Ayer was born into money in north west London. His mother was from the Dutch family that founded Citroën, the car empire in France. His father, whom he was named after, was a Swiss financier who worked for the wealthy Rothschild banking family.
During the Second World War, Ayer had a stint as an MI6 agent.
In addition to academia, Ayer loved sports. He was a lifelong fan of Tottenham Hotspur football team, one of the London-based football clubs in the British Premier League.
Ayer believed that unless you could prove something, it had no place in philosophy. As such, he deemed the religious belief that “God exists” or even moral statements like “charity is good” not factual, and should be ignored.
He considered most religious statements to be unverifiable nonsense. He stated emphatically that he did not believe in God and was an atheist.
Along this line of reasoning, he posited that certain elements of traditional philosophy – including metaphysics, theology, and aesthetics – were not verifiable, and therefore, were meaningless.
In 1988, Ayer had a near-death experience, which he wrote about in a piece entitled “What I saw when I was dead.” The event shook his originally-held belief that there is no life after death. He had always opposed the life-after-death teachings of many religions.
He was even said to have privately confided in his doctor that he had encountered a Divine Being during his near-death experience. However, he never publicly changed his position as an atheist.
Ayer admired and wrote books about other philosophers including Bertrand Russell, David Hume, and Voltaire.
A. J. Ayer was knighted in 1970.
Some of his famous works include:
1936, Language, Truth, and Logic 1940, The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge 1954, Philosophical Essays 1957, “The conception of probability as a logical relation”, in S. Korner, ed., Observation and Interpretation in the Philosophy of Physics 1956, The Problem of Knowledge 1963, The Concept of a Person and Other Essays 1967, “Has Austin Refuted the Sense-Data Theory?”. 1968, The Origins of Pragmatism 1969, Metaphysics and Common Sense 1971, Russell and Moore: The Analytical Heritage 1972, Probability and Evidence 1973, The Central Questions of Philosophy 1977, Part of My Life 1979, “Replies”, in G. Macdonald, ed., Perception and Identity: Essays Presented to A. J. Ayer, With His Replies 1980, Hume 1982, Philosophy in the Twentieth Century 1984, Freedom and Morality and Other Essays 1986, Ludwig Wittgenstein 1984, More of My Life 1988, Thomas Paine 1989, “That undiscovered country”, New Humanist 1990, The Meaning of Life and Other Essays 1992, The Philosophy of A.J. Ayer