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Verification Theory of Meaning: Is It Viable? Term Paper

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The varying views about verification fall into two broad categories; one which is the verification theory of meaning as it claims to specify the nature of meaning and the other one seeks to provide standard of meaningfulness for sentences; the verification principle the former category can be summarized by a slogan of Schlik : “The meaning of a proposition is its meaning of verification”.

In both of the definitions, a meaning of a sentence can be asserted through some sort of observation. In other words, a proposition is considered to be verifiable only in those instances when there are empirical means available to test if the statement is in fact an actual one.

Main body

If one was t look at it, all the empiricists that can be traced to back to Locke could in fact be anknoweledged verificationists. The basic law of empiricism is that experience is in fact the only source of knowledge and verificationism might be seen as simply a consequence of this tenet. It has been held by these empiricists that ideas concieved by himas are either simple or compilations and mixtures of these basic sense-perceptions.If one was to read this this empiricist account, ther doesn’t seem to a thod through which any such idea should get into our heads which is not in some way or othr connected to the perceptions that we cme up with, and by beng so are open to verification.

The empiricists as such have not put forth a criterion of meaningfulness, but one could be seen as equivalent to the empiricists’ claim that that ideas that not in some way connected to experiecne are merely empty thoughts.Howevr, what has to be noted is the fact that verificationism doe not need be have a psotive position concering meaning. The fact remains that unverifiable sentences are considered to be defective in some way –meanging that the false sentences and meaningless sentences are defective in restrospect.

The verification theory of meaning is a philosophical concept which was proposed by the logical positivists of the Vienna circle. The reason behind the logical positivists selecting meaning as a key concept for the theory of meaning as they wished to have a methodology of differentiating the significant propositions from those which were not considered to be so significant. Hence, the empiricists can therefore, be thought of as asserting such unverifiable sentences that are not defective due to their meanignless nature, but due to the fact that contain such terms that hold true for such ideas/concepts that we as humans cannot possibly possess.

According to the simplified version of the theory, a proposition’s meaning is determined through a method in which it is empirically tested. If there is something that cannot be empirically is proven, then that becomes meaningless. This paper will go on to prove why this theory is in fact not a meaningful theory and a viable one at that.

An example of such an empirical test can be that of a mere statement like “it is sunny outside”; it would be a meaningless statement unless there want; some sort of evidence to prove this claim. This theory has had radical effects on the traditional philosophical laws as it would in fact make the past philosophical laws meaningless.

According to this theory, a sentence’s meaning is its method of verification –that is a method in which to assess whether the sentence does hold some weight or is falsified; through experience testing. This theory has been challenged on the grounds that some of the best formulations exclude sentences which have more meaning and include less meaningful sentences. In addition another criticism that is often brought up whenever the issue of this theory is put to question is the fact that the theory for meaningless rather than a theory of meaning proper.

A hot topic amongst the verificationists has been the fact that whether empirical verification is itself a possibility in actual practice or is it a thing of principle on. An example of this can of that when the world came into existence a short time ago-such a claim would be considered to a meaningless one by a verificationist as it cannot be an analytic claim or a verifiable one. A Strong verification is one that refers to statements can be directly verified, that is, a statement can be shown to be correct by way of empirical observation. For example, ‘There are human beings on Earth.’On the other hand, a weak verification is a staement which cannot be directly verified, for example ‘Yesterday was a Monday’. The statement could be said to be weakly verified if empirical observation can render it highly probable.

One of the famous statements of the positivists:

“When we run over libraries, persuaded by these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it to the flames then for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. “( Schlik 1996).

The basic perception of the logical positivists was that a sentence could only be a meaningful sentence and it could be tested to b true or false under two conditions; it is analytic or self-contradictory and it is capable at least in principle of experiential test.

The issue of testability therefore was used as a determinant of the fact that whether a statement did in fact hold empirical significance or not.

On the grounds that have been established above, the logical positivists have divided significant propositions as coming under two classes; the formal propositions such as the ones concerning logic and mathematics and the factual propositions which had to be verified through empirical means.

According, to such critics this theory fails to recognize the interconnectedness of language might allow a sentence that itself cannot be verified to be meaningful. What has to be understood before such criticism should be allowed to overshadow the verification theory is the fact that there is no assertion being made that the person could ever in fact actually observe the condition and its existence. In order for a complete verification to occur in principle, a sentence is said to have empirical meaning in only those circumstances in which it is not merely analytical and follows a logical pattern of some finite sentence.

Therefore, this results in this theory ruling out all such sentences which have a universal form and hence, all such statements which express general laws are also ruled out.

Another major concern with this theory was the verification requirement which included giving a sentence “S” which did in fact meet the criteria and give an “N” to all those sentences which in didn’t meet the criterion. The disjunction” SvN” was supposed to hold some level of empirical meaning.

The issue with the above was the fact that verification was designed to counter such sentences and hence, it was too inclusive and ended up making contradictions.

If one was to look at the anther example; the observation “P” which states that at least one observation should be completely verifiable. Therefore, if some sentence did not have this property it could be ascertained to be non-verifiable. Hence, the sentence would lose all significant meaning. This leaves a predicament as one must either give up the fundamental logic principle that if a sentence is thought to be true or false, its denial must also be true and false. Or in the other case, “(x) (Px)” is logically equivalent to the negation of “(Ex) (Px)”.. Therefore, it has been proven that the verification test has to be abandoned in terms of its validity being not sound.

The above argument also stands true for the theory of falsibility and since, this theory has the same issues as the theory of verification it too s to be disregarded. It has been proposed instead, that a sentence will have empirical significance if is thought to be in concurrence with some suitable supplementary hypotheses.

An alternative that was offered instead of the theory of verification have to require an additional language; such a language in which the problems associated with the standard language would not have a possibility of occurring.

In this case, a sentence would only consider having cognitive meaning if it was adaptable in some language like this. The advantage of having this additional language would be that it would certain problems like; the vocabulary containing the customary locutions of logic and the rules of sentence formation would be those which would be laid down in a modern logical system, would not occur.

The above noted disjunction”SvN” would in such a scenario would not occur as N would not be a sentence in this language format. Any negation of a sentence would be done through a sentence. However such an alternative does have some issues of its own as well. There is a requirement for every sentence to have some level of cognitive meaning attached to it.

Hence, all those terms which would be considered to be empirical would have to be defined in such a way that it would be predicted by the allowed observation only. Hence, all those scientific terms which are not definable would have to be rejected by the scientific hypotheses under the rules of this second language.


Therefore, as established from the above arguments and the criticism it has been understood that this theory is not one that be considered to be a valid one. Though an alternative that was presented has been proven to have some flaws as well, this theory as well cannot stand due to the fact that its laws allow for an eradication of such scientific and gnarl laws which are held to be true.

Works Cited

A.J. Ayer “A British logical positivist” 1996.

Moritz Schlick “The German founding faather of logical positivism”. 1996.

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