified, are verifi- able.

Ernest van den Haag

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