Reality and Rationality

Reality and Rationality

Reality and Rationality

Reality and Rationality

Excerpt

It is widely agreed that we live in a “postpositivist” era; these days the word “positivist” functions chiefly as an ill-defined term of abuse. Logical positivism is dead. One cannot deny, however, that it was a potent philosophical force in the earlier part of the twentieth century; many conferences, books, and articles have endeavored to assay that influence. One conference, which generated such a book, was held in Pittsburgh in 1983. The first chapter in the present collection was my contribution to that conference.

1. Realism and Empiricism: The Key Question

Logical empiricism is the direct descendent of logical positivism. For that reason I chose it as the focus of my paper for the conference on “The Heritage of Logical Positivism.” It was also the dominant approach to philosophy of science in the pre-Kuhnian period. As its name implies, logical empiricism adopts an empirical approach to scientific knowledge, freely employing the tools of modern logic. After a brief nod to achievements in formal logic, I direct attention to empiricism and the problems it encounters. One of the most difficult questions concerns the possibility of knowledge of unobservable entities, that is, the problem of scientific realism. This issue was also a major point of disagreement between logical positivists and logical empiricists. The key question, as I see it, is “whether inductive reasoning contains the resources to enable us to have observational evidence for or against statements about unobservable entities and/or properties.” I argue for an affirmative answer in part I. The main purpose of the first chapter is, however, just to state the question explicitly and urge its careful consideration. As I say immediately after articulating it, “The most surprising thing about the key question is how seldom it has been raised explicitly.”

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