The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Philosophies

By Constantin V. Boundas | Go to book overview

Logical Positivism and the Vienna Circle

Bernard Hodgson

The philosophical movement of logical positivism originated in the early 1920s with a group of philosophers and scientists who gathered around Moritz Schlick when he became professor of Philosophy at the University of Vienna – hence, the alternative designation of the Vienna Circle. Among the leading philosophers, besides Schlick, were Rudolph Carnap, Otto Neurath, Herbert Feigl, and Friedrich Waismann. Allied with the Vienna group were philosophers from the Berlin school of which Hans Reichenbach, Richard von Mises and Carl Hempel were prominent members. The group was later joined in the early 1930s by a philosopher who became its leading exponent to the English speaking world – Alfred Ayer. The most significant initial stimulus for the thoughts of the members of the Vienna Circle was found in their sympathetic response to the early work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, in particular, his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. More generally, the work of the Vienna Circle can be understood as giving systematic articulation to nothing less than the dominant ‘positivist’ or ‘naturalist’ orientation of the prevailing scientific world-view of the twentieth century. However, it should be emphasized that positivist thought patterns are no transient fashion, but have deep and classic roots – in particular, that of traditional empiricism, especially as set forth by David Hume. In fact, participants within the Vienna Circle preferred to have their philosophical position characterized as that of logical empiricism. A brief reminder, then, of the principles of empiricist epistemology will provide an instructive preamble to an examination of the basic tenets of logical positivism.


Historical Background

It is a commonplace that British empiricists argued their viewpoint against that of Continental rationalists. But both of their epistemologies intended an absolute or incorrigible foundation or grounding for legitimate knowledge claims. Moreover, both of these groundings were of an atomistic, reductionist sort. For instance, in rationalism, as articulated by Descartes, the rules of reliable inquiry exhibited two phases, that of analysis and synthesis. In analysis, by pure reasoning, we resolve a complex proposition into the simple ideas of which it is comprised; these simple ideas are taken to represent or correspond to the exact essence or ‘simple nature’ of different types of reality – for example, matter as infinitely mutable spatial extension. Although sensory

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The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Philosophies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • General Introduction 1
  • Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy 27
  • How to Recognize Analytic Philosophy 29
  • Kant and the Analytic Tradition 37
  • Metaphysical and Moral Idealism 63
  • Anglo-American Neo-Idealism 78
  • Ordinary Language Philosophy 85
  • Logical Positivism and the Vienna Circle 96
  • Naturalism 116
  • Pragmatism 128
  • The Promise of Process Philosophy 143
  • Metaphysics 156
  • Epistemology 172
  • Philosophy of Language- 1950–2000 186
  • Philosophy of Mind- 1950–2000 1 210
  • Philosophy of Mathematics 234
  • Philosophy of Logic 252
  • A Century of Transition in the Philosophy of Science 270
  • Ethics 285
  • Political Philosophy 297
  • Philosophy of Religion 309
  • Feminism 324
  • Aesthetics 338
  • Continental Themes in Analytic Philosophy 351
  • Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy 365
  • How to Recognize Continental European Philosophy 367
  • The Hegelian Legacy 375
  • Phenomenology 389
  • Hermeneutics 402
  • Existentialism 415
  • Marxisms 427
  • Frankfurt School and Philosophy 444
  • Psychoanalysis 457
  • Structuralism 469
  • Discourse about Difference 479
  • Different/Ciations- The Case of Gilles Deleuze 489
  • Postmodernism 504
  • Life- An Essay on the Overcoming of Metaphysics 517
  • Philosophy of Mind 531
  • Philosophy of Science 545
  • Ethics 559
  • Political Philosophy 570
  • Feminist Philosophy 590
  • Philosophy of Religion 603
  • Aesthetics 615
  • Analytic Themes in Continental Philosophy 629
  • Non-Western Philosophies in the Twentieth Century 643
  • Indian Philosophy 645
  • Chinese Philosophy 661
  • Japanese Philosophy 675
  • African Philosophy 689
  • Contributors 703
  • Chronology 713
  • Index 729
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