Ryan Reece

What happened to logical positivism?

February 15, 2021


Logical positivism (also called “logical empiricism” or just “positivism”) is a philosophical movement that began in the late nineteenth century, was further developed by the Vienna Circle and the Berlin Circle in the early twentieth century, and has come to have immense influence on analytic philosophy ever since.


  1. Hume’s fork, the analytic/synthetic distinction
  2. Verification theory of meaning: the meaning of a proposition is the means to verify it. All statements that cannot be empirically verified in principle are meaningless.
    • Scheinproblem = Pseudo-problem
  3. Carnap’s principle of tolerance
    • Principle of tolerance
  4. Unity of science


The “death” of positivism

Much ado is made about positivism being “dead”, but its influence is still promenent over philosophy and the structure of societies.


Carnap’s influence, in particular, also extended much further: to the widespread application of logical and mathematical methods to philosophical problems more generally, especially in semantics and the philosophy of language. Indeed, as is well known, the ideas of the logical positivists exerted a very substantial influence well beyond the boundaries of professional philosophy, particularly in psychology and the social sciences. It is not too much to say, therefore, that twentieth-century intellectual life would be simply uncrecognizable without the deep and pervasive current of logical positivist thought. 1


  1. @Friedman_1999_Reconsidering_Logical_Positivism\, p. xii.