By Kai Nielsen
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Extra resources for Contemporary Critiques of Religion (Philosophy of religion series)
41 However, if Ayer's defnition is to be other than arbitrary, it must be the case that in asserting that an unverifiable statement is factually meaningless he is not using 'factually' or 'meaningless' in a Pickwickian sense. But Mascall thinks he is being Pickwickian. Here Mascall has considerable support and here it is less evident where the confusion lies. He maintains that Ayer never establishes that unverifiable utterances are factually meaningless or unintelligible in any common or garden sense of these terms.
Moreover, such a mystical consciousness carries with it a feeling of blessedness, joy and a sense of the sacred and the holy. Introvertive forms of mystical experience have all the latter features, but instead of a unifying consciousness of the oneness of all things, there is a unifying consciousness from 49 which all the multiplicity of conceptual, sensuous or other empirical content has been excluded, so that there remains only a void or empty unity. And instead of a consciousness of the living presence of all things, there arises an idea of something essentially non-temporal, non-spatial and otherwise uninvolved.
He thinks it is analytically true 'that in order to know whether a statement has meaning you should see whether it is possible to understand it' (10). Ayer maintains that to understand a statement of fact you have to know what would in principle confirm it or infirm it. For religious beliefs to remain viable in a way which would keep them at all close to traditional Jewish and Christian expectations, their central theological claims must be construed as factual statements — as truth-claims about the nature of the universe — and thus, Ayer is maintaining, to understand them, we must know what would be the case if they were true or probably true.