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An Interview with A. J. Ayer1

  • Ted Honderich


Ted Honderich: Professor Ayer, you wrote Language, Truth and Logic when you were only twenty-four, in 1935, and achieved fame by way of it. Tell us a bit about the writing.

A. J. Ayer: After I'd taken my Schools at Oxford—I read Greats—my tutor Gilbert Ryle suggested that I go away for a couple of terms. I had already been appointed Lecturer at Christ Church, and I wanted to go to Cambridge to study under Wittgenstein, but Gilbert said no, don't do that. We've got a lot of people going to Cambridge and we've a vague idea of what Wittgenstein is up to, but I believe something very interesting is happening in Vienna, under Moritz Schlick. Why don't you go to Vienna?

I'd just got married for the first time, and I thought Vienna would be a nice place to go to for a honeymoon. At this point I didn't speak much German, but I thought I'd pick up some, which I did, and so I went and worked with the Vienna Circle. I couldn't really take much part in their debates, but I understood what was going on and came back very enthusiastic about what they were doing. They were extremely empiricist, very anti-metaphysical, anti-religious, and this suited my cast of mind very much. I immediately started lecturing at Oxford on—I think it was Russell, Wittgenstein and Quine. Russell was at that time almost a forbidden subject at Oxford, and Wittgenstein and Quine were people who'd not been heard of.



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2 Tomlin, , 1936.

3 Russell, , 1928.

4 Moore, , 1903.

5 Lewis, , 1929.

6 Ogden, and Richards, , 1923.

7 Austin, , 1962.

8 Austin, , 1971.

9 Calderon, , 1876.

10 Quine, , 1953.

11 Lewis, , 1963.

12 Parfit, , 1984.

1 This interview was recorded on 27 April 1989 and was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The transcript of the interview has been edited by Ted Honderich. (Further footnotes are added by the volume editor.)


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