“A delightful discourse on an extraordinarily full life: Rogers succeeds in capturing the spirit of a philosophical maverick who many loved to hate.”Kirkus Reviews
978-0-8021-3869-9 • $18.50 • Paperback • Feb. 2002
A.J. Ayer (1910-1989) was a man of startling complexity: an exceptionally rigorous and penetrating philosopher, he was also an ardent sports fan, dancer, and seducer. He traveled in the most glamorous social circles, yet his friends found him oddly remote. A brilliant, strangely vulnerable man, Ayer comes vividly to life in this acclaimed biography.
An analytic philosopher in the tradition of Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, Ayer was a leading exponent of Logical Positivism. Attacking the view that philosophy had anything to teach us about the nature of the universe or how to live, he sought to liberate life from the shackles of traditional metaphysics. This approach challenged many fundamental beliefs of his fellow philosophers, and Ayer’s dogged and eloquent articulation of his views earned him many enemies even as he succeeded in changing the course of British philosophy. Ben Rogers provides a clear and accessible account of Ayer’s philosophical writings and assesses their significance to twentieth-century philosophy.
Rogers also offers fascinating insights into the links between Ayer’s philosophy and his life. He guides us through the young philosopher’s troubled years at Eton, using Ayer’s experience there to create an indelible portrait of England’s upper classes during the twilight years of Victorian privilege. He takes us to Oxford, where Ayer astounded his tutors with his acumen and iconoclastic zeal, and where he befriended Isaiah Berlin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, e.e. cummings, and other great thinkers and writers of the era.
Ayer was only twenty-four when he wrote his most influential book, Language, Truth and Logic. Its success catapulted him into the public eye, where he reveled for decades as an intellectual, political campaigner, and socialite. He was married four times (but to three women) and had countless affairs.
Yet despite his social charms and appetite for life, Ayer, half French-Swiss and half Dutch-Jewish, remained something of an outsider, and many who knew him well considered him melancholy and oddly shallow. Rogers explores his complicated and often contradictory personality with a sympathetic eye. Succeeding as both a personal portrait and a rigorous philosophical assessment, A.J. Ayer is a powerful biography of a provocative thinker and unforgettable man.