Also known as logical empiricism, rational empiricism or neo-positivism, logical positivism is the name given in 1931 by A.E Blumberg and Herbert Feigl to a set of philosophical ideas put forward by the Vienna Circle. This Vienna Circle was a group of early twentieth century philosophers who sought to re-conceptualize empiricism by means of their interpretation of then recent advances in the physical and formal sciences. Hence, the Vienna Circle represented a radical “anti-metaphysical” stance which held the view that an empiricist criterion for meaning and a logicist conception of mathematics could prove the meaningfulness of statements (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy). Logical positivism is the school of thought that attempts to introduce the methodology and precision of mathematics and the natural science into the field of philosophy. The movement, which began in the early twentieth century, was the fountainhead of the modern trend that considers philosophy an analytical, rather than a speculative inquiry (Passmore). As a school of philosophy, logical positivism “combines positivism with a version of apriorism , that is, the view that holds that some propositions can be held true without empirical support” (Wikipedia Encyclopaedia). According to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the movement’s doctrine is ‘centred on the principle of verifiability. This holds the notion that individual sentences gain their meaning by some specification of the actual steps we take for determining their truth or falsity’. In essence, logical positivism seeks to verify the meaning in statements through empirical observations.
Historical Background of Logical Positivism
The position of the original logical positivists was a blend of the positivism of Ernst Mach with the logical concepts of Gottleb Frege and Bertrand Russell. But, their inspiration was derived from the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein and G.E Moore. According to Passmore, in his article “Logical Positivism”, the logical positivists thought of themselves as continuing a nineteenth century Viennese empirical tradition, closely linked with British empiricism and culminating in the anti-metaphysical scientifically oriented teaching of Ernst Mach. He further pointed out that in 1907 the mathematician Hans Hahn, the economist and sociologist Otto Neurath and the physicist Phillip Frank, all of whom were later to be prominent members of the Vienna Circle, came together as an informal group to discuss the philosophy of science. In addition, Passmore posited that they did this in hope that they could ‘give an account of science to the importance of mathematics, logic and theoretical physics without abandoning Mach’s general doctrine that science is, fundamentally, the description of experience’ (par. 2). Subsequently, they adopted views from the “new positivism” of Poincare and coupled it with Mach’s views in an attempt to anticipate the main themes in logical positivism (par. 2).
Logical Positivists view of Traditional Philosophy
The philosophical position of logical positivism in its original form was the outcome of the profoundly incisive influences of Wittgenstein and Moore (Runes 359). Logical positivists were concerned about the soundness of metaphysics and other traditional philosophy. They asserted that many philosophical problems were indeed meaningless. Hence, they decided to abandon the traditional approach to philosophy and attempted to persuade people to utilise their approach instead. One of the chief tenets of logical positivism was that the supposed propositions of metaphysics, ethics and epistemology were not verifiable and so were not strictly ‘meaningful’. Furthermore, Carnap, of the Vienna Circle, corroborated this view in his work “The Unity of Science”, when he stated that ‘we give no answer to philosophical questions and instead reject all philosophical questions, whether Metaphysics, Ethics or Epistemology’ (qtd. in the...
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