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Logical positivism

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q061-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

Logical positivism (logical empiricism, neo-positivism) originated in Austria and Germany in the 1920s. Inspired by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century revolutions in logic, mathematics and mathematical physics, it aimed to create a similarly revolutionary scientific philosophy purged of the endless controversies of traditional metaphysics. Its most important representatives were members of the Vienna Circle who gathered around Moritz Schlick at the University of Vienna (including Rudolf Carnap, Herbert Feigl, Kurt Gödel, Hans Hahn, Karl Menger, Otto Neurath and Friedrich Waismann) and those of the Society for Empirical Philosophy who gathered around Hans Reichenbach at the University of Berlin (including Walter Dubislav, Kurt Grelling and Carl Hempel). Although not officially members of either group, the Austrian philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper were, at least for a time, closely associated with logical positivism.

The logical positivist movement reached its apogee in Europe in the years 1928–34, but the rise of National Socialism in 1933 marked the effective end of this phase. Thereafter, however, many of its most important representatives emigrated to the USA. Here logical positivism found a receptive audience among such pragmatically, empirically and logically minded American philosophers as Charles Morris, Ernest Nagel and W.V. Quine. Thus transplanted to the English-speaking world of ‘analytic’ philosophy it exerted a tremendous influence – particularly in philosophy of science and the application of logical and mathematical techniques to philosophical problems more generally. This influence began to wane around 1960, with the rise of a pragmatic form of naturalism due to Quine and a historical-sociological approach to the philosophy of science due mainly to Thomas Kuhn. Both of these later trends, however, developed in explicit reaction to the philosophy of logical positivism and thereby attest to its enduring significance.

Citing this article:
Friedman, Michael. Logical positivism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q061-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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