Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

BASIC ISSUES IN LOGICAL POSITIVISM

Felix Kaufmann*


I

In one of Rudolf Carnap's early writings1 the issue between realists and idealists concerning the reality of the physical world is discussed with the end-in-view of showing the spuriousness of metaphysical problems. Carnap introduces two geographers--one a realist, the other an idealist--who embark upon a joint expedition to Africa, in order to find out whether a mountain, purported to be located in a certain region of this continent, is only legendary, or actually exists. Regardless of their conflicting philosophical views, the two geographers are supposed to arrive at the same answer to this question, and if they affirm the existence of the mountain, to agree also on its shape, height, and other features. Consensus ends, however, when it comes to the metaphysical interpretation of the results obtained. Then the realist will insist on the existence of the mountain independent of any perceiving mind, whereas the idealist will take the opposite stand. But neither of the two explorers will be able to indicate any experience by which the correctness of his own interpretation could be established. Hence, Carnap concludes, the sentences expressing the two (apparently) conflicting metaphysical doctrines are pseudo-sentences, and the issue dividing the two geographers is a pseudo-issue. This argument applies to metaphysical sentences in general. They are meaningless, because they are not susceptible of verification.

Ludwig Wittgenstein had a few years earlier succinctly formulated this view in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.2 The meaning of a

____________________
*
Born in 1895. LL.D. and Ph.D., University of Vienna. Formerly teacher of philosophy of law at University of Vienna. Was a permanent member of the Vienna Circle ( 1924-1936), though he did not subscribe to the tenets of logical positivism. His philosophical development has been strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl's phenomenology. Professor of philosophy in the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, until his death December 23, 1949. Author of Methodology of the Social Sciences ( 1944).
1.

Scheinprobleme in der Pliilosophie. Das Fremdpiychische und der Realismusstreit ( Berlin, 1928).

2.

London, 1922.

-565-

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