Logical Positivism and the Problem of Metaphysical Knowledge in 20th Century PhilosophyJune 28, 2021
At the beginning of the 20th century, under the leadership of Moritz Schlick, some scientists, including Carnap and Whitehead, came together and formed the logical positivism movement.
Also known as the “Vienna Circle”, logical positivists are basically united in the idea that scientific knowledge should be established by simple logical propositions based on observable phenomena. They argue that statements that do not point to factual states are meaningless, and they state that linguistic-logical propositions that are outside the field of experiment and observation, that is, impossible to verify, are meaningless. Therefore, the area on which logician positivists focus is on language and logic. The problem addressed is the problem of the meaning of propositions. What is wanted to be done is to separate the metaphysical propositions that cannot be verified by the field of experiment and observation from other propositions.
For logical positivists, metaphysical propositions are meaningless. For them, for a proposition to be verifiable means to prove that proposition is false or true. A verifiable proposition is one that is factually suitable for experimentation. This is not possible in metaphysical propositions, for him it is meaningless. Rudolf Carnap, one of the logical positivists, argued that metaphysical propositions are pseudo-propositions. For example, “The soul is immortal, and when the body it is in decays, it passes into another body.” Considering the proposition, this proposition is metaphysical since the idea of the existence of the soul and its transition between bodies does not allow to prove it by experiment and observation.
The propositions of logic and mathematics are not metaphysical. Although they are not based on facts, they can be revealed to be true or false within the framework of logical principles and rules.
The view of science adopted by logical positivism is based on the inductive method suggested by positivism. In this view, which is also known as the classical view of science today, all sciences are related to each other. Science advances cumulatively with experiments and observations on phenomena. The product (scientific law) resulting from the work of the scientist is a general proposition that is logically and linguistically verifiable based on fact. This view is product oriented. Philosophy, on the other hand, is given the task of revealing the meanings of the information that emerges in the fields of scientific knowledge. Philosophy, according to them, should deal with analyzing these relations linguistically and logically and should avoid empty discussions involving metaphysical propositions.
One of the thinkers who criticize the scientific view of logical positivism and its underlying positivism is Thomas Kuhn. By drawing attention to the historical background of scientific activity, he dealt with the formation phases of scientific theory and deeply shook the classical view of science.
Considering science as the activity of scientists, Kuhn; argues that it is not free from social and personal value judgments. According to him, scientific understanding should include all processes of science. It is a mistake to think of science as independent of the values that make it up.
The key concept in Kuhn’s criticism is “paradigm”. It uses the paradigm to signal shared values that scientists share. Paradigms can change in line with emerging new understandings and developments. For example, Aristotle’s views in the field of physics are the paradigm of a time and this paradigm was valid until Newton. Therefore, according to him, positivism and logician positivists are in error. Science advances by leaps and bounds with the change of paradigms.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook