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Logical Positivism Revisited
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Logical Positivism Revisited
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About The Book

The book Logical Positivism Revisited is an attempt to expound and critically examine the cardinal doctrines of logical positivism. The logical rigour with which the followers of this school of thought analysed the issues concerning language, knowledge and truth shows that the problems of philosophy can only be solved by resorting to logical analysis. The view that problems of philosophy surface because of our misunderstanding or loose correlation of our language has provided a new dimension to our philosophical thinking. Moreover, logical positivism's anti-metaphysical stance highlights its taste for logic, mathematics and science and its distaste for speculative thinking in philosophy. Such an attempt in philosophy is viewed by the logical positivists as a revolution in philosophy.

About The Author

Dr K. Srinivas (b. 1955) is a Professor of Philosophy at the Pondicherry University, Puducherry. An expert in epistemology, analytic philosophy, philosophy of science, logic and Indian philosophy, he was a visiting faculty at the University of Oregon, Eugene, USA in 2000 and a visiting scholar at universities in Germany and Thailand. He has published a number of articles in reputed journals of philosophy and presented papers in national and international seminars. His reputed works include A. J. Ayer's Logical Positivism (1990), A Dictionary of Philosophy (1993), A Concise Dictionary of Philosophy (2007) and Morality, Freedom and Social Construction (2010).

Preface

THE book Logical Positivism Revisited aims at examining the fundamental doctrines of logical positivism concerning ontology, epistemology and ethics. In the process, it introduces the reader to the basic tenets of classical empiricism of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. As it is widely acknowledged, even by the logical positivists, logical positivism is an offshoot of Humean empiricism in a different linguistic garb. In spite of the fact that there is an apparent unanimity in the claim of logical positivists as regards the function of philosophy as "logical analysis of language," it appears that they seldom had unanimity on a number of key philosophical issues. However, these independent views did not really go against the very spirit of logical positivism in general. The present work, by and large, heavily relies on A.J. Ayer's account of logical positivism as expounded in his works. Ayer, as one understands him from his writings, is a prolific and thought-provoking writer. Not only that, Ayer is instrumental in disseminating the philosophy of logical positivism to the English-speaking world. His arguments are imbued with great profundity and lucidity. After the demise of the great analysts like Moore, Russell and Wittgenstein, although Wittgenstein was not a member of the Vienna Circle, the credit goes to Ayer who took over the reins of logical positivist movement in Britain and defended its fundamental doctrines until his death in 1989. Logical positivism as a movement revolutionised the entire philosophical circles in the West between the two world wars with its radical approach towards the problems of philosophy.

But it gradually lost its grip in the philosophical circles over a period of time. This is the case with every philosophical movement and logical positivism is not an exception to this rule. History of philosophy is a living testimony to this fact. The grand philosophical systems and movements of the past had to give way to the newer ones. There is always a noticeable shift in human thinking, living and feeling. This shift is attributed to the prevailing historical and socio-economic conditions which determine the limitations of the life-world in which we are placed. What is important to note here is that logical positivism provided us with a set of new tools and techniques of analysis. These new tools and techniques have completely transformed our old ways of thinking in the sense that there is more stress on clarity. What is ambiguous and opaque to our thought is ' completely dispensed with. We have to admit this fact. In a BBC interview with Bryan Maggie in 1971, Ayer admitted that "the future of pure linguistic philosophy is very bleak." This statement of Ayer clearly vindicates the openness of a thinker. But, contrary to Ayer's prediction, linguistic philosophy has been accorded due place in the writings of postmodern 'philosophers, and it continues to exert its influence in one form or another, for we cannot dispense with language at all. Last but not least, I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude to many of my friends who inspired me in bringing out this work. One of them is Dr Clement Lourdes, Associate Professor, Department of English, Pondicherry University, Puducherry. Certainly, I cannot forget the encouragement given by my other friends.

Introduction

EVERY age is said to be an age of transition. In the absence of transition there is no change in the life of human beings. But, transition is always viewed as a progressive revolt against the old ways of thinking, feeling, and living. Such a revolt becomes almost a natural necessity. The rapid developments in science and technology substantiate this view. Consequently, the modern developments in science and technology proved to be a serious threat not only to many existing scientific theories, but also to philosophical theories, concepts, and the various categories of experience. It is really a testing time for those schools of thought that claim to have affinity with science in some way or the other. As it is realised by the scientists and some philosophers of science, there is nothing like perfect or absolute knowledge. Knowledge is always relative. Within this relative knowledge we find an element of absoluteness. As a result of new developments in modern science, there is every need to reconstruct certain systems of philosophical thought which profess their adherence to scientific thinking. Logical positivism is one such school of thought which claims to have taste for science, mathematics and logic, and distaste for metaphysics of the transcendental kind.

A philosophical theory or a school of thought is called genuinely scientific in so far as it provides rational answers to the problems of philosophy. And the problems of philosophy are nothing but the problems of life. In other words, the importance of a philosophical theory or a school of thought lies in its interpretation of the various facets of human experience for better understanding. In order to face this challenge the major systems of philosophy or schools of thought have to keep pace with the modern developments in the field of science. As time passes the old theories of philosophy lose their significance and gradually become obsolete. Nevertheless, some of the basic tenets of the earliest systems of philosophy or schools of thought are assimilated into newer ones to show progress in the sphere of human knowledge. But there are philosophers who claim that philosophy being a reflective activity need not always take recourse to science in explaining the various facets of human experience, for science itself is found wanting in many respects. The brute reduction of human experiences to science and scientific form of investigation is an unwarranted blind belief in science. Such an attempt robs philosophy of its legitimate role in human life. The best way to resolve the stand-off between philosophy and science is to determine their respective roles in building up human knowledge. If science aims at the explanation of the world of facts, philosophy aims at the understanding of the nature of the world. The distinction between explanation and understanding brings out the distinctive nature of the methods followed by these two disciplines. Most of our scientific explanations are the outcome of the experimental method. Likewise, our understanding of any phenomenon is dependent on the reflective method. But logical positivists overlooked this distinction and attempted to explain the concepts of philosophy by borrowing the method of analysis from science. Their distaste for metaphysics prompted them to opt for the scientific method.

Now the question that arises is: What is the relation between science and philosophy? Many people are of the opinion that these disciplines are two poles apart. They believe that philosophy is an abstruse and the most abstract of all the disciplines, and it has nothing to do with mundane human experiences. Thus, they identify philosophy either with theology or metaphysics, especially with transcendental metaphysics. Partly, the philosophers of the ancient Greece and the medieval period are responsible for giving such a picture about philosophy. For instance, in Plato's philosophy, Plato erected an iron curtain between the phenomenal world (the world of becoming) and the world of Forms (the eternal world). Plato held that those who possess the knowledge of the world of Forms are really endowed with 'wisdom'. Thus in Plato's metaphysics the trans-empirical world, which is beyond human comprehension, is rated as higher order reality. The world of phenomena or the empirical world is only a carbon copy of the trans-empirical one. The medieval thinkers like St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, and St Anselm had God as central figure in their systems of thought. Even in the modern period, the philosophers like Rene Descartes, William Leibniz and George Berkeley clubbed theology with philosophy. However, the contributions of these philosophers to the history of ideas are not to be underrated or ignored. Every philosopher is directly or indirectly influenced by the existing historical and socio-economic conditions of the period in which he lived. A cursory look at the history of philosophy reveals this fact. The generations of philosophers have attempted to rectify the mistakes or errors committed by the earlier thinkers with a view to building a new philosophical system. Every new system is treated as a stepping stone for further progress in the field of human knowledge. These new developments in philosophy have changed the scope and the aim of philosophy considerably. This resulted in the denial speculative thinking in philosophy to make philosophy logically rigorous and scientific.

**Contents and Sample Pages**












Logical Positivism Revisited

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About The Book

The book Logical Positivism Revisited is an attempt to expound and critically examine the cardinal doctrines of logical positivism. The logical rigour with which the followers of this school of thought analysed the issues concerning language, knowledge and truth shows that the problems of philosophy can only be solved by resorting to logical analysis. The view that problems of philosophy surface because of our misunderstanding or loose correlation of our language has provided a new dimension to our philosophical thinking. Moreover, logical positivism's anti-metaphysical stance highlights its taste for logic, mathematics and science and its distaste for speculative thinking in philosophy. Such an attempt in philosophy is viewed by the logical positivists as a revolution in philosophy.

About The Author

Dr K. Srinivas (b. 1955) is a Professor of Philosophy at the Pondicherry University, Puducherry. An expert in epistemology, analytic philosophy, philosophy of science, logic and Indian philosophy, he was a visiting faculty at the University of Oregon, Eugene, USA in 2000 and a visiting scholar at universities in Germany and Thailand. He has published a number of articles in reputed journals of philosophy and presented papers in national and international seminars. His reputed works include A. J. Ayer's Logical Positivism (1990), A Dictionary of Philosophy (1993), A Concise Dictionary of Philosophy (2007) and Morality, Freedom and Social Construction (2010).

Preface

THE book Logical Positivism Revisited aims at examining the fundamental doctrines of logical positivism concerning ontology, epistemology and ethics. In the process, it introduces the reader to the basic tenets of classical empiricism of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. As it is widely acknowledged, even by the logical positivists, logical positivism is an offshoot of Humean empiricism in a different linguistic garb. In spite of the fact that there is an apparent unanimity in the claim of logical positivists as regards the function of philosophy as "logical analysis of language," it appears that they seldom had unanimity on a number of key philosophical issues. However, these independent views did not really go against the very spirit of logical positivism in general. The present work, by and large, heavily relies on A.J. Ayer's account of logical positivism as expounded in his works. Ayer, as one understands him from his writings, is a prolific and thought-provoking writer. Not only that, Ayer is instrumental in disseminating the philosophy of logical positivism to the English-speaking world. His arguments are imbued with great profundity and lucidity. After the demise of the great analysts like Moore, Russell and Wittgenstein, although Wittgenstein was not a member of the Vienna Circle, the credit goes to Ayer who took over the reins of logical positivist movement in Britain and defended its fundamental doctrines until his death in 1989. Logical positivism as a movement revolutionised the entire philosophical circles in the West between the two world wars with its radical approach towards the problems of philosophy.

But it gradually lost its grip in the philosophical circles over a period of time. This is the case with every philosophical movement and logical positivism is not an exception to this rule. History of philosophy is a living testimony to this fact. The grand philosophical systems and movements of the past had to give way to the newer ones. There is always a noticeable shift in human thinking, living and feeling. This shift is attributed to the prevailing historical and socio-economic conditions which determine the limitations of the life-world in which we are placed. What is important to note here is that logical positivism provided us with a set of new tools and techniques of analysis. These new tools and techniques have completely transformed our old ways of thinking in the sense that there is more stress on clarity. What is ambiguous and opaque to our thought is ' completely dispensed with. We have to admit this fact. In a BBC interview with Bryan Maggie in 1971, Ayer admitted that "the future of pure linguistic philosophy is very bleak." This statement of Ayer clearly vindicates the openness of a thinker. But, contrary to Ayer's prediction, linguistic philosophy has been accorded due place in the writings of postmodern 'philosophers, and it continues to exert its influence in one form or another, for we cannot dispense with language at all. Last but not least, I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude to many of my friends who inspired me in bringing out this work. One of them is Dr Clement Lourdes, Associate Professor, Department of English, Pondicherry University, Puducherry. Certainly, I cannot forget the encouragement given by my other friends.

Introduction

EVERY age is said to be an age of transition. In the absence of transition there is no change in the life of human beings. But, transition is always viewed as a progressive revolt against the old ways of thinking, feeling, and living. Such a revolt becomes almost a natural necessity. The rapid developments in science and technology substantiate this view. Consequently, the modern developments in science and technology proved to be a serious threat not only to many existing scientific theories, but also to philosophical theories, concepts, and the various categories of experience. It is really a testing time for those schools of thought that claim to have affinity with science in some way or the other. As it is realised by the scientists and some philosophers of science, there is nothing like perfect or absolute knowledge. Knowledge is always relative. Within this relative knowledge we find an element of absoluteness. As a result of new developments in modern science, there is every need to reconstruct certain systems of philosophical thought which profess their adherence to scientific thinking. Logical positivism is one such school of thought which claims to have taste for science, mathematics and logic, and distaste for metaphysics of the transcendental kind.

A philosophical theory or a school of thought is called genuinely scientific in so far as it provides rational answers to the problems of philosophy. And the problems of philosophy are nothing but the problems of life. In other words, the importance of a philosophical theory or a school of thought lies in its interpretation of the various facets of human experience for better understanding. In order to face this challenge the major systems of philosophy or schools of thought have to keep pace with the modern developments in the field of science. As time passes the old theories of philosophy lose their significance and gradually become obsolete. Nevertheless, some of the basic tenets of the earliest systems of philosophy or schools of thought are assimilated into newer ones to show progress in the sphere of human knowledge. But there are philosophers who claim that philosophy being a reflective activity need not always take recourse to science in explaining the various facets of human experience, for science itself is found wanting in many respects. The brute reduction of human experiences to science and scientific form of investigation is an unwarranted blind belief in science. Such an attempt robs philosophy of its legitimate role in human life. The best way to resolve the stand-off between philosophy and science is to determine their respective roles in building up human knowledge. If science aims at the explanation of the world of facts, philosophy aims at the understanding of the nature of the world. The distinction between explanation and understanding brings out the distinctive nature of the methods followed by these two disciplines. Most of our scientific explanations are the outcome of the experimental method. Likewise, our understanding of any phenomenon is dependent on the reflective method. But logical positivists overlooked this distinction and attempted to explain the concepts of philosophy by borrowing the method of analysis from science. Their distaste for metaphysics prompted them to opt for the scientific method.

Now the question that arises is: What is the relation between science and philosophy? Many people are of the opinion that these disciplines are two poles apart. They believe that philosophy is an abstruse and the most abstract of all the disciplines, and it has nothing to do with mundane human experiences. Thus, they identify philosophy either with theology or metaphysics, especially with transcendental metaphysics. Partly, the philosophers of the ancient Greece and the medieval period are responsible for giving such a picture about philosophy. For instance, in Plato's philosophy, Plato erected an iron curtain between the phenomenal world (the world of becoming) and the world of Forms (the eternal world). Plato held that those who possess the knowledge of the world of Forms are really endowed with 'wisdom'. Thus in Plato's metaphysics the trans-empirical world, which is beyond human comprehension, is rated as higher order reality. The world of phenomena or the empirical world is only a carbon copy of the trans-empirical one. The medieval thinkers like St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, and St Anselm had God as central figure in their systems of thought. Even in the modern period, the philosophers like Rene Descartes, William Leibniz and George Berkeley clubbed theology with philosophy. However, the contributions of these philosophers to the history of ideas are not to be underrated or ignored. Every philosopher is directly or indirectly influenced by the existing historical and socio-economic conditions of the period in which he lived. A cursory look at the history of philosophy reveals this fact. The generations of philosophers have attempted to rectify the mistakes or errors committed by the earlier thinkers with a view to building a new philosophical system. Every new system is treated as a stepping stone for further progress in the field of human knowledge. These new developments in philosophy have changed the scope and the aim of philosophy considerably. This resulted in the denial speculative thinking in philosophy to make philosophy logically rigorous and scientific.

**Contents and Sample Pages**












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