logical positivism

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logical positivism,

also known as logical or scientific empiricism, modern school of philosophy that attempted to introduce the methodology and precision of mathematics and the natural sciences into the field of philosophy. The movement, which began in the early 20th cent., was the fountainhead of the modern trend that considers philosophy an analytical, rather than a speculative, inquiry. It began in the group called the Vienna Circle, which formed around Moritz Schlick when he occupied (1920s) a chair of philosophy at the Univ. of Vienna. Among its members were the philosophers Friedrich Waismann, Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, Herbert Feigl, and Victor Kraft, and the mathematicians Hans Hahn, Carl Menger, and Kurt Gödel. The movement soon had a widespread following in Europe and the United States. Among those philosophers whose work was influenced by the Vienna Circle are A. J. AyerAyer, Sir Alfred Jules
, 1910–89, British philosopher, b. London, grad. Oxford, 1932. From 1933 to 1944 he was lecturer and research fellow at Oxford's Christ Church College and then was fellow (1944–45) and dean (1945–46) of Wadham College.
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 and Gilbert RyleRyle, Gilbert,
1900–1976, British philosopher. A graduate of Oxford, he became a tutor at Christ Church, Oxford, and later was Waynflete professor of metaphysical philosophy (1945–68) there. From 1947 to 1971 he was editor of the philosophical journal Mind.
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. The position of the original logical positivists was a blend of the positivism of Ernst MachMach, Ernst
, 1838–1916, Austrian physicist and philosopher, b. Moravia. He taught (1864–67) mathematics at Graz and later, until his retirement in 1901, was professor of physics at Prague and Vienna.
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 with the logical concepts of Gottlob FregeFrege, Gottlob
, 1848–1925, German philosopher and mathematician. He was professor of mathematics (1879–1918) at the Univ. of Jena. Frege was one of the founders of modern symbolic logic, and his work profoundly influenced Bertrand Russell.
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 and Bertrand RussellRussell, Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3d Earl,
1872–1970, British philosopher, mathematician, and social reformer, b. Trelleck, Wales.
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, but their inspiration was derived from the writings of Ludwig WittgensteinWittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann
, 1889–1951, Austrian philosopher, b. Vienna. Life

Originally trained as an engineer, Wittgenstein turned to philosophy, went to Cambridge, where he studied (1912–13) with Bertrand Russell, and further developed his
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, who lived for a time near Vienna, and G. E. MooreMoore, George Edward,
1873–1958, English philosopher, b. Upper Norwood. He was educated at Cambridge, where he was a fellow (1898–1904) and then a lecturer (1911–25) in the department of moral sciences.
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. The Vienna Circle in general subscribed to Wittgenstein's dictum in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that the object of philosophy was the logical clarification of thought; philosophy was not a theory but an activity. The logical positivists made a concerted effort to clarify the language of science by showing that the content of scientific theories could be reduced to truths of logic and mathematics coupled with propositions referring to sense experience. They held that metaphysical speculation was nonsensical, propositions of logic and mathematics tautological, and moral or value statements merely emotive. They championed the highly influential verification principle, from which it follows that a proposition has meaning only if some sense experience would suffice to determine its truth. The Vienna Circle disintegrated after the Nazis took control of Austria in the late 1930s. The influence of the movement, as a movement, ended c.1940. However, the concepts of the movement, particularly in its emphasis on the function of philosophy as the analysis of language, has been carried on throughout the West.


See A. J. Ayer, ed., Logical Positivism (1959, repr. 1966); E. Gellner, Words and Things (rev. ed. 1968, repr. 1979); D. Edmonds, The Murder of Professor Schlick: The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle (2020).

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logical positivism

the philosophical doctrine of a group of philosophers -including R. Carnap (1891-1970) and O. Neurath (1882-1945) – known collectively as the Vienna Circle. See POSITIVISM.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Logical Positivism


a current of neopositivism that emerged in the 1920’s from the Vienna circle.

The logical positivists attempted to combine empiricism, based on the verifiability principle, with a method of logical analysis of scientific knowledge for the purpose of reducing the latter to an “immediate given,” that is, to an empirically verifiable content of scientific concepts and assertions. In the second half of the 1930’s, after its principal representatives (R. Carnap, H. Feigl, C. Hempel, and P. Frank) moved to the United States, logical positivism became known as logical empiricism.

By the late 1930’s, the logical positivists had rejected a number of the original epistemological dogmas that had been formulated by the Vienna circle and that had proved unsound in attempts to carry through a logical analysis of science. In particular, the logical positivists rejected the principle of the reduction of scientific knowledge to an empirically known datum.

In the 1950’s, logical positivism lost its position as the leading trend in the philosophy of science. In the 1960’s, logical positivism for all intents and purposes ceased to exist as an independent philosophical movement. However, despite criticism of the original viewpoints of the logical positivists, their ideas continue to be influential among many representatives of science.


Filosofiia marksizma i neopositivizm: Sb. st. Moscow, 1963.
Shvyrev, V. S. Neopositivizm i problemy empiricheskogo obosnovaniia nauki. Moscow, 1966.
Hill, T. E. Sovremennye teorii poznaniia. Moscow, 1965. Chapters 13–14. (Translated from English.)
Carnap, R. Filosofskie osnovaniia fiziki. Moscow, 1971. (Translated from English.)
Joergensen, J. The Development of Logical Empiricism. Chicago, 1951.
Logical Positivism. Edited by A. J. Ayer. Glencoe, 1960.
The Legacy of Logical Positivism. Baltimore, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Fictions of Fact and Value: The Erasure of Logical Positivism in American Literature, 1945-1975.
Ayer is the editor of a book Logical Positivism. The book is a collection of the views of leading Positivists and provides an insight into Logical Positivism which could not have been drawn from any one source9.
Much of the scholarly analysis here is undertaken specifically in relation to Ludwig Wittgenstein's equal parts cryptic and pellucid Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), which the Vienna Circle thinkers who devised logical positivism treated as a major inspiration.
Logical positivism began to lose its appeal among philosophers of science for a variety of reasons in the 1960s.
Early logical positivism did in fact favor definitions that were exhaustively stated in terms of publicly observable data.
As an introduction to the multiple discourses of validation, the following discussion examines the evolution of scientific thought from logical positivism to post positivism, scientific realism, post-modernism and hermeneutics positions as defined by Bernstein and Gadamer.
In his chapter, "The Misunderstanding of Pragmatism as a Utilitarian Theory of Truth," Joas held that the Frankfurt School's persistence in linking pragmatism and logical positivism was a "misrepresentation." See Phillip Deen, "Dialectical vs.
(ed.), Logical Positivism. New York: Free Press, 60-81.
This grand sweep, taking out virtually all of modern philosophy since the seventeenth century, required Barfield to lump together a swathe of disparate thinkers and movements as evidence of encroaching "positivism": Descartes (damned predictably enough for dividing ego from world), then Hume, Kant, Comte, followed by twentieth-century logical positivism and even (rather quaintly) "Information Technology." Coleridge and Steiner, of course, were triumphant exceptions, prophetic voices capable of resisting this filthy modern tide.
This argument suggests that we need a less narrow interpretative paradigm to understand the intersection of logical positivism, functionalist design and Taylorist rationalisation in Isotype.
Translated by Arthur Pap as "The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language," in Logical Positivism, Ayer, A.J.