A Critique of Logical Positivism

A Critique of Logical Positivism

A Critique of Logical Positivism

A Critique of Logical Positivism

Excerpt

In the summer of 1948 an article appeared in the New Statesman under the signature of Oxonian on the condition of contemporary Oxford. Among other matters it drew attention to the vogue of Logical Positivism and, in particular, to the influence of ProfessorAyer book, Language, Truth and Logic, which, published in 1936, "has in Oxford since the end of the war acquired almost the status of a philosophic Bible".

The effect of the book is, Oxonian maintained, to discourage any probing into "deeper meanings" by its exclusion of value judgments and its dismissal of metaphysics as nonsense. It has, therefore, he concluded, engendered a negative climate of opinion which is favourable to Fascism, "since Fascism steps into the vacuum left by an abeyance of concern with fundamental human values". The article attracted a considerable amount of attention and evoked a number of letters mainly from supporters of Logical Positivism disclaiming any political or social influence for logical positivist doctrines and, in particular, repudiating the suggestion that they give indirect encouragement to Fascism by contributing to the formation of a climate of opinion favourable to its growth. For my part, I ventured to doubt whether these disclaimers were justified. I gave expression to this doubt in an article which was published in the New Statesman in which, without hazarding any opinion as to whether the doctrines of Logical Positivism were true -- a word, by the way, which in any commonly accepted interpretation logical positivists would promptly repudiate as meaningless -- I put the question whether they were calculated to have the effect which Oxonian attributed to them, a question which I answered in the affirmative.

The number of letters which the article elicited was a surprise to the editor, no less than to the writer. I doubt, indeed, if any article on a purely academic topic had for years evoked so considerable a response. It was evident that the subject of Logical Positivism, though comparatively unknown to the . . .

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