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Episode #120 ... Logical Positivism

2018-07-26 | 🔗

Today we talk about Logical Positivism. 

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello everyone. I'm Steven W this is philosophize. This. Thank you to everyone that supports the show on Patris on and thank you to the people that go through the Amazon banner so that nobody out there has to suffer through listening to me, read ads and talk about a product as though I like it because they give me money. No, it's not do that. I hope you love the show. Today So today's episodes on a group of thinkers known as the logical positivists now sometimes when I'm in the very beginning stages of creating one of these podcasts, something I like to do is count to some of the people. I respect and just randomly ask them what their general thoughts are on the subject matter of the episode, the goal being that I don't want, waste, your time as a listener under or over explaining things, and these people help me gauge how much time to spend on stuff.
Last. One such person a few months ago about their thoughts on logical positivism, and- let me just for context, is not somebody that isn't well read or is not into philosophy or something, but when I ask him for his general take on the logical positivists, he said that his understanding of them was that at one point in time exactly sure win. There was a group of people who are extremely logical. They were so logical. They even had meetings talking about how logical they were. And they they sat around and they talked and they played ending, they got a lot to do with each other and after discussing things long enough, the natural conclusion that they all arrived at the only line conclusion anyone could ever arrive at was to be positive. About stuff. Glass is half full silver lining to every cloud. Rain is but a cat, for more beautiful flowers. To see a couple days from now when we go on our family hike. This is not at all what logical positivism is talking about, but it's a grey
illustration of how words can carry multiple meanings and throw people off. I mean, ironically, making these sorts of grandiose ethical claims is something a logical positivist would see, is something philosophy has no business engaging in at all, but, as usual may be, the best place to start is just to look at the two words themselves: logical, positivism. Well, the word positivism for all intents and purposes when it's used in this context can be used interchangeably with empiricism, in fact, many thinkers at the beginning of this movement, and I mean some people still do this day refer to it as logical empiricism. Empiricism, of course, put very broadly being the position that senses and sensory data are the most important things when it comes to arriving at truth or factual claims. Well, if we think of the logical side of logical, imperius, ISM, it's being aligned with the tenants of formal logic in mathematics? Then, when you combine the two, the position of these thinkers starts to look really familiar, and we touched on it briefly. Last episode: why can't there be a group of thing.
That are solely in the business of focusing on what we can. No logical truths and empirical truths. Logical empiricism and crews of reason proves a fact: a priority, a posteriori in the work of Kant, synthetic propositions and analytic propositions, and this synthetic analytic divide, as it was called, was something that existed in philosophy for hundreds of years by this point, and this is the best way to understand the logical positivists within their greater context in the history of philosophy. These thinkers are existing in a time when we're coming out of the haze of hundreds of years of unverifiable speculation from the thought lg to religion, to philosophers, trying to create these massive, all encompassing philosophical system, to try to explain everything invariably, when doing so, creating huge problems for philosophy and, ultimately, the world when governments try to use
ideas to organize society to the logical positivists. This unverifiable speculation was the enemy science and mathematics where the allies, all these ethical, aesthetic, metaphysical claims. Anything outside of these synthetic and analytic propositions is just not something philosophy be focusing on, and that's not to say we shouldn't be talking about these things. At all I mean to some logical positivism. These are among the most important things to be talking about, but when it comes to what philosophy should be spending its time on these sorts of things are a waste of time, the logical positivist or a group that want to only once and for all get away from what they saw as all the nonsense of the past. They needed a catch all term for this enemy of theirs so they threw all this unverifiable speculation to the same bin and just called it metaphysics which shouldn't be confused with the actual branch of philosophy. Metaphysics to the logical positivists is a pejorative
to just describe any of this unverifiable speculation that theologians and philosophers have been thrown around for hundreds of years. It's only lead to more and more confusion. What they're doing is they're looking back at the history of philosophy and saying what these people call themselves philosophers philosophy supposed to get us closer to the truth. Let's talk about you, people have been doing it. You just made up a bunch of stuff to refute the person that came before you just like they made up a bunch of to refute the person that came before them. The whole attitude towards the continental side of things with people like Sartre and Heidegger was okay, yeah yeah you go over there. You guys do your metaphysic in your finger painting and will be over here talking about stuff that you can actually verify- and this is a central tenant of logical positivism, the truth and value Any claim always lies in its verifiability. Can it be verified logically? Can it be verified empirically, if not philosophy, should discussing it. This is also known as the verification principle, which will be important terminology for later on. In this episode
described in many ways, but one simple way is quote: if there's no we have telling when a proposition is true, then, opposition has no sense whatever for the sense proposition is in its method of verification. In fact, whoever The proposition must know under what conditions he will call the proposition true or false. If you cannot tell this, then he does No, what he has said end quote to the logical positivist. All this metaphysical nonsense of the past cannot be verified and not only does philosophy have no business speculating about these sorts of things. To some logical, positivists, positivist, reinforced by the early, vic in his Tractatus. Not only do we have no business talking about all this metaphysical stuff, even if we wanted to language itself, is incapable of describing these sorts of things Let me explain a bit more from the point of view of it can Stein at this point in his career now real quick, it should be said VIC and Stein himself was not a logical positivist, but his early work
the Tractatus was seen by many logical positivist to be a great work of philosophy. That sort of what they were working on. You can always go back to the episode we did on VIC and Stein, if you want a more detailed analysis of the Tractatus, but the big points of it were that the true function of language is to describe what he calls states of affairs in the world, and whenever we use language, we always describe those states of affairs considering a certain logical structure that underlies our language sentences, don't make sense if they don't conform to that logical structure. In other words, whenever we're using language properly were always having a certain empirical reality, something that's happening and that empirical reality conforms to a logical structure. The similarities to logical empiricism notice the compound two synthetic and analytic propositions, but if it can essentially saying in his early work is that language has limitations, there's a difference between making a sensor, statement, the remains within those limitations and making a nonsensical
meant that exceeds those limitations, all sensical state. Will be describing empirical states of affairs. That also correspond with an underlying logical structure. Anything else beat in the realm of ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, whatever it is cannot be said in a sensical way. Big concern says: sorts of things are quote things that can be put into words. They make themselves manifest They are what is mystical, in quote. This is also what's known, as VIC and Stein's famous say, show distinction. Some things just cannot be said. They can only be shown to us so. This is where it consigns coming from when he writes one of the most famous lines in the Tractatus that the role of philosophy is to quote show the fly. The way out of the fly bottle in quote: fly bottles were like early prototype, flytraps there's some food inside of a bottle that gets a fly to fly through a little hole to get the food, and then the fly can't find its way back out and inevitably dies
because flies are done right and the point that concerns making here is that in many ways we have been just as dumb throughout the history of philosophy. In a way, we've gotten ourselves, trapped philosophically in a fly bottle. Using language to talk about things like like ethics and aesthetics and metaphysics, this is just not what language does and we should, as he says in the closing lines of the Tractatus, understand that that of which we cannot speak. It is best to remain silent again. This work by Wittgenstein was seen as a huge reinforcement of the project of the logical positivists little more history, context to understand this hard line approach that they're taking the logical positive, is our existing in a time shortly after they have been unparalleled advances in science, I mean just in a few years, general relativity, quantum mechanics, huge breakthroughs in our understanding of the subatomic realm. The feeling too many at the time is it. We had arrived at a point where philosophy had run its course. Philosophy is out
this is in science was going to be the new improved method that gives us access to our understanding of the universe and philosophy's job was to play more of a support role to the newer. Better, more reliable system that had been discovered much in the same way, that during the middle ages, the commonly held belief was that the role of philosophy was to be subservient to religion. The role of philosophy was just to work to understand the truth prescribed by God and religion at a deeper level. The feeling to some during the time of the logical positivists was that philosophy's role at this point was just to work to better understand. How the science and mathematics worked that were giving us access to the truth. Fitkin steins Tractatus was used as a foundation for many of the logical positivist for making this claim.
That outside of verifying and better understanding, science and mathematics, philosophy is basically nonsense because to conduct philosophy is always to conduct philosophy through a language, and if everything is nonsense, it isn't an empirical observation that conforms to a logical structure. What more do we have to talk about here once again? Verification is the thing we should be aiming for. If it's statement isn't verifiable, not only is it invalid to a logical positivists, but we should see it as utterly and completely meaningless, and it's dangerous not to that's an important point to re emphasize, not just the truth of the statement, but the meaningfulness the mint is contingent upon its verification, something can't be verified. It is meaningless. Well, for years, a logical positivist reign Supreme Champions of mathematics and science for a period of time. The term analytic philosophy was practically synonymous with logical positivism.
And it seemed to many, they would live happily ever after having eliminated the scores of religion and unverifiable philosophy. But then things start to go horribly wrong for the logical positivists. I guess the first and most obvious problem with what's been laid out, so is it making? The claim that metaphysical assertions are meaningless is itself a metaphysical assertion but putting that aside for a second, the more pressing issue was the central tenant of verification being what makes something meaningful. It ends up, causing a lot of problems for them and it's actually pretty cool, because, as a group. There were an extremely intellectually honest bunch. I mean most of the scathing critiques of the verification principle came from people who consider themselves logical, positive and at first it may seem a little weird that of all things. This is the thing that gave them problems. I mean what could possibly be wrong with saying that we need to verify something for it to be true or meaningful
We're trying to do is avoid all the unverifiable stuff. That's caused us, so many problems throughout history. The problem is that the logical positivist started themselves as the philosophical movement that was, above all else pro science. All the great things at the scientific method produced up until then point was a huge part of their identity and a big part of the reason they wanted things verified before we just blindly accept things as the truth, but as Karl Popper points out in early work and AJ are famously points out years later. If you believe the verification if something makes it meaningful, and you want to remain logically consistent. Not only do you have to throw religion and unverifiable philosophy? But if you want to remain consistent, you have to throw out all of science as well, because science isn't verifiable or more, Actually, the scientific laws and theories that we get from conducting experiments are not verifiable. In popper. Doesn't even take credit for this, he says Hume showed us this centuries ago, the Classic
example illustrating why this is the case is about swans, so for years in Western Europe, it was believed that all swans were white. No one had any reason to suspect anything other than that you can see old books where people talk about Swan, white, sat and, and you can see old poetry where people say things like you know her eyes were as white as a swan. Then, all of a sudden, the age of exploration comes along western Europe travels to Australia, and they see for the first time that there is such a thing as a black swan, as you can imagine, the scientific consensus in Western Europe before this was that all swans were white and the people living at the time. It would probably seem pedantic to even question whether all swans were white. I mean they've been living there for thousands of years. They'd seen millions of examples of after Swan being nothing but white, but the reality was that it was never the case that all swans were white. The people of Western Europe were just always restrict
to the samples they had that were immediately around them in their own little observable universe. This is a defining, an important characteristic of all scientific laws that we create from the results of the experiment we No matter how many experiments you run, no matter how many white swans, you see, general conclusions about the way that things are can never be something that is verifiable, empirically or logically again, synthetically analytically, you cannot use your senses to verify a statement like all swans are white, and you certainly can't defend a statement like that. Only using formal logic well as human points out so too, with every scientific law or theory that will ever be produced now. Does this make science any less awesome or useful no Karl Popper would immediately go on to say that the role of induction and scientific experiments is not to verify or confirm scientific theories, but to falsify or disconfirm scientific theories that are wrong.
None of this makes science invalid. All this means is that if you were a logical positivist in the early 20th century and verification was the criteria you were going to use to determine. If something was meaningful, you would have to throw out all of science if you were going to be consistent, and this is a big problem for the logical this. They try for awhile to find a way around this problem and eventually just end up moving on to other things. Another really important critique against a logical positivists comes after the movements, pretty much already crumbled from a thinker, name, keen, who's, doing sort of a post mortem of the whole thing he introduces what he calls. The two dogmas eracism number one, this age old idea from the enlightenment of there being a clear divide between analytic and synthetic propositions and two that it's actually possible to reduce experience down into raw sense data. Let me explain what he means here for years on this podcast we've talked about how enlightenment thinkers have said that
If we have anything, analytic and synthetic propositions are the two reliable methods we have at arriving at knowledge again. This is why they are so important to the logical, positivists but the implication is always been that there's a divide between these two kinds of propositions like when we say that something is true, a priore. The implication is that that statement is true prior to any sort of human experience. When I say all Bachelors are unmarried. The assumption has been that that statement is true because of the definitions of the words in the statement. There doesn't need to be any human experience involved for it to be true, and on the other side, on the a posteriori side of things, the implication is always been that I can say the faucets in the downstairs bathroom and that I don't need anything other than drop your sensory input to be able to verify to you whether that statement is true. Thinkers have accepted this as gospel for hundreds of years. Keen is going to call all of this into question. What, if this whole analytic synthetic
pose a divide has just been another longstanding enlightenment era. Myth that still haunting us like are these two types of propositions really completely divorced from each other for exam. When I say all bachelors are unmarried. Is that completely prior to any human? or was there at least some human experience required for me to understand the terms in the proposition, for example, what a bachelor is, but the concept of marriage is what it means not to be married. Also, the words bachelor, an unmarried both have multiple different potential meanings that could carry. For example, if unmarried sort of disconnected. Doesn't it take a certain amount of human experience for that to be clarified? On the other side, when I say the faucets on in the downstairs bathroom, this idea that you arriving at Ross. Since data about a faucet in a bathroom is just downright delusional
since data that you're perceiving is always what king calls theory laden or laden or filled with the theories that allow you to give context to reality. There is always a framework. You are using to make sense of the data you're taking in and you're always bringing tons of baggage about faucets and water and bathrooms, and many other things to bear. When you try to verify that statement and this extends to every sensory experience. You have the clear divide, that's existed for centuries between analytic and synthetic propositions starts to crumble. It starts to look like they both always need each other, at least in some small capacity with this analytic synthetic divide being such a crucial part of the work of the logical positivist, you can imagine how damaging something like this would be so with Karl Popper in Hume shut down the section of logical positivism that sees verification as the criterion of mean and teen shuts down the age old synthetic analytic divide that so important to them. Then, when it comes to the view of the logical,
service. That science is the ultimate rational, purveyor wisdom about the universe. Some who many think at the very least, shook things up and gave serious room for doubt in that area was Thomas in his one thousand nine hundred and sixty to work the structure of scientific revolutions. Now, in this book Tom, cone is calling into question another fundamental assumption. That's been made for centuries, the assumption about the notion of scientific progress and as a sorry if science is coming from an extremely unique perspective here. Cheap, the assumption is It's been that science proceeds in a linear way. It's cumulative always building on the science that came before it in more or less one direction, in other words the entire history of science. Since the
has been one long cumulative process all leading to where we are now with each scientist. Making gradual improvements on the work of the scientists that came before them led by nothing but their own reason, the scientific method and their own creativity to solve this puzzle of the universe, Thomas Kuhn, offers a different explanation for what's happened. Kuhn says that when you take a step back and you look at the history of science, more broadly, what you see is that the history of science is a series of scientific revolutions. Then, in between these revolutions, are long, stable periods where scientists conduct what he calls normal science for a while. Only two and. We run into another scientific revolution. Here's the process, that's repeated itself, all throughout history to Thomas Kuhn, There's a scientific revolution in the vein of Newton, Galileo, Copernicus and a new set of premises, a new way of looking
the universe. A new way of doing science burst onto the scene. People do science for a while, they conduct experiments. They make progress normal science as Kuhn says, but then, eventually, inevitably, scientists start to run into what seem like unsolvable problems that come up paradoxes things. This new approach to science can't seem to explain things that no matter how brilliant the people are that are trying to solve the puzzle. They just can't seem to reconcile and more that these seemingly unsolvable problems pile up the mortar roads away at the confidence of up and coming scientists, academic departments, the public and this process continues until there's a critical mass of people that become disillusioned with the current way of doing science. And it's at that point that a new scientific revolution occurs, which simply put is just a radical overthrowing of the premises, methods and ways of conducting science of the former era.
Let me give an example of this that Kuhn gives and then we'll talk about why this shift in the way we look at scientific revolutions matter. So much so for centuries before Copernicus wrote his book predicting the sun was at the center of the solar system. Western Europe followed the scientific method of Aristotle and Ptolemy's model of the orbiting of the planets with the earth at the center of the solar system now tored the later years. As technology advanced and people got more and more accurate, recording where the positions of the planets actually were me system,
having to become more and more complex, more and more addendums added onto it to be able to explain certain inconsistencies. This caused Copernicus to question Ptolemy's model and try to come up with a new explanation, namely one with the sun at the center of the solar system. But when he comes up with this theory, the whole thing is grounded in the possibility that planetary orbit, the cycles and epicycles of planets work completely different than any of the science of his day, supported. When Copernicus comes out with this book in one thousand five hundred and forty three he's seen as a pseudo scientist and Thomas Kuhn says the scientists of his day were perfectly in the right for thinking of him. This way, because nothing, he was saying, corresponded with any of the best science of their time. I mean imagine if you heard a theory today that was contrary to the best science of our time. Sometimes it can be hard to separate the pseudo from the revolutionary, but anyway, when the time of Copernicus, a revolution wasn't possible, yet not in
Disillusion had been built up with the system, yet Thomas Kuhn's, as a little more gets built up later, when Galileo comes along with his work on motion and friction, which was equally Speculative and yet no real means of proving these theories to anyone. Little more gets built up with the work of Johannes Kepler and his discovery of the law of equal areas. Point is Kepler helping to bring credibility to Galileo. Galileo, helping to bring credibility to compare
and finally, Newton distilling Kepler's three laws into a single theory of motion, thus giving rise to a scientific revolution, an entirely new way of looking at science. Now. The point here is that this is far from the view that science is something where change occurs gradually, cumulatively, in one direction. No, there was a very distinct moment where there was a changing of the guard a moment when there was a radical overthrow of most of the premises and methods of the former air of conducting science. Kuhn says a similar thing can be said to have happened around the time of Einstein. Now, here's the big point, the shift between errors and the perspectives of scientists marked by scientific revolu.
Things are so vast that the two different ways of conducting science become what he calls incommensurable and what he means is that these scientific revolutions change everything about what it is to be a scientist from the way. You view your work in the field. What questions you think are worthy of pursuing what criteria determines, whether something is verifiable or not. It even changes the very words you use, which not only drastically effects the way you think about the experiments you're running but distorts the way you see, work of people who came before you and for more scientific areas. For example, the word gravity means something entirely different to a scientist today than it did to Newton because of this to Thomas Kuhn. There can never be any direct translation between scientific errors the new era can't prove its model using the premises of the older era and the older era can't prove it.
Using the premises of the new era, the only way to be a proponent of either it's just to accept the set of premises and start doing normal science again, Thomas Kuhn, offers the theory that, because the sign- Revolutions are always predicated by a growing disillusion, with the existing method of doing science again, be it by up and coming scientists, academic department or the public scientific progress and the history of science. For that matter, is not guided by rationality as much as we'd like to think it has been in the past. Scientific progress, maybe mostly influenced by sociology. And a very human desire when frustration builds to shake the etch a sketch and start over with an entirely new set of premises. The big question is: how much does the social context that science is being conducted in affect the way we're conducting science? What follows from that is how much do the premises of the current scientific era affect? What you see is verifiable, if you're a logical positivist to Thomas Kuhn,
when it comes to comparing different scientific approaches, the verificationism of the logical positivist doesn't work because the criteria we used to do and whether something is verifiable or not is given to us by the social context and scientific error that we're living in Karl Popper's falsification doesn't work, because the theory that happens to have not been falsified yet is always reinforced by the current scientific narrative. There are many responses to the work of Thomas Kuhn, but one thing is for sure. His arguments definitely demand some pretty substantial explanation from anyone that wants to point to science, as the ultimate purveyor of As meaningful as many of the logical positivist did now again, ultimately, where we're heading with this is an accurate understanding of the postmodernist philosophers of the mid to late 20th century. What I want With this episode is sort of embody, this older way of thinking and start to explain the arguments that were coming up against it that eventually led Vitkin Stein and Heidegger move in an entirely different direction in their later work. Their later work setting the stage
for much of the world of the post, monitors will be about this move from idea language to ordinary language from being in time. Heidegger's later work next episode thanks,
Transcript generated on 2021-04-18.