The Verification Principle

The Verification Principle


  • Clear parameters to verifying a statement; either it can be verified empirically via experience or it is a tautology (true by definition)
  • Supported by the arguments of Locke and Hume; truth and knowledge were to be known via our senses
  • It is not just an argument against God and his existence; both the agnostic and atheist are making meaningless statements
  • Weak verification is Ayer's contribution: it states that in order to be meaningful, a statement may not be verifiable but instead can be shown to be true within reasonable doubt
  • Weak verification means we can make statements about history, scientific theories and human emotion but not religion and ethics


  • The strong form of verification principle is too rigid, to the point that we cannot make statements about anything without empirical observation, such as historical statements
  • Scientific laws become meaningless as we cannot verify it, e.g. I cannot verify gravity is constant as I cannot be in every place at once
  • Swinburne argued universal statements cannot be verified so seem meaningless, yet we would all agree 'all humans are mortal'
  • Comparative statements are also meaningless because they are subjective, e.g. if I see a child's drawing as more beautiful than the Mona Lisa and someone disagrees, we are both meaningless as neither can be verified
  • Hick claims the verification principle may not make religious statements meaningless due to eschatological verification: at the end of a journey (look at Hick's analogy of two travellers) the answer would be verified in favour of believers OR verificationists
  • Some religious statements might be verifiable in principle, such as Biblical events
  • The verification principle itself is unverifiable: it isn't a tautology nor can it be proved via experience


The verification principle ends arguments about what can be meaningful and if followed, would mean the only conversations could be about mathematics, science and other topics only known to be true beyond reasonable doubt; however, without knowing what exactly is reasonable doubt means that discussion would be limited. While we may agree religion and ethics is meaningless, that doesn't mean it is valueless; religion has value to believers and has shown to have some benefit to society, showing that just because something is meaningless doesn't mean it should be disregarded. This theory is too rigid, including weak verification and so is not suitable for determining what should be considered meaningful in all senses of the word.


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