Talk:Logical positivism

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I like this file, and am trying to de-redlink it by writing some crap stubs articles, but perhaps a few of these should simply be removed? Just axing, is all. humanbe in 21:36, 10 August 2007 (CDT)

The point of the "positivism lite" paragraph is that to say "Ideas that have no nexxus with reality are pointless" is a point of view shared by the vast majority of religions. I then provide an example -- the claim of James that Christianity is historically based and has practical implications for one's ethical conduct. Since "positivism lite" is agreed on by nearly everybody, it's not a particularly profound idea.Ungtss 10:54, 14 February 2008 (EST)

A reasoned rebuttal of positivism lite would be a useful addition to the article, not a talk-page type rant. The contention that nothing else can "yield practical, real-world applications" is absurd. PoorEd 11:02, 14 February 2008 (EST)

Indeed. For that matter, I'd be interested to see which "practical, real-world applications" it is logical positivism does yield. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 11:13, 14 February 2008 (EST)
I think it could be argued that the scientific method is an example of positivism, and that has led to the computer on which you are typing your comments. PoorEd 12:44, 14 February 2008 (EST)
By the same token, the philosophical or religious belief system that inspired a Ghandi and the movement he started has produced practical results such as the independence of India from Britain. PoorEd 12:46, 14 February 2008 (EST)
I agree with you about Gandhi, but I wonder if the scientific method is actually an example of logical positivism. To show that computers are a result of logical positivism, we'd have to show that ONLY atheists can work as electronic engineers. I don't think the facts bear that out. Logical positivism excludes the non-testable as meaningless. Science tests the testable. Those are not mutually dependent. That is to say, it is possible to believe in the untestable (by being religious) and still test the testable (by being a scientist). For example, the father of physics, Newton, or the father of genetics, Mendel. Both believed in God. Both did damn good science. Logical positivism wants ONLY science, nothing else. Pretty stark outlook. Ungtss 13:01, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Hey, Mr. A-grunt-sound-is-my-username, how the hell does believing in God have to do with utilizing logical positivism? If logical positivism is used to produce good science, and then the scientist leaves the room and practices religion, it was still logical positivism that led to his/her good science. --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 13:46, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Um. Actually the scientific method, at least in the Popperian version, is in rather direct opposition to logical positivism. I might perhaps suggest taking a closer look at what exactly logical positivism is before continuing this discussion? --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 13:35, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Popper had one view. Kuhn had another. Leaving that aside for a moment, I'd suggest that one can use the logical positivist approach as a useful tool even if you aren't an atheist (just as an atheist could pick up some useful ideas from a religion or two). PoorEd 13:42, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Kuhn's view does not seem to me significantly less critical of logical positivism than Popper's, so I can't really see where you're going with that. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 13:50, 14 February 2008 (EST)

I'm not suggesing that logical positivism is a better philosophical explanation of how science works. But logical positivism was developed largely in an attempt to explain how science should or does work. You, along with Popper and Kuhn, feel that it fails in that attempt. My opinion is that Kuhn does a better job of explaining the big picture of how science works on a historical scale within the scientific community, but that logical positivism does explain a great deal about why scientists are concerned with falsifiability, empirical proof, etc. PoorEd 14:07, 14 February 2008 (EST)

Hey, Mr. A-grunt-sound-is-my-username, how the hell does believing in God have to do with utilizing logical positivism? If logical positivism is used to produce good science, and then the scientist leaves the room and practices religion, it was still logical positivism that led to his/her good science.
First, my user name is the sound of a techno backbeat. Second, believing in God and logical positivism are mutually exclusive. i.e. you can't be both. But SCIENCE and believing in God are not mutually exclusive. You CAN do both. Therefore science doesn't require logical positivism, much less use it. On the contrary, many philosophers of science recognize that logical positivism is untenable, and many of the world's greatest scientists have been theists. Ungtss 15:48, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Eh, sorry 'bout the name thing. I'm afraid I pulled a Schlafly-esque "if that is your real name" line there.  :-( --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 16:45, 14 February 2008 (EST)
PoorEd, I'm still not quite sure where you're going with your argument, but I think we agree on the essentials, so nevermind that. :-) To continue Ungtss' point, it's actually quite interesting the way logical positivism has apparently managed to sort of piggyback on science in general the way we see here, despite being completely at odds with Popper's critical rationalism, and thus actually quite unscientific as I think most of us would understand it today. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 15:54, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Word. Rockets ---> Logical Positivism ---> Atheism. QED. Ungtss 16:13, 14 February 2008 (EST)

In which I admit I have no idea what I'm talking about[edit]

I don't. So, for us pseudo-intellectual laymen types, would you kindly explain what the difference between the scientific method and logical positivism is and what the difference between Popper's and Kuhn's philosophies were? And why the scientific method rejects logical positivism? --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 16:45, 14 February 2008 (EST)

Ideally, after more hashing out here on the talk page, the article will at least answer your questions re:LP. It should present a clear and accurate overview of the philosophy/concept, and a clear and accurate overview of the criticisms of it. humanUser talk:Human 16:47, 14 February 2008 (EST)
  • LP is the philosophical belief that any statement or idea that cannot be empirically tested is meaningless. Thus to say "God is Good" is a meaningless statement, because that statement cannot be empirically tested through science.
  • Science is a particular set of procedures used to explore the nature and function of the world through observation and experimentation. Hypothesis, experiment, observation, analysis, conclusion.
LP types often equate the two, saying things like, "Science deals only with the natural world; therefore if you believe in things outside the natural world, you don't believe in science." However, this is a mistake. Certain propositions are testable. Others aren't. Just because you believe in one idea that is not testable doesn't mean you can't test one that is. Believing that God created Man all at once doesn't keep me from dissecting pigs to study their organs.
Is this helpful? Ungtss 16:56, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Well, to begin addressing the question above, I'd add that the most devastating flaw of LP is that it refutes itself because the tenets of LP are not empirically testable or able to be established. To make matters worse, they reduce philosophy to something that comes after the sciences, a field that is responsible for synthesizing the results of all fields into a single theory, so you can't appeal to philosophical grounds because there aren't any to appeal to (although I would be tempted to ask where LP came from, which would lead us back to philosophy and immediate expose LP in all its glorious failure). 89.69.81.190 (talk) 17:04, 11 January 2013 (UTC)
I think so. So, logical positivism is a philosophy, and the scientific method is a technique? --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 17:02, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Yup. As to Popper and Kuhn, Popper argued for "Falsifiability" -- that is, that science is the process of coming up with hypotheses, and testing them. A test can prove a hypothesis FALSE, but cannot prove it TRUE. For example, you can test the idea "What goes up must come down" by throwing a ball up in the air. If it doesn't come down, you've proven it false. But if it does come down, you haven't proven that it MUST come down, because tomorrow it might not. Thus, science is what we've tested but haven't yet disproven. Philosophy and religion are what we can't test at all.
Kuhn argued that science develops through "paradigm shifts." Thus the bulk of scientists are stuck in a particulate paradigm, unable to see outside it, stuck to the paradigm by social and political pressures in their profession. Then, suddenly, an outsider is able to see the problems with the paradigm, and develops a BETTER, more ACCURATE paradigm, to describe reality. Then all the followers follow. Then we're stuck in another paradigm. Ungtss 17:08, 14 February 2008 (EST)
O_o They sound like they weren't even talking about the same thing. How is Kuhn's approach put into practice? It seems more like a cynical observation than a technique for evaluation. --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 17:15, 14 February 2008 (EST)
You might think of the relationship between Popper and Kuhn and the difference between idealism and realism. Theoretically, science progresses along Popper's path -- a steady stream of hypothesis and experiment. In reality, science progresses along Kuhn's path -- stagnation of the many and revolution by the few. You could also look at it this way: Popper thought science was objective. You take a guess, and you test it. Kuhn thought science was paradigm-dependent. Until you're able to see the evidence through a paradigm, you don't understand what you're looking at. For instance, prior to Einstein, people had all sorts of evidence that supported relativity -- they just couldn't put it into nice pretty theories. Einstein came up with a new PARADIGM that explained evidence we already had. And continued to explain new evidence. That's why we buy it. But quantum mechanics and general relativity contradict each other. That's why people are out there trying to find a new paradigm -- a "theory of everything" -- consistent with both. Ungtss 17:38, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Thank you. You're good at explaining things, you know that? --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 18:01, 14 February 2008 (EST)
No prob -- and thanks. Ungtss 18:04, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Actually, if Kuhn is correct (and I tend to think he probably is), a new theory that explained everything would involve a major paradigm shift and would be consistent with neither quantum mechanics nor relativity - but would account for all the phenomena that they account for at present in contradictory ways. PoorEd 19:57, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Agreed. Ungtss 19:58, 14 February 2008 (EST)
BTW, new paradigms are not necessarily more accurate than the old one when they are first introduced. For example, Ptolemaic astronomy was far more accurate than Copernican astronomy for predicting planetary motion until Kepler came along and figured out that planetary orbits are elliptical, not circular. PoorEd 20:05, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Interesting. I wonder if that contributed to the initial resistance to Copernicus' ideas? Ungtss 20:11, 14 February 2008 (EST)
It was a combination of the reluctance of science to change paradigms, lower accuracy and contradiction of the belief of the Church that the Earth was the center of the universe. PoorEd 20:29, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Yes to the first two, not really the second. The Church itself does not and did not hold any position on the relation between the sun and the earth or any such things which it would consider rather banal in relation to its central mission, so let's not fall prey to the common, overzealous, Enlightenment era tendency to scapegoat or misrepresent the Church, no matter how much one may dislike it (besides, his work was supported by a bishop, and was read in Rome, but it was a largely a matter of academic interest where the real opposition came from). It's not theologically relevant, and not a matter of revelation. Reluctance was largely the usual banal reluctance you see everyday, especially when there is insufficient evidence for it (Copernicus merely provided a mathematization of the heliocentric model. He did not bring new evidence or proof forward. That didn't come until the 19th century). Just goes to show how often scientific consensus of the day (and it was consensus) determines outcomes in practice, though frankly there was no reason to switch to heliocentism unless simplicity of the model (which was perfected by Kepler) was your criterion, something that is hardly a criterion for truth per se. 89.69.81.190 (talk) 17:04, 11 January 2013 (UTC)
Fascinating! Do you have any references off the top of your mind where I can read about this? Ungtss 13:16, 15 February 2008 (EST)
"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn. Read Andy's reaction to the same under "Copernican Revolution" where it is reverted as liberal deceit. It is actually rather fascinating how the Ptolemaic astronomers added fudge factor after fudge factor to account for new observations that didn't fit their original theory. They had all the heavenly bodies rotating in circles within circles within circles to account for such observations as the retrograde motion of a planet. PoorEd 13:38, 15 February 2008 (EST)
Very cool! Thanks! Ungtss 13:50, 15 February 2008 (EST)
You might also like this (WP). One reason for its slow acceptance (if indeed it was accepted "slowly") is that they didn't have teh innertubes back then. humanUser talk:Human 13:53, 15 February 2008 (EST)
Gracias -- also, I found a book by Kuhn specifically on the Copernican revolution ... prolly goes into greater detail ... thank God for half.com:). Ungtss 13:55, 15 February 2008 (EST)

<-- Oh, man, thanks for the goodolddays link, Mr. Ed! Wherein human @ CP tries to convince teh rashfly that there was a Scientific Revolution by quoting a ... Christian homeschooling science text ... Good times. humanUser talk:Human 13:56, 15 February 2008 (EST)

You're all welcome. PoorEd 13:59, 15 February 2008 (EST)

Actually...[edit]

...after reading through the article again, it struck me just how extremist a type of logical positivism is in fact advocated here. Especially the assertion in the second paragraph that "meaningless" is necessarily the same as "nonsense" - this conveniently overlooks the fact that the logical positivists for the most part were talking about "cognitive meaninglessness", which does not exclude the possibility that statements that are cognitively meaningless could still be meaningful in other ways. I rather doubt the majority of logical positivists would agree with the view of their philosophy presented here. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 18:51, 14 February 2008 (EST)

I agree, "meaningless" <> "nonsense". Use of language in philosophy has to be very careful and precise so people can communicate effectively. And I'm surprised Trent hasn't popped in on these discussions, here and at the non materilist neuroscience page. He's really into this stuff. humanUser talk:Human 18:54, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Frankly, this article is a mess, and should be rewritten from the ground. I'll happily volunteer Ungtss for the job. He obviously knows what he's talking about. :nods: --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 19:08, 14 February 2008 (EST)
I agree with you, AK -- the article portrays the most extreme form of LP -- there are doubtless many shades of "LP lite" we can explore:). I'm just treading lightly because my personal POV is different from the dominant one on this wiki and I don't want to step beyond my place. A team effort, then, gents:)? Ungtss 19:54, 14 February 2008 (EST)
Well, how about not calling it "LP lite", but rather contrast the more and less rigorous versions? By the way, it's gonna be tough to write a better overview than WP has at the sections of their article I mention below in my antique old fart braggin' right section. humanUser talk:Human 00:25, 15 February 2008 (EST)
True true. That's the problem I run into with spinoff wikis. It'll never be as good as wikipedia. Ungtss 12:45, 15 February 2008 (EST)
Yup, the only way to be as good or "better" is not to try to be an encyclopedia, but "something else". EG, I know of an Audi-related wiki that is surely better in many ways than WP if you're trying to fix an old Audi. humanUser talk:Human 14:03, 15 February 2008 (EST)

nostlagia and deja vu[edit]

Reading up at WP out of curiosity, the Basic tenets and Criticism and influences sections... except for Popper, I think I've read every one of these authors... of course, pretty much not since that Philosophy of Language senior seminar I took (as a freshman) in '78 (I got an A, at least!). Quine, Ayer... I think I even have the books mentioned. It's like running into old (er) friends I haven't met since college!

Gee, I wonder why: "Logical positivism was immensely influential in the philosophy of language..."

Of course, I think my head would explode if I tried to read them again today... humanUser talk:Human 21:14, 14 February 2008 (EST)

Heavens to Betsy... you're 48 years old? Ah, well, still makes you younger than my parents.  : ) --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 00:00, 15 February 2008 (EST)
M48 str8, any middle aged hotties wanna chat? Hahahahahahahaahaaaaa humanUser talk:Human 00:23, 15 February 2008 (EST)
You say you're straight, but by your edits, there is a 97.345 % chance of you being a Homersexual. Godspeed. 14:01, 15 February 2008 (EST) — Unsigned, by: 162.82.215.199 / talk / contribs
Whatever, I don't mind. As long as I don't have to also become a homoschooler... humanUser talk:Human 14:06, 15 February 2008 (EST)
I first saw "Huw Powell" and thought "That's the gayest name I've ever heard."  :-) --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 14:08, 15 February 2008 (EST)

Removed from article[edit]

I removed the following from the article:

"However, a by-product of postivism and the political correctness it enabled has been the foreclosing of spaces for the constructions of racial or sexual identities and histories; political correctness attempted to control the use of language and thereby predetermine what a race or a sex could be. Races and sexes became merged in an effort to create equality, but in the process these same races and sexes lost the ability to define themselves as different and lost the rights to their own space. Erstwhile, de facto discrimination continued but the language vetted by political correctness left society defenseless against it, in fact it acted to only hide this discrimination. This has resulted in the majority of young people today believing that racism and sexism no longer exist, because the racist/sexist rhetoric as defined by political correctness had been obliterated, while that same political correctness acted to limit possible racial/sexual inquiry that could help reveal these things.

The reaction against political correctness by the groups it was intended to protect highlights but one critique against Postivism. It only acts to create a means of observation and control of oppressed groups, to ensure that they are unable to develop into themselves, instead forcing them to develop along a predetermined path that has been authorized by the dominant group; and generally in de facto subservience to the dominant group. The activities of young feminists and racial activists today are an attempt to reclaim these spaces and the rights to be a woman or a person of color and to be different; to not be defined by others and to escape the observing eye and domination. In this they are often very "politically incorrect", waging a virtual war, a symbolic revolution, on the contexts which have constrained them to a space tied to the dominant groups; forever under the watchful eye of that group."

I would encourage the author to explain more clearly what they are trying to say, and its relevance to this article. tmtoulouse 01:48, 10 November 2008 (EST)

I added this because the point about the creation of political correctness was acting to defend positivism in light of the critiques against it. However "political correctness" is just one problem that many scholars have with positivism. Theorists for Evelyn Fox Keller (Feminism) to Homi Bhaba (Postcolonialism) have written how the language constraints of positivism and its political correctness only create and then hide discrimination in the same gesture. I agree that this piece may not belong on this page, but in that case neither does the short blurb on the creation of political correctness. PC is considered self-evidently good, and people really don't understand the issues related to it and behind it. Due to this, PC becomes its own tautology (PC is good because being PC is good). The original situation of PC isn't considered, and no one will think to look for its own by products. Whoever authored the little blurb was attempting to use this misconception to recast positivism in a favorable light, despite the fact that even most hard sciences have not considered themselves positivist since the 1930's. In fact, the only people who cry for positivism today are bigots because they have positive evidence that blacks are stupid and women belong in the home, and by Positivism's own standards they would be right. Thus, why we do not use positivism.Omnirizon
I will agree that the PC bit doesn't fit. But your statement that the only proponents of positivism are bigots is absurd. Most "hard scientist" don't really pay that much attention to the philosophy of science, so wouldn't consider positivism one way or another. tmtoulouse 15:36, 10 November 2008 (EST)
The Positivists of today would only call themselves Realists; I think the article makes a note about "soft positivism", or something like that. The reason that only bigots are positivists is because that scientific philosophy provides no explicit means for disproving the reality that blacks score lower on IQ tests than whites. Consider the socially oppressing situation from which the philosophy of Positivism arose (Victorian Vienna). The positivists can simply rack up more and more evidence, without ever considering the underlying structure regarding the ontology of the evidence. The Realist only differs from this in that they will not take all "evidence" seriously, but evidence must be Real to be considered. However, in the realm of race studies and postcolonialism, it is impossible to provide real evidence for the desire to have one's own history, or express the feeling of wearing a "mask" in order to fit the standards of desirability that Realists can only reinforce. This is why the people interested in these areas of study claim "Data is the tool of the enemy", with the full understanding that this is hyperbole, but with the expectation for people to realize how an insistence for data and the "real" is only silencing for the oppressed.Omnirizon

Falsifiablity[edit]

The article includes the term 'falsifiable'. However this logic of science is traced to Popper who was NOT a Positivist. Positivism is not primarily concerned with falsification, but rather only the gathering of observable evidence and proofing. Modern science in fact has never proven anything, only acted to falsify incorrect deductions. We can view modern science as only a series of tentative axioms and exemplars which we know are not proven but which we assume in order to positively build upon them; any proof takes place within an axiom, and is tied to that axiom and never really proven. At any time any one of those exemplars can be disproved, and all things built upon it invalidated. Even in the event of falsification we don't necessarily cease to use an exemplar. Consider that the exemplar of Newtonian physics has been falsified, but we continue to use it not only in our daily lives but in science where the black boxes in Newtonian Physics can be left safely closed for purposes of simplicity. Further, the paradigmatic arcs from one exemplar to another rarely follow logically from the previous exemplar; it requires innovation and trial. Kuhn attempted to explain this as normal science vs innovative science; Popper was more austere and considered scientists as imperfect vessels for the perfect method of science, and thought that the innovative anomie of science should always be occurring, but that most people were simply not up to the task.

tl;dr -- the word falsifiable should not appear in this document except as to highlight what Logical Positivism does not try to do...Omnirizon

Historically, verification was the primary focus of the Vienna Circle, but I really fail to see how falsifiability criterion doesn't fit in perfectly fine with the core principle of logical positivism. Unfalsifiable statements are unverifiable, and such would fall neatly into "meaningless" language. Where as falsification requires that a concept can be empirically described. I have to admit that I am not really a huge fan of Kuhn's paradigm shifts, it smacks of social constructionism. tmtoulouse 15:46, 10 November 2008 (EST)
"Consider that the exemplar of Newtonian physics has been falsified" - only at extremes of scale. Both relativity and quantum physics "reduce" to Newtonian physics in the areas where we still "use" Newtonian formulations (i.e., real world ballistics). An "exemplar" that is strongly supported by huge amounts of evidence (not "proven" of course) can only be replaced with another "exemplar" which reduces to it, and fully explains all the evidence explained by the previous theory. Just sayin', is all. ħumanUser talk:Human 16:34, 10 November 2008 (EST)
Trent, I think your argument fails to account for an important difference between logical positivism and Popper's falsificationism. L.P. on the one hand is essenitally a theory of meaning which seeks an objective way of distinguishing between meaningful and meaningless propositions. Falsificationism on the other hand attempts to distinguish between scientific and non-scientific propositions, which is something else entirely. Popper never claimed that a non-scientific proposition could be perfectly meaningful in its own right, and I don't think he would actually be particularly happy to see his theories mixed up with L.P. in this manner.
That said, I don't doubt that logical positivists would very much like to try to assimilate falsificationism into their system anyway, but the historical fact remains that Popper originally developed falsificationism as a fairly strong criticism against L.P. I think that does make that particular project just a little bit problematic. --AKjeldsenCum dissensie 18:54, 10 November 2008 (EST)
I am not arguing that Popper was a fan of logical positivism or that falsification was trumpeted by the Vienna Circle, but that has no bearing on whether falsification can be or should be integrated into the ideas behind logical positivism. Is an idea wedded permanently to the people that first voiced it into existence? Mendel's ideas on genetics, once they entered the main stream, were thought to be in opposition to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. But people were able to see how the two ideas complimented each other and strengthened both theories through the modern synthesis. I am not arguing the historical conflict between logical positvist at the turn of the century, and Popper's falsification idea, I am arguing that the mere existence of a historical conflict does not some how negate the fact that the two ideas are actually complimentary to each other. tmtoulouse 19:08, 10 November 2008 (EST)

I think, in response to the above, we need to clearly separate the ideas of verfication and falsifiability. The original proposal of the logical positivists was just around verification. Popper introduced the focus on falsifiability later. I think you are right, tmtoulouse, that they are connected, and might be integrated. However, I think the article should be clear about the history; and, how to integrate verifiability and falsifiability is a difficult question. I can conceive of four different meaning criteria:

  1. a statement is cognitively meaningful if it is verifiable (original Vienna Circle view)
  2. a statement is cognitively meaningful if it is falsifiable (Popper's view as I understand it)
  3. a statement is cognitively meaningful if it is either verifiable or falsifiable
  4. a statement is cognitively meaningful if it is both verifiable and falsifiable

I am guessing you are proposing 3 or 4, but which one? Each of the above four criteria will produce different results when applied to different claims. How does one determine which of the above criteria is correct, if any? --Maratrean (talk) 02:35, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

The Antithesis[edit]

Would be illogical negativism? — Unsigned, by: 82.44.143.26 / talk / contribs

Text from duplicate positivism page[edit]

I moved this here to remove a duplicate page on the same topic.

Positivism is the belief that the only true knowledge about the world comes about from the scientific method. Positivists, such as the bad motherfucka Auguste Comte, attempted (and succeeded) to construct broad Meta-narratives that could explain the natural world, via all-encompassing theories (e.g. Newtonian physics), and laws that govern society (e.g. The law of three stages). However, a degenerate breed of misguided postmodernists (Steve Fuller and his various cronies) often launch pathetic and hysterical attacks against it (and anything else scientific that doesn't advocate relative truth or psuedo-science) because it is apparently only "true" to white middle class academics, and is racist, sexist and causes offense to creationists (because wacky postmodernists believe truth is based only on personal preference, you don't have to believe something if you don't like it).

Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 17:31, 5 March 2010 (UTC)

Argument that logical positivism is self-defeating[edit]

This page contains some responses to the claim that logical positivism is self-defeating, however I think they are not thought out very well.

Logical positivism is criticized for "proving too much", making it self-defeating. Positivism asserts that any statement that cannot be empirically tested is meaningless. However, logical positivism is a philosophy, and cannot be itself empirically tested. By its own criterion, therefore, logical positivism is meaningless. This sort of language chopping is accepted as cleverness by some - philosophers resent their work being of practical use almost as much as mathematicians do.

"This sort of language chopping is accepted as cleverness by some". Well, its not language-chopping, its philosophy (unless all philosophy is language-chopping). If you want to play the game of philosophy, you have to do what philosophers do. You can't try to adopt their theories when they suit your position, and then dismiss criticisms of the same idea as "language-chopping". That's having your cake and eating it too.

Considering that logical positivism is a philosophy essentially "reverse engineered" to explain the success of the scientific method in explaining many aspects of the world, its statements are actually testable - in the way that they may or may not be considered guiding principles for science.

No, that doesn't work. The success of science does not prove the correctness of logical positivism. Many scientists have had all sorts of non-scientific beliefs which logical positivism would reject as meaningless, and there is no evidence their success in science has suffered for it. A good example -- belief in the objective truth or falsehood of ethical propositions -- something I am sure that many (but not all) scientists believe, but which in itself has no impact positive or negative on their scientific ability, yet logical positivists rejected this idea. Arguably, some specific ethical beliefs might impede scientific progress, such as opposition to some form of experiments (animal experimentation, embryo experimentation, etc.). But there is nothing about holding ethical beliefs to be objective which inherently interferes with scientific progress. Anyway, we should keep clear in our minds the distinction between metaethics and ethics, and their independence from each other -- specific ethical theories may interfere with science; but metaethical theories (like the objective truth of ethics) can't impede science, since metaethics and ethics are independent. Likewise, many scientists have held religious views. Now, some specific religious views may interfere with scientific progress in some areas. But, there are many religious views which do not interfere with science at all. So, if logical positivism seeks to reject religion, can it really claim it is helping science in doing so? Just because logical positivism drew its influence from some of the fundamental principles of the scientific method, does not mean it can claim the success of the scientific method as its own success.

A softened version of logical positivism might hold that "ideas without a real-world basis or real world application are useless."

Which is so vague, that it isn't a philosophical theory any more. Logical positivism may well be wrong, but at least it is precisely defined enough that it can be demonstrated to be wrong. That claim is so vague and fluffy, it can't be proven or disproven at all. (It's unfalsifiable!)

Actually, in academic philosophy, basically no one believes in logicial positivism anymore. It seems to be mainly outside of academia that people want to keep it alive. There are many people in academia that still have sympathy with the goals of the logical positivist project, and think that (in it's day), it was a fruitful line of investigation; but its problems -- being self-defeating; having multiple competing formulations with no clear way of choosing which is the right one, etc., are too insurmountable. I think, a contributor (or contributors) to this page have decided to adopt logical positivism as their own philosophy, on the basis of its attractiveness to them, but don't want to conside the later developments which have killed it off.

That is not to say that there may not be some theory, which shares the aims of logical positivism (a philosophy to support science and oppose metaphysics/religion/theology/etc), yet somehow escapes the problems which logical positivism had. But it isn't classical logical positivism, its going to be something new. And it needs to be clear about how it differs from classical logical positivism, and how it avoids the issues which logical positivism suffers from. --Maratrean (talk) 02:58, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

It's true that the axiomatic foundation of positivism is itself not a statement that can be verified or falsified. That doesn't mean this whole school is self-contradictory and critically flawed, though - modern postpositivists simply accept that it's not an all-encompassing doctrine that can be seamlessly integrated with a philosophy of mind. They accept that the first tenet has to be taken "on faith", but can be tentatively corroborated by the success of the venture. I don't get your point about scientists holding unfalsifiable beliefs while still conducting successful scientific work - all that shows is that scientists, like all humans, are capable of simultaneously holding two or more inconsistent beliefs. They can only be successful scientists because they don't let their other beliefs interfere with their work, though. What kind of ethical ideas they subscribe to is completely unrelated with this. Positivism, or indeed any philosophy of science, does not venture into ethics, and whether or not a certain action would contribute to the success of science is not a factor in determining its permissibility. Finally, positivism was not thought up in order to reject religion, that's merely collateral damage (or IMHO, profit) of scientific or simply evidence-based reasoning. Religions often make pretty grandiose claims about the real world, and rather often, they will conflict with established scientific knowledge. In such cases, we need a method to determine which explanation is more likely to be the correct one, and that's obviously the point where the positivist emphasis on evidence is crucial.
Apart from that, I agree that there are some religious conceptions that are so abstract and vague in nature that they will never come into conflict with scientific knowledge, like most forms of deism and some Eastern philosophy-religions. They're not the problem, but at the same time, the idea of gods or cosmic principles that are completely indifferent towards humans isn't very appealing to many people. Unfortunately, it's the truly dangerous religions are also among the most popular. Röstigraben (talk) 09:08, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

It depends on how precisely you define logical positivism. The definitions in the philosophical literature I am familiar with get quite precise -- for example, every cognitively meaningful statement is either an analytic a priori statement, or a synthetic a posteriori statement possessing an effective verification procedure. When we talk about logical positivism with such precision (and, being founded by professional philosophers, that is kind of precision with which it was originally stated), it is clear it is self-defeating. Now, if you want to talk about a more vague wishy-washy logical positivism, that isn't precisely defined -- well, admittedly that isn't self-defeating, because it is too vague to be self-defeating. But really, if something kinda like logical positivism but not really, is what you are after, why not call it something else? (Your term postpositivism is a good one.)

My point about scientists holding unfalsfiable beliefs, is we shouldn't call the success of science a success of positivism. One can be a perfectly productive scientist while adopting views widely different from positivism; the scientific method, while not compatible with every worldview, is compatible in practice with a wide variety. And, its not about scientists being "capable of simultaneously holding two or more inconsistent beliefs". There is no inconsistency required in, for instance, holding to the scientific method while believing in deism. The scientific method only applies when doing science; deism is not part of science, so the scientific method is irrelevant to it. Another example would be mathematical Platonism. One scientist may be a Platonist in the philosophy of mathematics (a position logical postivists disdained), another a formalist (a position of which they would have more approved) -- but, since the philosophy of mathematics has nothing to do with the scientific method, their views in this area have nothing to do with their efficacy as scientists.

I would question your claim that positivism was not thought up to reject religion. That was not the only motivation for it, but I think it very much was an objective of members of the Vienna Circle, and of Comte before them, to come up with a theory that would in part serve to reject religion. Religions do at times conflict with scientific claims, but there is nothing about religion which necessarily does this. It is completely possible to come up with a religion which does not conflict with science, and is unlikely to ever do so in the future.

You are wrong when you say positivism does not venture into ethics. Many logical positivists adopted the metaethical theory of emotivism, which they felt was a natural consequence of their logical positivism. It is hard to be a logical positivist without subscribing to non-cognitivist metaethics. Yet, such a metaethical theory really does nothing to advance the cause of science (its irrelevant). My point was, again, its wrong to try to use the success of science as an argument for the truth of logical positivism, since in many areas logical positivism has nothing to do with science, its an irrelevancy. --Maratrean (talk) 09:27, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

Postpositivism isn't my term, that's an established label within the evolution of the philosophy of science. It is a necesarily unprecise umbrella term, though. It's usually used to denote the developments since strict positivism was the dominant paradigm, and I'd subsume pragmatism and scientific realism under it, which have replaced it. The point of the endeavour is simply to provide a philosophical explanation for the success of science, not to develop a general system of metaphysics. The scientific method came first, and then people began to wonder about how this is actually possible - the point the article makes about it being "reverse-enginnered" is a good one, I think. It seems like you're attacking a strawman when you accuse positivists of adhering to tenets which they've actually abandoned some time ago, advancing an all-encompassing metaphysical and ethical doctrine, and last but not least targetting religion as a specific objective. That's just not the case, it actually is a pretty wishy-washy, pragmatist attempt to supply one rather limited explanation.
Once more about the compatibility of science and religion, again, I agree that some of them are compatible, and it is certainly possible to come up with another such religion. The question is, why do it? Why go to great lenghts to construct some deist-based new religion (or reformulation of an existing one) that is not at odds with established scientific knowledge and is designed in a way that ensures it never will be, no matter what we find out about the world? Why come up with something that will by definition not add anything to our understanding of and explanations for how the world works, while introducing unnecessary new assumptions? And let's face it, the religions that have been the most successful in capturing human imagination were nothing like that. There's not much appeal in a god who will not interfere with the world, won't listen to your prayers and won't grant you an afterlife. Röstigraben (talk) 10:08, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

I'm not attacking a strawman when I say logical positvitists adhere to certain meta-ethical theories. Its true that they did. Contemporary postpositivists might not, but contemporary postpostivists are not logical positivists. It's not attacking a strawman to attack ideas that logical positivists used to believe -- these aren't outdated ideas of a current group, they are the actual historical ideas of a group which largely doesn't exist any more. Do contemporary postpositivists subscribe to non-cognitivist metaethics? I would guess many still do. Some might just avoid the topic entirely. But how can a positivist/logical positivist/postpositivist possibly justify subscription to a cognitivist metaethics? (well, maybe naïve subjectivism - but who actually believes that?)

You can't just silo off the philosophy of science from the rest of philosophy. Logical positivism was not just a position in the philosophy of science -- it was a position in philosophy, so it had implications in other areas of philosophy also, such as metaethics, metaphysics, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of religion, etc. You might see this as just being about philosophy of science, but that is not how the Vienna Circle, etc., saw themselves.

I don't think its a strawman to say logical positivists wanted some ammunition to reject religion. I think thats true as a statement of human motivations. That doesn't necessarily they were right or wrong -- the correctness of someone's belief is not dependent upon their reasons for adopting. Neither is it true that rejecting religion was their sole, or even primary motivation. But I find it hard to believe it was not a motivation, even if only one among many, and even not the most important one.

I don't think there is any necessary conflict between believing in an afterlife and science. Some theories of an afterlife may conflict with science; but there is nothing about an afterlife which is necessarily contradictory to science. --Maratrean (talk) 10:29, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

Years late, but I do notice a non-sequitur here: "I don't think there is any necessary conflict between believing in an afterlife and science. ...there is nothing about an afterlife which is necessarily contradictory to science." It starts about believing such a thing actually exists, but it is non-sequitur to try to support that by saying it is merely not "necessarily contradictory to science". Brianpansky (talk) 09:58, 3 September 2014 (UTC)

I don't think I buy the argument that "The most famous principle of logical positivism is that any statement that is not inherently verifiable is meaningless and can be safely ignored. Since this statement is itself inherently unverifiable, logical positivism tells us that logical positivism can be safely ignored". I don't see how the statement is unverifiable, inherently or otherwise. Whether something can be "safely ignored" seems quite testable. Brianpansky (talk) 10:05, 3 September 2014 (UTC)

BoN edit[edit]

Can someone who has studied/is studying philosophy take a look? ТyPlease do not click on this 20:05, 8 July 2011 (UTC)

I've rolled it back: don't care how accurate it is, such a large alteration should be talk paged first. Pippa (talk) 20:09, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
You don't expect us to have actual knowledge of this stuff?!?!? ADK...I'll untie your ripple! 20:11, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
Nah, only you to ADK. ТyYes?
Did you actually look at the edits. a large number of them did nothing but make what was already there, read better. I'm dubious of the idea that "you should talk on the talk page first", since that is not how most of us do anything. I've had things i've written be whole scale dumped and edited, and i've done the same. Is the only real issue here, that the poster isn't logged in? cause that i guess i could understand. but again, i would favor looking over the edits and not just saying "you need to talk on the talk page first". --Pink mowse.pngEn attendant Godot 20:29, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
I think it's that the edit was large and the subject matter was unfamiliar. It's just diligence to rollback and check rather than to just let something that you're unsure about stand. If it was a well-known logged-in user then it's likely people would be more trusting of it if they weren't sure of the subject matter themselves. ADK...I'll litigate your cellulite! 20:31, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
And if you're unsure of the subject matter, you don't have the skill to really assess whether it's right or reads better. ADK...I'll reiterate your dyslexia! 20:32, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
See, if I don't get it, I ask. Тycommunications wire 20:35, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
It needs formatting but the material is good. I think the rollback was a bit paranoid, and shouldn't be our default reaction to contributions. 72.38.27.39 (talk) 20:36, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
There are some really excellent changes, and it is so much less wordy and (godot-like) in its style now. I'd look carefully at each paragraph and see "what's what". Which things make sense as juts better writing, which you need to look up or verify? dear annony editor, you could help by making less changes at once... but you probably aren't even reading the talk page.

--Pink mowse.pngEn attendant Godot 20:39, 8 July 2011 (UTC)

The edit is fine, it's factually correct and makes the article more focused. Röstigraben (talk) 20:41, 8 July 2011 (UTC)
And upon googling it, I just found the first Conservapedia article I actually agree with. Wow. Still a copypaste, though. Röstigraben (talk) 20:44, 8 July 2011 (UTC)

"Theology" section[edit]

Why remove the theology section? The relationship between logical positivism and religious language (e.g. are religious claims verifiable?) is a real topic in the philosophy of religion. It isn't irrelevant. (((Zack Martin))) 08:38, 9 July 2011 (UTC)

If you feel the need to assert specific theological points against an already-abandoned philosophical position, you're always free to write another essay. The section was a serious distraction from the topic of the article, and way too narrow - the positivists' criticism was not that it is impossible to make testable claims from a theological position, but that such positions will always rest on untestable assumptions, and the vast majority of their statements will come in the same form. It bugs me that CP actually has a better article on a topic that is relevant to RW's mission and the philosophy of science, hence the rewrite. Röstigraben (talk) 08:47, 9 July 2011 (UTC)
Well, the section I wrote basically corresponds to the points about religion in the section of CP's article "Theology and ethics", but goes further by discussing some religious responses to the challenge of LP. One approach obviously is to deny LP's criterion of meaningfulness; another, which is what it was addressing, is approaches which accept LP's criterion of meaningfulness, but then argues that much (although not all) of religious language is meaningful by that criterion (e.g. afterlife claims can be verified by dying; God claims can be verified by meeting God in the afterlife; etc.) Most of this isn't my own work (although I admit the notion of a "post-death scientific community" is my own idea); there are references in the literature which say the same points I'm making (they do exist, although I don't have the cites handy right now, although if I remember they are mostly papers from the 1950s or thereabouts) (((Zack Martin))) 08:57, 9 July 2011 (UTC)
As I said, all of that can be much better accomodated in an essay. Mainspace articles aren't the place to conduct debates or raise narrow, highly specific objections to the principles it's supposed to describe. I'd advise against bringing this up on Conservapedia, though - that would only call attention to what is literally the only good article I've ever seen there. So far, it seems to have escaped detection by CP's crack team of sysop-vandals, and I fear for the article if Ken notices it. Röstigraben (talk) 09:06, 9 July 2011 (UTC)