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“”I suppose the most important [defect]…was that nearly all of it was false.
Logical positivism is a school of philosophy that emerged out of the Vienna Circle in the early 20th century. Its proponents emphasize materialism, empiricism, philosophical naturalism and the scientific method as the highest pursuits of rational thought. The most famous principle of logical positivism is that any statement that is not inherently verifiable is meaningless and can be safely ignored.
The philosophy was mostly reverse-engineered to explain the success of the scientific method. Much of ethics, theology and the supernatural is immediately reduced to nonsense under this view. Instead, it stresses skepticism, science, and reasoning grounded in an empirical reality that can be objectively perceived by all parties.
While there are some fundamental issues with logical positivism that have led to it being abandoned as a universal epistemological system, the thrust of its main argument has not been similarly dismissed. Many scientists like to talk about methodological naturalism or concepts such as NOMA as a way of allowing theological considerations to still hold some level of sway in a reality that is being increasingly defined and understood by a process that assumes the non-existence of any deity. At some point it becomes reasonable to ask: if all of our best knowledge comes from a system that assumes that there is no supernatural cause or explanation, why do we need such a cause to begin with? Positivists would hold such claims are inherently lacking in meaning and substance, and that we are better off tossing them out.
Given its pedigree, it is unsurprising that positivism has a very narrow applicability and labels many traditional fields of philosophy that do not meet the verifiability criterion as meaningless. Disciplines like metaphysics and ethics that are unable to produce non-tautological, testable statements are rejected as mere speculation. While this principle may seem appealing for philosophers trying to establish the boundaries of science, it is a very restrictive view. If positivism is interpreted as a general epistemological position instead of a contribution to the narrower philosophy of science, it would necessitate abandoning all knowledge that is not either empirically derived or true by definition (like mathematics or the rules of logic itself). This does breed the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater - the criterion that is used to discriminate between sophistry and meaningful statements is very broad. Additionally, many valid scientific hypotheses concern themselves with processes and entities that are not, or at least not yet, immediately observable (for example, some postulated subatomic particles in the field of quantum mechanics).
Logical positivism is criticized for "proving too much," making it self-refuting. Positivism asserts that any statement that cannot be empirically tested is meaningless. However, logical positivism is a philosophy, and cannot be empirically tested itself. By its own criterion, therefore, logical positivism is meaningless. This problem is by no means restricted to positivism, but more of an issue with sweeping, universal statements in general. No philosophy can explain "everything," or if it tries to, it will fail to be internally consistent. This is comparable to the mathematical concept of Gödel's incompleteness theorems.
Additionally, the criterion of verifiability was attacked as being overly restrictive, and posing a serious problem especially when applied to negative statements. Most notably, Karl Popper's proposition of falsifiability as a central characteristic of scientific statements was a direct reaction to ameliorate this issue.
 Role in modern philosophy
While logical positivism has been almost completely abandoned as a comprehensive epistemological position, it did make some positive contributions, particularly to the philosophy of science. The principle it uses for determining which statements are "meaningful" can be utilized as a solution of the demarcation problem when applied in a narrower sense of obtaining scientific knowledge. Its importance as a major step in the development of the philosophy of science is signified by the label "post-positivist" as a description for a range of modern formulations that typically take a more pragmatic and less universalist approach.
Despite its deficiencies, logical positivism has been highly influential in the development of philosophy of language and analytic philosophy in general. David Chalmers, for instance, sees some of his recent work as an attempt to rehabilitate Rudolf Carnap's Der logische Aufbau der Welt.
 See also
- Wikipedia has a pretty good article on logical positivism — the "basic tenets" and "criticism and influences" sections are very good.
- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article on the Vienna Circle that covers the tenets of logical positivism in detail.
- A.J. Ayer on Logical Positivism: Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, Section 4
- ↑ Ayer interview with Bryan Magee
- ↑ Massimo Pigliucci: Nonsense on Stilts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
- ↑ Duke University:A Philosophical Discourse on Language