Turning to the historical influences on the Vienna Circle itself, thescholarship of recent decades has unearthed a much greater varietythan was previously recognized. Scientifically, the strongestinfluences belonged to the physicists Helmholtz, Mach and Boltzmann,the mathematicians Hilbert and Klein and the logicians Frege andRussell; amongst contemporaries, Einstein was revered above allothers. The Circle’s philosophical influences extend far beyondthat of the British empiricists (especially Hume), to include theFrench conventionalists Henri Poincaré, Pierre Duhem and AbelRey, American pragmatists like James and, in German-languagephilosophy, the Neo-Kantianism of both the Heidelberg and the Marburgvariety, even the early phenomenology of Husserl as well as theAustrian tradition of Bolzano’s logic and the Brentano school.(See Frank 1949a for the influence of the French conventionalists andthe affirmation of pragmatist sympathies; for the importance ofNeo-Kantianism for Carnap, see Friedman 1987, 1992, Sauer 1989,Richardson 1998, Mormann 2007; for Neo-Kantianism in Schlick, seeCoffa 1991, Ch. 9 and Gower 2000; for the significance of Husserl forCarnap, see Sarkar 2004 and Ryckman 2007; the Bolzano-Brentanoconnection is explored in Haller 1986.) It is against this very widebackground of influences that the seminal force must be assessed thattheir contemporary Wittgenstein exerted. The literature on therelation between Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle is vast but veryoften suffers from an over-simplified conception of the latter. (SeeStern 2007 for an attempt by a Wittgenstein scholar to redress thebalance.) Needless to say, different wings of the Circle show theseinfluences to different degrees. German Neo-Kantianism was importantfor Schlick and particularly so for Carnap, whereas the Austriannaturalist-pragmatist influences were particularly strong on Hahn,Frank and Neurath. Frege was of great importance for Carnap, less sofor Hahn who looked to Russell. Most importantly, by no means allmembers of the Vienna Circle sought to emulate Wittgenstein—thusthe division between the faction around Schlick and the left wing.
This suggests that a hard core of Viennese anti-metaphysics survivesthe criticism and subsequent qualifications of early claims made fortheir criteria of empirical significance, yet retains sufficientphilosophical teeth to remain of contemporary interest. Themetaphysics which the left wing attacked, besides the everydaysupernaturalism and the supra-scientific essentialism of old, was thecorrespondence conception of truth and associated realist conceptionsof knowledge. These notions were deemed attackable directly onepistemological grounds, without any diversion through the theory ofmeaning: how could such correspondences or likenesses ever beestablished? As Neurath liked to put it (1930), we cannot step outsideof our thinking to see whether a correspondence obtains between whatwe think and how the world is. (Against defenses of the correspondencetheory by arguments from analogy it would likewise be argued that theanalogy is overextended.) Against the counter that this is merely anepistemic argument that does not touch the ontological issue Neurathis likely to have argued that doing without an epistemic account is arecipe for uncontrollable metaphysics.
It may be wondered whether such considerations have not becomepointless, given the troubles that attempts to provide a criterion ofsignificance ran into. However, as we saw, Carnap’s 1956criterion for constructed languages remains in play. Moreover, therealso remains the informal, pragmatic approach that can be applied evenmore widely. Thus it is not without importance to see that pragmaticprinciples delineating empirical significance (like Mach’s orQuine’s Peircean insight) are not ruled out from the starteither. The reason for this is different however. For pragmatists, theanti-metaphysical demarcation criterion is not strictly speaking ameaning criterion. The pragmatic criterion of significance isexpressly epistemic, not semantic: it speaks of relevance with regardto an established cognitive practice, not in-principletruth-evaluability. This criterion is most easily expressed as aconditional norm, alongside other methodological maxims. (If you wantyour reasoning to be responsible to evidence, then avoid statementsthat experience can neither confirm or disconfirm, howeverindirectly.) So the suggestion that the criterion of empiricalsignificance can be regarded as a proposal for how to treat thelanguage of science cannot be brushed aside but for the persistentneglect of the philosophical projects of Carnap or the non-formalistleft Vienna Circle.
Despite its prominent position in the rich, if fragile, intellectualculture of inter-war Vienna and most likely due to its radicaldoctrines, the Vienna Circle found itself virtually isolated in mostof German speaking philosophy. The one exception was its contact andcooperation with the Berlin Society for Empirical (later: Scientific)Philosophy (the other point of origin of logical empiricism). Themembers of the Berlin Society sported a broadly similar outlook andincluded, besides the philosopher Hans Reichenbach, the logicians KurtGrelling and Walter Dubislav, the psychologist Kurt Lewin, the surgeonFriedrich Kraus and the mathematician Richard von Mises. (Its leadingmembers Reichenbach, Grelling and Dubislav were listed in theCircle’s manifesto as sympathisers.) At the same time, membersof the Vienna Circle also engaged directly, if selectively, with theWarsaw logicians (Tarski visited Vienna in 1930, Carnap later thatyear visited Warsaw and Tarski returned to Vienna in 1935). Probablypartly because of its firebrand reputation, the Circle attracted alsoa series of visiting younger researchers and students including CarlGustav Hempel from Berlin, Hasso Härlen from Stuttgart, LudovicoGeymonat from Italy, Jørgen Jørgensen, Eino Kaila, ArneNaess and Ake Petzall from Scandinavia, A.J. Ayer from the UK, AlbertBlumberg, Charles Morris, Ernest Nagel and W.V.O. Quine from the USA,H.A. Lindemann from Argentina and Tscha Hung from China. (The reportsand recollections of these former visitors—e.g. Nagel1936—are of interest in complementing the Circle’sin-house histories and recollections which start with the unofficialmanifesto—Carnap, Hahn and Neurath 1929—and extend throughNeurath 1936, Frank 1941, 1949a and Feigl 1943 to the memoirs byCarnap 1963, Feigl 1969a, 1969b, Bergmann 1987, Menger 1994.)
Logical positivism critique essay
Originally published in 1934. A classic philosophy of science work that questions the tenets of Logical Positivism, while offering a critical examination of the assumptions of scientific inquiry.
Logical positivism critique essay - PoinText
In the first place, this liberalization meant the accommodation ofuniversally quantified statements and the return, as it were, tosalient aspects of Carnap’s 1928 conception. Everybody had notedthat the Wittgensteinian verificationist criterion rendereduniversally quantified statements meaningless. Schlick (1931) thusfollowed Wittgenstein’s own suggestion to treat them instead asrepresenting rules for the formation of verifiable singularstatements. (His abandonment of conclusive verifiability is indicatedonly in Schlick 1936a.) By contrast, Hahn (1933, drawn from lecturesin 1932) pointed out that hypotheses should be counted as properlymeaningful as well and that the criterion be weakened to allow forless than conclusive verifiability. But other elements played intothis liberalization as well. One that began to do so soon was therecognition of the problem of the irreducibility of disposition termsto observation terms (more on this presently). A third element wasthat disagreement arose as to whether the in-principle verifiabilityor support turned on what was merely logically possible or on what wasnomologically possible, as a matter of physical law etc. A fourthelement, finally, was that differences emerged as to whether thecriterion of significance was to apply to all languages or whether itwas to apply primarily to constructed, formal languages. Schlickretained the focus on logical possibility and natural languagesthroughout, but Carnap had firmly settled his focus on nomologicalpossibility and constructed languages by the mid-thirties. Concernedwith natural language, Schlick (1932, 1936a) deemed all statementsmeaningful for which it was logically possible to conceive of aprocedure of verification; concerned with constructed languages only,Carnap (1936–37) deemed meaningful only statements for whom itwas nomologically possible to conceive of a procedure of confirmationof disconfirmation.
Logical Positivism and the Meaninglessness of …
It must be noted, then, that the topics chosen for this article do notexhaust the issues concerning which the members of the Vienna Circlemade significant contributions (which continue to stimulate work inthe history of philosophy of science). Important topics like that ofthe theory and practice of unified science, of the nature of theempirical basis of science (the so-called protocol-sentence debate)and of the general structure of the theories of individual sciencescan only be touched upon selectively. Likewise, while the generaltopic of ethical non-cognitivism receives only passing mentions, theCircle’s varied approaches to value theory cannot be discussedhere (for an overview see Rutte 1986). Other matters, like thecontributions made by Vienna Circle members to the development ofprobability theory and inductive logic, the philosophy of logic andmathematics (apart from the guiding ideas of Carnap) and to thephilosophy of individual empirical sciences (physics, biology,psychology, social science), cannot be discussed at all (see Creathand Friedman 2007 and Richardson and Uebel 2007 for relevant essays).But it may be noted that with his “logic of science”Carnap counts among the pioneers of what nowadays is called“formal epistemology”.