What is Logical Positivism? History of Logical Positivism, Logical Positivists

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Justin Lewis

What is Logical Positivism?:

Developed by the “Vienna Circle” during the 1920s and 30s, Logical Positivism was an attempt to systematize empiricism in light of developments in math and philosophy. The term Logical Positivism was first used by Albert Blumberg and Herbert Feigl in 1931. For logical positivists, the entire discipline of philosophy was centered one task: to clarify the meanings of concepts and ideas.

This led them to inquire what “meaning” was and what sorts of statements have any “meaning” in the first place.

Important Books on Logical Positivism:

Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, by Ludwig Wittgenstein
Logical Syntax of Language, by Rudolf Carnap

Important Philosophers of Logical Positivism:

Mortiz Schlick
Otto Neurath
Friedrich Waismann
Edgar Zilsel
Kurt Gödel
Hans Hahn
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Mach
Gilbert Ryle
A.J. Ayer
Alfred Tarski
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Logical Positivism and Meaning:

According to logical positivism, there are only two sorts of statements which have meaning. The first encompasses necessary truths of logic, mathematics and ordinary language. The second encompasses empirical propositions about the world around us and which are not necessary truths — instead, they are “true” with greater or lesser probability. Logical positivists argued that meaning is necessarily and fundamentally connected to experience in the world.

Logical Positivism and the Verifiability Principle:

The most famous doctrine of logical positivism is its verifiability principle. According to the verifiability principle, the validity and meaning of a proposition is dependent upon whether or not it can be verified. A statement which cannot be verified is held to be automatically invalid and meaningless.

More extreme versions of the principle require conclusive verification; others require only that verification be possible.

Logical Positivism on: Metaphysics, Religion, Ethics:

The verifiability principle became for logical positivists a basis for attack on metaphysics, theology, and religion because those systems of thought make many statements which cannot, in principle or in practice, be verified in any way. These propositions might qualify as expressions of one’s emotional state, at best — but nothing else.

Logical Positivism Today:

Logical Positivism had a lot of support for around 20 or 30 years, but its influence began to decline around the middle of the 20th century. At this point in time hardly anyone is likely to identify themselves as a logical positivist, but you can find many people — especially those involved in the sciences — who support at least a few of the basic theses of logical positivism.