Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Terminology Tuesday: Verification Theory of Meaning

Verification Theory of Meaning: Theory held by logical positivists, summarized in the slogan “the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification.” Logical positivism, popularized in English by A.J. Ayer, held that all propositions that have cognitive meaning (are either true or false) are either analytic (true or false solely because of the meaning of the terms) or else verifiable by sense experience. The heart of the view is the claim that all nonanalytic propositions are empirically verifiable. The positivists believed this would show that religious and metaphysical propositions were meaningless. Unfortunately for the positivists, it was soon noticed that the verification theory of meaning does not pass its own test for meaningfulness: it does not seem to be true by definition, and it is not empirically verifiable. It also was discovered that many propositions of science were not directly verifiable. But when the theory was weakened to allow such propositions meaning, it was easily shown that theological and metaphysical propositions were also meaningful on the weaker criterion.1
1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 120-121.


  1. Davitor January 11, 2011

    If dreams cannot be verified empirically does that mean they are not true? To a dreamer it as real as what a positivist would claim an experience is. Where has that reality gone?

  2. paulcorrado January 11, 2011

    My opinion, and this is just an opinion as i am trying to work this out and understand definitions of words, is that nothing with cognitive meaning besides the fact that this thought is happening at this moment is 100% verifiable because everything else relies on some sort of data along with our brains interpretation of the data as well as a formula for computing that data. As far as dreams go i would think the experience is true but the brain can make a distinction between dreams and real events because it has had lots of experience with dreams and even if the experience really happened the mind understands that all of the data it gets is not 100% reliable. (experience of dream happened but experiences in the dream did not happen) If we watch an illusionist make an object disappear we have enough experiences that we do not believe the object disappeared even if our senses perceived it happening but the experience of watching the object disappear did happen.

    I believe the view that nothing with cognitive meaning can be be absolutely proven as true or false. Many things are so close to true being reliably believed as true such as gravity. Everything comes to us from data we receive and is interpreted using our senses and both of these have been wrong from time to time (if not all of the time). We can use experiences and past interpretations of evidence to still make the data and perceptions of the data useful in our day to day lives and basically call something true or false.

  3. Ex N1hilo March 7, 2014

    Verificationism is the basis for how many people–particularly of the new-atheist and scientistic types–think.

    "All my beliefs are based solely on what can be demonstrated through sufficient evidence, repeated experimentation, and logical reasoning. Further, I accept nothing as true based on anyone's authoritative pronouncements."

    Oh yeah really? Show me the evidence that supports the statements you just made. And you have, of course, subjected these claims to repeated experimentation; right? And no one (including yourself) should believe these statements based on the authority of your word; isn't that so?