A Quick Thought on Scientism and Logical Positivism

A Quick Thought on Scientism and Logical Positivism November 25, 2018


Bondi is beautiful.
Greater Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach isn’t terribly far from where I’m writing at the moment and I’ve been there before, although I don’t know whether we’ll be able to visit it on this particular expedition. Of course, it’s difficult to imagine Moritz Schlick or Rudolf Carnap tanning himself on Bondi, either.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


Whew.  I have to admit that reading the following took a great load off of my mind.  I’ll now be able to go about today’s appointments and obligations in a lot brighter frame of mind:


“Our Universe’s Gravity Isn’t Leaking Into Other Dimensions, Physicists Find”




Many homeowners in Arizona have obviously long since made peace with this idea.  Will we in Utah and elsewhere?  I confess that I’ve always liked the manicured English lawns at places like the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and so forth.  But the Great Basin is neither Oxfordshire nor Cambridgeshire:


“The Lawn Grass Probably Isn’t Greener: Conventional lawns are not sustainable, and one expert says it’s time to consider alternatives”




I’m not quite sure why the thought hadn’t occurred to me years before, but it seems pretty clear to me that scientism, in at least some of its manifestations, is the close cousin or sibling if not indeed altother the Doppelgänger of the once-fashionable form(s) of philosophy known as logical positivism, logical empiricism, and/or neopositivism.


Very popular, especially in Europe, in the 1920s and 1930s, logical positivism, as I’ll call it here, argued that only statements that can be verified through empirical observation can be regarded as “significant” or genuinely meaningful.  Statements regarding “unobservables” — and there is a vast host of such unobservables, some of them really quite important — were to be regarded as expressions of hope or preference, or as metaphorical, or, less charitably but not uncommonly, as “nonsense.”


Prominent groups of philosophers, engineers, scientists, and mathematicians, especially those associated with the so-called Berlin Circle (“led” most prominently by Hans Reichenbach) and the Vienna Circle (most notably including Moritz Schlick, but also Rudolf Carnap, Hans Hahn, Otto Neurath, and eventual Carl Hempel, with Karl Popper as their persistent, friendly, in-house dissenter and critic), were seeking to establish philosophy as a science-based discipline, freed from such matters as metaphysics and (certainly for some, at least) theology, where no empirical proof was available — definitely no decisive empirical proof — and, thus, where arguments have gone on and on for centuries and are likely to continue forever, this side of the veil of death anyway, without clear, objective resolution.


There’s at least one pretty obvious problem at the base of the enterprise, though:  The proposition that only statements verifiable through empirical observation should be regarded as “significant” or genuinely meaningful is, itself, not strictly verifiable through empirical observation.


I’ll have to think about this a bit more.


Posted from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia



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