Verificationism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Verificationism is the view that a statement or question only has meaning if there is some way to determine if the statement is true, or what the answer to the question is.

For example, a claim that the world came into existence a short time ago exactly as it is today (with misleading apparent traces of a longer past) would be judged meaningless by a verificationist because there is no way to tell if it is true or not. Just as the claim that the world came into existence a very long time ago is judged meaningless by a verificationist for the same reason there is no way of telling if it is true or not.

The verification principle was proposed by A.J. Ayer in Language, Truth and Logic (1936). It is a principle and criterion for meaningfulness that requires a non-analytic, meaningful sentence to be empirically verifiable. However, the core of the idea is much older, dating back at least to Hume and the empiricists, who believed that observation was the only way we can acquire knowledge. Today the term "verificationism" is sometimes used to refer to similar philosophical ideas such as the falsification principle.

It was hotly disputed amongst verificationists whether the empirical verification itself must be possible in practice or merely in principle. A statement about the core of the sun might one day be possible to confirm through observations using a technology that hasn't been invented yet, but until then it may be unverifiable in all practical senses. Ayer also distinguished between strong and weak verification.

Strong verification refers to statements which are directly verifiable, that is, a statement can be shown to be correct by way of empirical observation. For example, 'There are human beings on Earth.'

Weak verification refers to statements which are not directly verifiable, for example 'Yesterday was a Monday'. The statement could be said to be weakly verified if empirical observation can render it highly probable.

Historically, the verificationist criterion for meaning had the effect of rendering meaningless many philosophical debates, due to their positing of unverifiable statements or concepts. Notoriously, verificationism has been used to rule out as meaningless religious, metaphysical, aesthetic, and ethical sentences. However, not all verificationists have found all sentences of these types to be unverifiable. The classical pragmatists, for example, saw verificationism as a guide for doing good work in religion, metaphysics, and ethics.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Verificationism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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