Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century

By Bruce J. Caldwell | Go to book overview

4

The Philosophical Attack on Logical Empiricism

Introduction

The positivist tradition within the philosophy of science underwent numerous transformations in its development from the early writings of Comte and Mach, through the radical empiricism of the Vienna Circle, to the more recent and circumspect contributions of Carnap, Hempel, Braithwaite, and Nagel. The bold claims of early positivism are absent in the later formulations. There still exists a heavy emphasis on observation, prediction, and the incorrigibility of data, but the crucial importance of theory is acknowledged, a step unthinkable in any strictly empirical system of thought. Due to such modifications, the logical empiricism of the 1950s seemed capable of providing a rigorous, robust, and firm epistemological and methodological foundation for analyses of the structure, function, and nature of science. But that assessment was soon to change.

A symposium on the structure of scientific theories was held in the late 1960s, and the papers presented there were gathered in a volume edited by Frederick Suppe. The first edition of the collection in the early 1970s contained a long introduction on the development of twentieth century philosophy of science by the editor; in 1977 a second paperback edition was published which included an Afterword. Suppe ends his chapter entitled ‘Swan Song for Positivism’ in the Afterword with the following words:

To conclude, virtually all of the positivistic program for philosophy of science has been repudiated by contemporary philosophy of science. The Received View has been rejected, as have its treatments of explanation and reduction…Also the importance of induction and confirmation is coming to be sharply downgraded in contemporary philosophical thinking

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