Newspeak and Ayer’s Verification Principle

In the appendix to the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell explains the principles of the language called Newspeak. The philosopher Stewart Sutherland describes Ayer’s Verification Principle as “conceptually restrictive and intellectually imperialistic in character” (in AJ Ayer Memorial Essays, CUP, 1992, page 78). He compares Ayer’s reduction of language into empirical categories with Orwell’s Newspeak, as Ayer limits the possibility of poetic language and language about the transcendent, which is so crucial to human flourishing.

The goal of Newspeak is to limit what people can talk about to practical things, empirical matters and descriptions. All religion, philosophy, literature, poetry and so on would be impossible within Newspeak. The role of Ayer’s view of langauge would be, argued Sutherland, to diminish thought in a similar way.


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