|Author of Language, Truth and Logic|
Philosophy is essentially dead. It does not reveal to us the secrets of the world as it was once thought to. Only until modern science began to scrutinize the world using carefully constructed mathematical theories and experiments did humans really start to understand the world. However, if there is one book which is deemed 'philosophical' which would be intellectually stimulating and useful it would have to be Ayer's Language,Truth and Logic.
The book is written extremely clearly and simply (which is an oddity in philosophy) and the arguments and logic presented within the book are refreshing and to some large extent valid. If you are having trouble writing down arguments or are struggling with essays, give this a read and appreciate, learn from and delve into Ayer's tremendous work.
For me, this book presented a paradigm to which all of my scientific and intellectual thinking would somehow fit into. Ayer presents the simple view that statements about the world are true if they can be demonstrated in the world, either through direct observation or through some experiment. He also argues that statements not about the direct physical world or mathematics (purely logical) are meaningless. These statements cannot be shown to be true or false by observation or by mathematical logic, therefore they are meaningless. I took meaningless to mean a waste of time (which has served me and many others in good stead), however as per usual philosophers took it to mean something more complicated. They took it to mean that say fictional stories do not have linguistic meaning it Ayer's view is true. Of course there is linguistic meaning in fictional stories, otherwise they could not be intelligible. Ayer meant meaning in terms of validity and truth, we all know that there isn't a muggle world and a magic one (Harry Potter) but we can still know what it means in terms of the plot etc...
So, anyway, I took this simple principle and used it in my learning and interactions with people and the world. If anyone told me something about the world, I would automatically ask them how they know this or how could they show what they said to be true. This is merely being skeptical. I would also waste little time in listening to statements about things not of this world (fairies, unicorns, aliens, ghosts, supernatural forces etc.) as no evidence can, in principle, justify the validity of their statements. I was of course, consistent in my thinking, and I rejected the dogmas of religion which do not in most cases, have any possible evidence in their favor... especially the dogma that God exists... if he does exist we should be able to verify it.
In a way this just allows you to cut through bull crap faster than the average Joe. Yet so many people do not use these simple principles, they let emotion or other factors get in the way of their consistency. There are still many devout religious people who have yet to demonstrate the evidence to their claims. There are many people who believe in ghosts etc. many people who do not demand the evidence or give any.
Ayer also travels through all the famous problems that have, before the command of empiricism, bewildered philosophy and its students.
So I think this book acts as a catalyst to a very useful general principle: Use language carefully and make sure you know the difference between statements about the world, logic and bullshit. Nonetheless, this book is an example of how to write clearly and academically. An exemplar to all those literate.
Here is the link to the free PDF version :