Logical Positivism:  The Vienna Circle Unity of Science

Its Program and Presuppositions

(Progenitor to Post Modern Relativism)


By the decades of the 1940s and 50s, the form of Empiricism was generally called “Logical Empiricism.” This movement represented the dominate philosophical mode of the past three decades.  It was a search for clarification of the foundations and meaning of knowledge rather than a need for justification of a preconceived view.  It was a concerted effort to place philosophy on scientifically tenable critical analysis rather than make it universal by vague generalizations and dogmatic construction of systems.  It was in general a multicultural diversity among alternative opinions  (see my essay, “Kuhn’s Concept of Paradigmatic Revolution” (his work is the most referenced work in the past forty years).   Logical Empiricism was developed by the Vienna Circle. 


The Vienna Circle evolved in 1923 out of a seminar led by Professor Moritz Schliek and attended by . . .F. Waismann, H. Feigel;  . . . out of this Thursday evening discussion group the Vienna Circle was formed.  Many of the participants were not professional philosophers. . . .  Schlick had specialized in Physics. . .Hans Hahn was a  mathematician, Otto Neurath was a sociologist, Victor Hahn a historian, Felix Kaufmann was a lawyer. . .Philipp Frank a Prague Physicist, Kurt Goedel and C.R. Hempel from Berlin, A.J. Ayer from Oxford.  Others were loosely associated with the group—K. Menger, E. Zilsel and Karl Popper (Op.cit., p. 406).


            The most decisive and rapid development of ideas began in 1926 when Carnap was called to the university of Vienna.  His contributions to axiomatics and particularly his theory of the constitution of empirical concepts (published in his book, Der logische Aufbander Welt).  In the same year Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was also studied by the circle.  The philosophical position of Logical Positivism in its original form was the outcome of these profoundly incisive influences.  Carnap and Wittgenstein provided a more radical statement quite independently.  Wittgenstein was later called to Cambridge, England and later became successor to G.E. Moore. 


The discussions of the Circle centered about the foundation of logic and mathematics, the logic of empirical knowledge and only occasionally excursions into the philosophy of the social sciences and ethics.  Despite the many differences of opinion, there was a remarkable spirit of friendly cooperation of the circle.  The procedure was definitely that of a joint search for clarity.  (H. Feigel, op.cit., pp. 16-17)


A detailed exposition of the work of The Vienna Circle was given in 1929 in a publication entitled Wissenschattliche Weltauffassung: Das Wiener Kreis which marked the appearance of The Circle before the public as an organization with a scientific as well as educational purpose.  The document expressed the aim of the Circle to form an “Einheitswissen schaft”, i.e., a unified science comprising all knowledge of reality accessible to man without dividing it into separate, unconnected special disciplines, such as physics and psychology, natural science and letters, philosophy and the special sciences.  The way to attain this is by use of the logical method of analysis worked out by Peano, Frege, Whitehead and Russell, which serves to eliminate metaphysical problems and assertions as meaningless as well as to clarify the meaning of concepts and sentences of empirical science by showing their immediately observable content—“das Gegebene.”  The application of logical analysis, which is a distinctive feature of the new empiricism and the code of positivism, as compared to the older forms of these movements, it obtains a hitherto unattained completeness and precision.  The culmination so far has been reached in the “constitution theory” advanced by Rudolf Carnap in Der logische Auflbau der Welt (Berlin, 1928), according to which any tenable concept of real objects is constituted by being reduced to characteristics of which is immediately given and any meaningful statement is constituted by being reduced to a statement of the given.  Here lies the framework of the Vienna Circle; its negative task is an expurgation of metaphysical, speculative statements as meaningless, while its positive task is to define even more precisely and fully the meaning of scientifically tenable statements.


There is a God, . . .  The first cause of the world is the unconscious. . . there is an entelechy which is the leading principle in living things, . . .  We do not say ‘what you say is false’; rather, we ask him, ‘what do you mean by your statement?’  It then appears that there is a sharp division between two types of statements.  One of the types includes statements as they are made in empirical science; their meaning can be determined by logical analyses, or more precisely, by reduction to simple sentences about empirical given.  The other statements, including those mentioned above, show themselves to be completely meaningless.  (Wissenschaftliche Weltausffassung, documents published by Vienna Circle, pp. 16-17)


This position clearly implies that there is no meaning to value or theological statements.  The impact of Logical Empiricism enters the theological discussion from the 1940’s to 1960’s, i.e., death of God talk, moral norms (Lifeboat Ethics/Situational Ethics, etc.).  The theory of “constitutions” and philosophy and knowledge claims in general is radically reconstituted.  The entire history of philosophy is called in questions!


            The forerunners of logical empiricism are all those philosophers and scientists who show a clear anti metaphysical or anti speculative, realistic or materialistic, critical or skeptical tendency—as well as all who contributed to the methodological instrument—Symbolic Logic.  Classically, the Sophists and Epicureans are mentioned; the Middle Ages, the Nominalists; and in modern times, Neurath gives the following three lists of names indicating the lines of development in England, France, and Germany that may have led directly to Logical Positivism/Empiricism:  Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Bentham, J.S. Mill, Spencer, Descartes, Bayle, D. Alembert, Saint-Simon, Comte, Poincare, Leibniz, Bolzano, Mach (Otto Neurath, Le Development du cercle de Vienna (Paris, 1935, p. 58).


            A subject grouping (vs. nationality):  (1) Postivism and Empiricism: Hume, the philosophers of The Enlightenment, Comte, Mill, Avenarius, Mach.  (2)  The Basic aim and methods (hypotheses in physics, geometry, etc.) of the empirical sciences: Helmholtz, Riemann, Mach, Poincare, Enrigues, Duhem, Boltzmann, Einstein.  (3)  Logistics and its application to reality: Leibniz, Peano, Frege, Schroder, Russell, Whitehead, Wittgenstein.  (4)  Axiomatics: Pasch, Peano, Vailoti, Piere, Hilbert.  (5) Eudaemonism and Positivistic sociology: Epicurus, Hume, Bentham, Mill, Comte, Feuerbach, Marx, Spencer, Muller, Lyer, Popper, Lymkeus, Carl Menger (the economist).  The Vienna Circle and operationalists who were closely related to the Circle’s project.  Three of the most important influences were Ernst Mach, Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittenstein.


Positivism of Ernst Mach (1838-1916)


            Ernst Mach received a professorship in philosophy, especially the history and theory of the inductive sciences, at the University of Vienna.  Due to ill health, he retired in 1901.  He was succeeded by the famous physicist, L. Boltzmann.  Mach’s interest in the historical development of the nature of science was exposed in his works, The Science of Mechanics (E.T. Chicago, 1893); The Analyses of Sensations (E.T. Chicago 1914); Popular Scientific Lectures (E.T. Chicago 1895); and his Principles of Physical Optics (E.T., New York, 1926).


            In these works, Mach advanced his positivistic theory of knowledge, according to which human knowledge from its most primitive forms to the heights of science is a biological phenomenon on part of the history of man.  Influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution, he conceived knowledge as a never-ending process of adjustment of thoughts to reality and to each other.  Apriori and eternal truths do not exist, nor is there any deference in principle between axioms and deduced sentences.  All statements concerning the world, particularly as well as general rules, natural laws, theories and principles, are subject to continuous control and modification  by experience.  Even geometrical sentences are “. . .in so far as they are about reality, empirical sentences whose validity depends simply an  immemorial observation of regularities in the spatial conditions and movements of things; so considered geometry is a part of nature science of the same kind as mechanics or the theory of heat or the theory of electricity.”  (Joergen Joergensen, Development of Logical Empiricism, volume II, No. 9 (University of Chicago Press, 1951, pp. 8-9); also my essay “Logical/Epistemological Science and The Darwinian Theory of Evolution” (See the LCC web at worldvieweyes.resources)


            Space itself is merely the totality of the spatial relation of things, and not as believed by Newton and Kant, an empty container in which things have been decoded in the “absolute” places or in which they perform “absolute” movements.  A “thing in itself” existing behind these elements is a metaphysical illusion, even though these changes have led us to believe that the “same” things persist throughout the changes.  Natural law should be stated as functional relations between the elements.  To a person measuring the location for a house, the surface of the earth is a plane, but to the person undertaking an exact measurement of the total surface of the globe, it is a spheroid.  There is no contradiction in this, if only it is realized that the observations are made under different conditions and in different ways and that the words describing them take on different meaning when we pass from one standpoint to another “up and down” are everyday terms which have an easily understood sense in the world of our everyday life but which lose this sense when we proceed to describe the universe astronomically.  Similarly, the words red, yellow and blue are names designating sensations, and as such, are well suited to describe the phenomena of our daily lives; however, they must be replaced by words like “wave movements” or “corpuscle rays” if one wants to describe the more subtle phenomena and contents of phenomena observed by the physicist in his investigation of color.  Every scientific statement is a statement about complexes of sensations and beyond or behind these there are no realities to be looked for, because the word “reality” itself is merely a name for the sum total of the complexes of observable sensations (see my paper, “The Demise of Transcendence: The Race Toward Immanence” on resurgent Pantheism in cosmology, pp. 1-7 (e.g. Loss of “universe”; i.e., New Age Monism).


            This radical empiricism has powerful significance for any discussion of “Ego” (individual person), consciousness, intentionality, soul, mind, etc.)  If there is a difference between physical and psychical phenomena, does it depend on the nature of the phenomena or solely on the context in which it occurs (see my paper “The Counter Culture Meets the Neurophysical Revolution: The Demise of The Self/Person in Postmodern Neurology”; and “The Neurophysical Revolution: Shaping Forces in The Counter Culture (e.g., Psalm 8 “What is man that thou art mindful of him?”


            If physical and psychical phenomena are not essentially different, then all statements concerning them are of exactly equal rank, since they can all be reduced to statements about complexes of sensations which are all that is given or immediately observable.


            In the classical positivism of Comte and Mach, observable physical objects are opposed to fiction, speculatively constructed metaphysical entities.  Comte found no room for psychology and classified it under biology.  Comte’s hierarchic structure of the six sciences are (1) Mathematics, (2) Astronomy, (3) Physics, (4) Chemistry, (5) Biology and Sociology—each presupposing the preceding comes without being capable of being “deduced” from them.  Comte’s idea totally rejects the idea of a unity of science.  Mach anticipated the unity of science by reducing all statements of sensation.  Comte’s positivism is closer to Marx’s Dialectical Materialism than is Mach and the modern theory of emergent evolution, a fact which finds expression in Lenin’s brilliant criticism of “Machism” in his Materialism and Empires criticism, in the Collected Works of Lenin, vol. xiii, E.T., NY, 1927).


            Perhaps Bertrand Russell is the greatest representative of English Empiricism and the father of “Logical Positivism.”  Russell is the first person to make the conscious and extensive application of logical analysis to the problems of epistemological empiricism, a position which was not reached by neither Comte nor Mach but which is characteristic of Logical Empiricism (for Mach’s relation to logical empiricism, see R. von Mises, “Ernst Mach und die empiristische Wittenschaftsauffassung,” Einkeitswissenschift (Library of Unified Science, no. 7, Gravenhage, 1938).


The Logical Positivism of Bertrand Russell


            Bertrand Russell (born in 1872) is one of the great pioneers of modern logistics.  In his The Principles of Mathematics (1903) and in Principia Mathematica, volumes I-III (1910-1913), which he wrote in collaboration with Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), Russell made a more critical and comprehensive attempt than had yet been made to develop a symbolic logic and to show that all pure mathematics may be reduced to formal logic.  This reduction he attempted to carry through by (1) trying to define all the main concepts of mathematics (such as the concepts

 of natural numbers and of the various kinds of numbers, the basic concepts of the theory of manifolds, and concepts like continuity and derivative by means of a half a dozen basic logical concepts and (b) by trying to prove all the axioms of mathematics by means of half-a-dozen logical axioms.  Russell attempted to carry on by logicticising all mathematics, the concept of a natural number being, for instance, defined as “a class of similar classes.”  Russell’s contribution was not totally successful but provided investigators of the foundations of mathematics, and to philosophers.  Only three of his suggestions placed a special part in the foundation of Logical Positivism.


            The study of logical paradoxes and of paradoxes within the theory of sets led Russell to set forth the theory of logical types according to which, for instance, every call is of a higher type than are its members and every statement about another statement is of a higher type than one about which it is made.  If the types are kept apart, paradoxes can be avoided, whereas there is a risk of such paradoxes if the types are confused.  Russell maintained that statements containing confusions of types are meaningless even if, according to the usual linguistic syntax, and so he replaced the current logical division of statements into true and false by the tripartation:  true, false, and meaningless.


            Russell’s theory of types and Russell/Whitehead’s “principles of abstraction” can equally well be called “the principle which dispenses with abstraction.”


            In Principia Mathematica, formal logic was generalized systematisized and made precise to such an extent and couched in such expedient of symbolic language, and we understand and the great expectations of Russell when he said, “The old logic put thought in fetters, while the new logic gives it wings.  It has in my opinion introduced the same kind of logic into Philosophy as Galileo introduced into physics, making it possible at last to see what kinds of problems may be capable of solution, and what kinds must be abandoned as beyond human powers.  And where a solution appears possible, the new logic provides a method which enables us to obtain results that do not merely embody personal idiosyncrasies, but must command the assent of all who are competent to form an opinion.” (Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World as a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy (Chicago, 1914), chp. 11; note also his “Logical Atomism” in Contemporary British Philosophy: Personal Statements First series (London and NY, 1924, p. 368; also A.I. Ayer, et.al., The Revolution in Philosophy (London, 1956) and his Language, Truth and Logic (NY: Dover Press, 1946).


            In his Boston lectures in 1914, he used his new logical analytical method for the solution of epistemological problems.  This leading principle was here a form of Occam’s razor or law of parsimony.  J. Russell later stated “wherever possible, substitute constrictions out of known entities for inference to unknown entities.”  (Ibid., p. 363)  “Whatever was verified is unchanged, but our language is so interpreted as to avoid an unnecessary metaphysical assumption of permanence.”  (Russell, Our Knowledge, pp. 111-112)  See references to Nominalism.


            The similarities with Mach are clear (see esp. Russell’s Analysis of the Mind (1921), The Analysis of Matter (1927), as well as in An Outline of Philosophy (1927) were his basic views in principles are unchanged.  The only difference between Russell and Whitehead was that he did not reduce them to sense data but to so-called “events.”  Altogether, philosophical analysis of objects and statements became the main preoccupation of the Cambridge analysts (e.g. B. Russell and G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica (1903).  “It appears to me that in ethics, as in all other philosophical studies, the difficulties and disagreements, of which its history is full, are mainly due to a very simple cause; namely, to the attempt to answer questions without first discovering precisely what question it is which you desire to answer.   “Yes or no” will not answer many questions (G.E. Moore, Principia ethica (Cambridge, 1903, p. ix; ) R.A. Schilpp, editor, The Philosophy of G.E,.Moore (NY, 1952)


            For our purposes it is important to realize that Ludwig Wittgenstein, who attended Moore’s lectures during the years 1912-1914 and later from 1939 to 1948, became Moore’s  successor to the professorship at Cambridge (R.B. Braithwaite, “Philosophy,” in Cambridge University Studies, vii, 1933, pp. 1-32).


            As Wittgenstein played a greater part than any other one philosopher in the development of The Vienna Circle, which seems to have had any close knowledge of Moore, it will be necessary to be more explicit with his original philosophy.


Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Logical Philosophical Treatise


            With the appearance of this intellectual giant, he is standing on the shoulders of another giant, Edmund Husserl, who influenced postmodern philosophy and theology, both Protestants and Roman Catholics.  Through his students, Heidegger and Sartre, aspects of existentialism arose.  The biblical theology of R. Bultmann reflects the fundamental presuppositions of Heidegger.  Finally, through the clarification of the nature and meaning of phenomenology, Husserl has helped bring into existence a method for the examination of world cultures and world religions which is called Phenomenology of Religion, with the incentives from Franz Brentano, Wittgenstine accepted Brentano’s view of the true method of philosophy as none other than that of natural science, e.g., the Vienna Circle.  Thirty years later he attempted to broaden empiricism via a new type of experience—“idesle anschauung” described by Descriptive Psychology.  Husserl’s critique of Ernst Schroder’s Vordesungen uber  der Algebra dem Logic (3 vols., Leipzig, 1890-1905) is also applicable to Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica.  In this work there is a presupposition that the symbol presentation actually refer to a universal logic from which the whole of mathematics may be deduced.  The breakdown of the thesis of Principia Mathematica due to awareness that the system refers only to a very small and technical section of logic is also confirmation of Husserl’s criticism of Schroder’s logic.  There is a great difference, according to Husserl, between a universal logic and a symbolic system.  The logic of a formal logical system “is not investigated by a formal logical system.”


            The brief reference to Husserel, Russell, Whitehead and Wittgenstein is essential for understanding the crisis of postmodern thought (see my essay, “Goedel’s Refutation of The Mechanical Models of Explanation, pp. 1-47) for history of changing views of mathematics and logic and the demise of foundationalism by which alone can there be rational critique of alternative theories of explanation.  The result of postmodern thought precipitates cultural/epistemological relativism, i.e., into World Views, Presuppositionalism, Legitimization Structures vs. Operationalism and Conventionalism.  At this point we take note of the multicultural/diversity/pluralism in our postmodern maze.


            The only published work of Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico philosophicus, which appeased first Oswald’s Annalen der naturphilosophie in 1921.  It next appeared in London with German text and English translation.  Its content was a series of aphorisms with comments   Waismann, Schlick and Russell were in touch with Wittgenstein.  Some of the fundamental views are basis for Russell’s mature thought, of which some are (1) The world is everything that is the case; (2) The existence of atomic facts is the case; (3) The logical picture of the facts is the thought; (4) the thought is the significant proposition; (5) Propositions are truth functions of elementary propositions (an elementary truth function is a truth function of itself); (6) The general form of truth function is [p, e, n, (e)]--p stands for the class of all elementary propositions; e stands for a case of propositions; n and (e) stands for the negative of all propositions, making up e.  (Now this is the general form of proposition e.  “Where one cannot speak, one must be silent.”  (see Russell, et.al. for this critique )


Wittgenstein’s answer that “In the nature languages, this relationship of projection is highly imperfect and that is just why our everyday language gives rise to many misunderstandings and senseless philosophical problems. . . .  Most propositions and questions that have been written about philosophical matters are not false, but senseless.  We cannot, therefore answer questions of this kind at all, but only state their senselessness. (see Mauthner’s and Russell’s critiques)


            Wittgenstein declares that “the propositions of logic are tautologies” (6.1).  “The proposition of logic therefore says nothing.”  (They are the analytical prepositions). “It is the characteristic mark on logical proposition that one can perceive in the symbol alone that they are true; and this fact contains in it the whole philosophy of logic.  And so also it is one of the most important facts that the truth or falsehood of non-logical propositions cannot be recognized from the propositions alone.  “The fact that the propositions of logic are tautologies shows the formal-logical properties of language of the world” (6.12), that is to say, if we know the logical syntax of any language, then all the propositions of logic are already given.” (6.124)    “All propositions of logic are of equal rank; they are not some which are essentially primitive and others deduced from these.  Every tautology itself shows that it is a tautology.” (6.127).  The Vienna Circle declares that “Logical research means the investigation of all regularity.  And outside of logic all is accident” (6.3).  It became immediately clear that ethics, theological language, etc., cannot be expressed (6.421).  Wittgenstein’s deep mysticism is declared “Now how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is” (6.44).  “For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed.  The riddle does not exist.  If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered” (6.6).  The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem. . . .” (6.521).  To say nothing except what can be said, i.e., the propositions of natural science, i.e., something that has nothing to do with philosophy.  “Where one cannot speak, therefore one must be silent” (7).  Here is the drum-beat of the death of God language (i.e., Theology, doctrine, true-truth)  and moral statements of “Should” cannot be meaningful declarations if one follows Wittgenstein into the horrible death of Christian truth claims.


Rudolf Carnap’s Theory of The Constitution of Concepts


Carnap’s “Theory of Constitution” is put forward in his work, Der logische Aufbau der Welt (The Logical Construction of The World) (E.T., 1928).Carnap defines whether a statement is meaningful before one knows whether it is true or false.  “If a statement contains only concepts which are already known or recognized, it derives its meaning from these.  On the other hand, if a statement contains a new concept or one whose legitimacy (scientific applicability) is in question, we must specify its meaning.  In order to do this, it is necessary and sufficient to state the (only thinkable) experimental situations in which it would  be called true (not) in which it is true, and those in which it would be called false.”  (Carnap, Scheinproblems, pp. 27-29)


            It is the task of the theory of constitution to arrange the objects of every science according to their reducibility.  What Russell and Whitehead did in Principia Mathematica with regards to mathematics, i.e., reduced all mathematical concepts to the logical fundamental concepts, Carnap in his theory of constitution attempts to do with regard to the natural and social science, although as far as the greater part is concerned, only in outline and with a limited application of symbolic logic.


            Carnap’s definitions are formulated in “realistic language.”  “We call an object a reducible to objects b, c, . . . f for the existence of every state of affairs with regard to a, b, c,.  A necessary and sufficient condition maybe given which depends only objects b, c, . . .

(Carnap, Der logische aufban der Welt,, p. 1 and 65)


            The radical development among influential components were expressed in the work of H. Reichenback (see esp. “Logic Empiricism in Germany and the Present State of Its Problems” Journal of Philosophy xxxiii 1936, esp. p. 114); E.T. Experience and Prediction, p. 363; for basic critique see J.R. Weinberg, An Examination of Logical Positivism (London, 1936).


            Reichenbach’s theory of induction which assumes that probability logic can be applied to reality.  But what rights have we to assume that this is so?  In answering this question Reichenbach attempts to show that all the assumptions of probability logic may be reduced to one, viz., the existence of a limit of relative frequency in a series of observable facts.  If such limit exists, all the laws of calculus of probability become tautological, and the question of the applicability of probability logic is reduced to the question of whether the series of observable facts approach a limit or not.  The assumption that they do so is decidedly no tautology, and already Hume has shown that the correctness of this assumption cannot be proved.  Heisenberg agrees, but argues as follows, he still thinks there is a certain rational justification in maintaining the following assumption.  Since we know neither whether the assumption is true nor whether it is false, we are justified in defending it in the same sense in which we make a “wager.”  We want to foresee the future, and we can do so if the assumption is justified.  We are certain that “nothing” will occur.  We are uncertain concerning “what will” occur!  (Reichenbach’s “Logical Empiricism,” pp. 158-159)


            The Berlin school came to an end when the Nazis came to power in 1933.  Its members were dispersed, some died, some immigrated to the United States—their search for “met theory” or “theory of Scientific Theories” between Carnap and Goedel and Tarski, et.al.  Tarski demonstrated that the semantics (i.e., the theory of the relation between Signs and their designation of any formalized language can be built up as a deductive theory with its own axioms and its own fundamental concepts based on the morphology of the language alone.  Carnap developed his view of philosophy as the syntactical and later also, the semantical analysis of the language of science.



From European Logical Empiricism to American Pragmatists and Operationalists


            The American development of pragmatism had led to a philosophical viewpoint resembling the broad perspective of European logical empiricism.  In Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) we find the combination of an interest in empiricist philosophy and symbolic logic that is characteristic of the movement.  Even Wittgenstein’s theory of meaning of propositions consisting of their verifiability was in a way anticipated by Perice:  “It appears that the rule for attaining the third grade of clearance of apprehension is as follows: consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearing, we conceive the object of our conception to love.  Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.”  (C.S. Peirce, “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” Popular Science Monthly, January 1878 quoted from Peirce’s Chance, Love and Logic Philosophical Essays (London, 1928, p. 45)


Although this rule was considered principally with reference to morals and religion by William James (1842-1910), other American investigations used it in a purely epistemological way.  This appears most clearly in the so-called “operationalists” whose most prominent representative is P.W. Bridgman, the physicist, who says in his The Logic of Modern Physics, 1927:  “In general, we mean by any concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations.  If the concept is physical, as of length, the operations are actual physical operations, namely those by which length is measured, or if the concept is mental as of mathematical continuity, the operations are mental operations, namely those which we determine whether a given aggregate of magnitudes is continuous. . .the concepts can be defined only in the range of actual experiment, and are undefined and meaningless in regions as yet untouched by experiments. . . of course the true meaning of a term is to be found by observing what a man does with it, not by what he says about it.”  (P.W. Bridgmen, The Logic of Modern Physics (NY 1927, pp. 5-7; see also two articles by Herbert Feigel on “Operationalism and Exploration” in Psychological Review I, II.)


This point of view, which puts the main stress on the practice and the acts of the investigator during his work of investigation, is characteristic of the whole pragmatic attitude.  The way in which it was developed by John Dewey in his How We Think (1910) and in Experience and Nature (1925) and The Logic, The Theory of Inquiry (1939) gave this attitude a decidedly biosocial character that made the adopting behaviorist viewpoints nature (see Library of Living Philosophers, Paul Arthur Schilpp, editor, The Philosophy of John Dewey (NY: Tudor Publishing  Co., 1957; also my essays “From Dilthey to Darwin and Dewey: Prophets of Cultural Relativism”; “Influence of Darwin on the Academy”; “The Influence of Darwin on American Pragmatism”; “Whatever Happened to True Truth?”  Also note Darwin as the source of Dewey’s pragmatism and its ensuing influence on Outcomes Based Education, Multiculturalism, Diversity and Tolerance). (See John Dewey’s, The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy (NY: Peter Smith, 1951, pgs 11-19);


In George Herbert Mead’s (1863-1931) book, Mind, Self, and Society (1934)  and Philosophy of The Act (1938), this tendency became dominant.  By emphasizing social nature of language and science, pragmatism led to a concept of meaning which Charles Morris brilliantly states:  “Seen in terms of the context of social behavior, meaning always involves a set of expectations aroused by the symbolic functioning of some object, what the object meant. Whether past, present or future, and whether confrontable by a particular person or not, is any object which satisfies the expectation.  A self, as a social being, can for instance expect that other selves will verify its own expectation as (a situation) of constant occurrences in science), and in this sense at least himself later developed into a semiotic theory.  According to which the meaning situation is an organic whole with three closely interrelated dimensions:  “the relation of sign of objects will be called Mg (to be read the existential dimensions of meaning).  The syntactical relations to other symbols within the language will be symbolized by mp (the formal dimension of meaning or formal meaning).  The meaning of a sign is thus the sum of its meaning-dimensions: M = Mg + Mp + mp.”   (Charles Morris, Logical Positivism, Pragmatism, and Scientific Empiricism (Paris, 1937, p. 65).


Morris’ comprehensive expectation of his semiotic work is in Signs, Language, and Behavior (NY, 1946); the Uppsala school has produced brilliant work where similarities and differences between the two movements have been clearly stated.  This movement developed an extended form of empiricism, called “scientific empiricism.” 


American investigators working on related pragmatistic-operationalists scientific analytic lines such as C.I. Lewis in Mind and World Order (1929) developed a conceptualistic pragmatism; in his logic of morality, Morris R. Cohen (1880-1946) strongly influenced by Russell, expanded in his Reason and Nature (1931) – a realistic rationalism.  Victor F. Lenzen gave in The Nature of Physical Theory (1931) an enlightened analysis of the conceptions and theories of physics, emphasizing the importance of “successive definition” which strongly is reflected in Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigm (Narrative displacement).  See my essays “The Long Day’s Journey of The Death of Reason” and “Prolegomena to Theories of Scientific Revolution (with attention to Kant, Lakatos, Carnap, Popper and Kuhn” (on the web)


All parties in this international discussion are opposed to epistemological idealism (“Subjectivism”).  The nature and existence of that which is conceived depends on our conception and are adherents of the theory that statements of valuation are not true statements but merely expressions of certain feelings and accordingly, have no factual meaning (see esp. Marc Wogan’s Die Theorie der Sinnesdaten: Problem der neueren Erkenntnis Theorie in England (1945); on the history of theories of logic (see esp. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vols. 3-4 (NY: MacMillan, 1967); “History of Logic”, pp. 513-571; also my essay, “Christian Faith and Theories of Logic” pp. 1-59 on the web).  The most crucial challenge of logic for our postmodern culture is the claim that Logic/Language, etc., are merely options (i.e.  their logical and  epistemological claims) social constructors) therefore incapable of claiming/proving True Truth.  The entire “foundation” of science and Christianity are reduced to one among many alternative constructs, i.e., cultural and epistemological relativism controls the postmodern citadel.


            The fundamental question raised by the Vienna Circle and especially Wittgenstein (not a member) maintained that the task of philosophy is a clarification of thought, not a theory    but an activity and that philosophical propositions are strictly speaking logically meaningless and “inexpressible” for which reason they should be discarded when their purposes have been attained, in the same way as a scaffolding is thrown away when a building is completed.  Neurath raised strong opposition against it toward the end of the twenties, as he feared that it would lead to a revival of metaphysics as “the philosophy of the inexpressible.”  Carnap made a strong proposal in his article, “On the Character of Philosophical Problems” (appeared in Philosophy of Science I, (1934), p. 5; see his Logical Syntax of Language (London, 1937, pp. 51-52); and Philosophy and Logical Syntax (London 1935, pp. 47-49).


Carnap’s Logical Empiricism


According to Carnap, philosophy is the theory of science of the logic of science, i.e., the logical analysis of he concepts, propositions, proof, theories of science, and its propositions are not meaningless mediums for elucidation but constitute a legitimate field of study, which he called the “logical syntax of the language of science” and treated in his great tome, Lagische Syntax der Sprache (1934) published in revised form in E.T., The Logical Syntax of Language (London, 1935) (the Vienna Circle precipitated publications, congresses and international connections, i.e., The Berlin Group, The Livow-Warsaw Group, in America and the Pragmatist Operationalists – far beyond the limits of this brief study.


Carnap’s concept of logical syntax of a language is a generalization of Hilbert’s meta- mathematics, as is well known.  The meaning of mathematical signs and formulas is completely disregarded and they are considered solely in a “formalistic” way, i.e., as figures written down and transformed according to certain definite rules.  Meta-mathematics is a theory, the object of which is mathematical signs and formulas.  The logical syntax of language is a purely formal theory of the linguistic signs and their composition into sentences, proofs, and theories, particularly a theory of the signs or sign combinations occurring or acceptable in the sciences, including those occurring in mathematics; for this reason Carnap’s syntax comprises Hilbert’s meta-mathematics as a special part.  Hilbert’s object was to establish through meta-mathematics the consistency of classical mathematics, Carnap’s purpose is not so much to prove that science is non-contradictory as to establish the following two theses:  (1)  An investigation of the logic of science need never pay regard to the meaning but to the formal rules of linguistic expressions, and (2) The fixation of the formal rules of any language and the investigation of the consequences of such rules can be built up in exactly the same way as a scientific theory, namely, as a logical syntax of the language concerned, and can usually be formulated in that very  language.  (See my paper, “Nida and Pike’s Theory of Tagmemics (this goes beyond Chomsky’s Theory of Linguistic Universal on the web)


Carnap refutes Wittgenstein’s view of philosophy as an activity that is able only to express itself in meaningless sentences; and at the same time he sharply delineates philosophy as something apart from the special sciences, since philosophy does not deal with the “objects” but only with the sentences about the objects of such sciences.  The special sciences comprise all “object questions,” whereas philosophy is concerned with the “logical questions” dealing with scientific concepts, proposition, theories, etc., considered formally as complexes of signs constructed in accordance with certain rules for combinations of signs.  These rules are partly rules of formulation, partly rules of transformation.  The former are the rules for composition of the various kinds of signs of a language into sentences (i.e., corresponding roughly to visual games); the latter are rules for the deduction of a sentence from other sentences (i.e., rules of Inference, so that the logical syntax will comprise what is generally called “logic.”  Thus, considering philosophy as the syntax of the language of science,   The “principle of tolerance” applies.  It is not our business to set up prohibition but to arrive at conventions. . . .  “In logic, there are no morals.  Everyone is at liberty to build up his own logic, i.e., his own form of language, as he wishes.  All that is required of him is that is he wishes to discuss it, he must state his methods clearly, and give syntactical rules instead of philosophical argument.”  (Carnap, :Logical Syntax of Language (London, 1937): pp. 51-52; and egs. Philosophy as Logical Syntax (London, 1935), ibid., 80-82).  Also, my essay “Narrative Displacement and The Correction of Language” and Moises Silva, God, Language and Syntax (Zondervan, pb. 1990).


Realism takes the form of “Every sentence containing a thing-designation is equipollent with a sentence containing nothing designation, but space-time coordinates and physical functions, which is obviously also true. . .  There is no inconsistency.  In the original formulation in the material mode the theses seemed to be incompatible, because they seemed to concern the essence of things both of their having the form.  “A thing is such and such.”  (Ibid., pp. 81-82)


In other cases, the problem is solved by our showing that apparently contradictory theses, do not belong to the same syntactically defined language  This applies to the controversy between the logists Frege and Russell and the axiomaticists Peano and Hilbert on the nature of numbers.  The forms assert:  numbers are a unique kind of entities.  Numerical symbols are class symbols of the second order,” and “Numerical symbols are symbols of individuals, i.e., symbols of zero may be conceived either as belonging each to its own separate arithmetical language or as proposals for separate language, i.e., for different ways of talking about numbers.  In either case the discussion is no longer a controversy about what is true and what is false but is the question



The ultimate issue is, do all special sciences speak the same language, and, if not, is it possible to construct a language common to all?  What is the criterion of the truth or merely meaningless of an object sentence?  There are two fundamental problems, (1) Concern for the “unity of science,” i.e., logical empiricism, and (2) Theory of verifiability to the problem of the basis of the system of constitution.


Popper says, “logical positivism destroys not only metaphysics but also natural science.”  (Karl Popper, Logik der Forschung (Vienna, 1935, p. 9)  Now we must note the heart of the debate.  “How then could they be made to agree with the theory that the meaningfulness of sentences consist in their verifiability?  Positive response to this question requires amending the theory.  A first proposal in that direction made by Karl Popper in his book, Logik der Forschung (1936) where as the criterion of the meaningfulness of a sentence, he proposed not the verifiable but the falsifiability of the sentence.  “Our formulation depends on an asymmetrical relationship between falsifiability and verifiability, which is connected with logical forms of universal sentences; viz., there are never derivable from particular sentences but can be contradicted by particular sentences.”  (Popper, Logic der Forschung, p. 13)


By this criterion of meaning, he proposed to sort out empirical-scientific sentences from apriori-analytical sentences (Logical Mathematics) as well as from non-falsifiable reality-sentences (metaphysics).  But this suggestion was not approved either because universal sentences, logically viewed, seem to parallel existential sentences which later can never be falsified but in certain cases may be verified, and because some scientifically recognized sentences contain a combination of the peculiarities of universal and existential sentences (they contain both a universal and an existential quantified) and accordingly, can be neither verified nor falsified.  This applies to statements concerning the limits of the relative frequency of a certain event in a series of events, concerning probability-statements according to a commonly held view.  Some logical empiricists were inclined to call these “pseudo-sentences.”  His exposition was published in a treatise called “testability and Meaning” (Carnap, Philosophy of Science III (1936), p. 419 and IV (1937), 1)  Carnap made the distinction between Truth and Confirmation.  While truth is an absolute concept independent of time, confirmation is a relative concept, the degree of which varies with the development of science at any given time.


Reichenbach has found a measure for the degree of confirmation in the limit of the relativity frequency of the cases of confirmation, so that any sentence may be said to be a probability sentence.  Carnap prefers to distinguish between probability and degree of confirmation (see C.G. Hempel, “A Purely Syntactical Definition of Confirmation,” Journal of Symbolic Logic (vol. VIII, 1943) and in “Studies in The Logic of Confirmation,” Mind, LIV (1946) 1 and 97, Philosophy of Science IV, p. 33-35; see also C.G. Hempel, “Le Probleme de la verite,” Theoria, 1937, p. 206).


Unity of Science and Physicalism


The expression “unity of science” was introduced into logical empiricism by Neurath.  He therefore expressed opposition to different kinds of science and corresponding to them, different kinds of reality or being, such as natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften versus the humanities-Geisteswissenschaften) or factual sciences versus normative sciences.  He also wanted “by the words “unity of science” to sum up the objective aimed at by logical empiricists viz the formation of a science comprising all human knowledge as an epistemologically homogeneous ordered mass of sentences being of the same empiricist nature in principle, from the protocol sentences to the most comprehensive laws for the phenomena of nature and human life (see O. Neurath, Empirische Sociologies: Der Wissenschaftliche Gestalt der Geschichte und Nationalokomomie (Vienna, 1933, p. 7; and “Soziologies im Physikalmus”, Erkenntnis, II, 1931, p. 395).


The unity of science should take place in the unity of the universal language of science, i.e., a language, the logical syntax of which permitted sentences from the most different special sciences to be combined with one another so as to form a logical context.  “The universal language of science becomes a self-evident demand, if it is asked how certain singular predictions can be derived; e.g., the forest fire here will soon subside.  In order to do this we need meteorological and botanical sentences and in addition, sentences which contain the terms ‘man’ and ‘human behavior.’  Thus we need sentences from psychology and sociology.  All sentences whether they be chemical, climatological, or sociological laws, must be conceived as parts of one system, viz., limited science.”  (O. Neurath, “Sociologie im Physickalismis” Erkenentnis, II (1931), p. 395)  The unity of Science might also be called “monism free from metaphysics.”  Neurath thought it very important that the unifications of the various special sciences into a unity of sciences should take place through the formation of a universal language of science, i.e., a language the logical syntax of which permitted sentences from the social   special sciences to be combined with one another so far to form a logical context.


The reason for choosing such a language as that of unified science is that it is intersensual, intersubjective, and universal.  That the physical language is intersensual means that its sentences can be tested by means of various senses, because actually there is no physical function that can be coordinated solely with qualities characteristics from a single sphere of sense. . . .  It is therefore possible in principle to construct a physical language of such a kind that the qualitative characteristics of protocol-language depends functionally and uniquely on the destruction of values of physical functions, so that the physical characteristics may be used to apply inter-sensibility  (R. Carnap, “Die physikallische Sprechs als Universalsprache der Wissenschaft,” Erkenntnis II (1931), pp. 441-442, ibid., p. 445).


Universal factors of physical language mean that every scientifically accepted sentence, whether originating from our everyday language or from a branch of science, can be translated into it.  When investigating this view, it is necessary to distinguish between the question of the translatability of proto-sentences and the question of the translatability of other sentences of natural and social sciences.


As to protocol-sentences, the assertion that they are in principle translatable depends on the so-called “logical behaviorism.”  (See C.G. Hempel, “Analyses de la psychologie,” Revue de Synthese, 1938, p. 27; and R. Carnap, “Les concepts psychologiques der les concepts physiques sent els foucierement differentes” (Revue de synthese (1935), p. 43).


As regards the remaining sentences belonging to the natural and social sciences, it appears that the translation into physical language cannot be accomplished solely by explicit definition but also requires the application of “reduction” defined by Carnap (see R. Carnap “Testability and Meaning,” Philosophy of Science III, p. 434.)


As regards the translatability of psychological sentences, logical behaviorism is involved.  If this is tenable, the translatability in principle of psychological sentences into the physical language is evident.  And, having once gone so far, there seems no possibility of insurmountable difficulties in connection with the translation of sociological sentences which describes the relation of persons and other organisms to one another and to their surroundings.


The unity of science movement entailed, e.g., biophysics, biochemistry, psychophysiology, social psychology, etc.; and the result of their deliberations is that they think themselves entitled to assert that “the concepts of the thing language provide a common basis to which all concepts of all parts of science can be reduced” – only in the above mentioned sense of “reduction.”  (Carnap “Einheit des Wissenschaft” p. 57; and note especially C.G. Hempel in his “A Purely Syntactical Definition of Confirmation” in Journal of Symbolic Logic, vol. viii, 1943; and in his “Studies in The Logic of Confirmation” (Mind) liv (1946, 1 and 97); note esp. J. Joergensen’s “Reflection on Logic and Language” I Languages, Games and Empiricism”; II “Semantical Logic” Journal of Unified Science (Erkenntnis) viii, 1939, p. 218).





R. Carnap Introduction to Semantics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1942; also his Formalization of Logic,  1943; and Meaning and Necessity (1947); “Modalities and Quantification” Journal of Symbolic Logic, xi, 1946, esp. pp. 33-64); “Symposium on Meaning and Truth” appears in volumes iv, 1944 and v, 1945 of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, ibid, vol. iv.  The nature of Probability is a crucial factor; in Carnap, “On Inductive Logic,” Philosophy of Science xii, 1945, 72-97.


C.I. Lewis, “Modes and Meaning,” ibid., vol. iv (difference between “denotation” and connotation in language structure).  Post World War II work on the analysis of science, e.g., Philipp Frank, Between Physics and Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941).


Flex Kaufmann, Methodology of The Social Sciences (NY: Oxford University Press, 1944).

Hans Reichenbach, Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (proposed three valued logic rather than a two valued logic) in his Elements of Symbolic Logic (NY: MacMillan, 1947).

There is a very important contribution to logical analysis of science in “Studies in The Logic of Explanation,” Carl G. Hempel and Paul Oppenheim, in Philosophy of Science, xv (1948), pp. 135-175)  Also, “A Definition of Degree of Confirmation” Philosophy of Science xii, 1945, pp. 98-115)


Helmer and Oppenheim in “A Syntactical Definition of Probability and Degree  of confirmation” Journal of Symbolic Logic, x, 1945), pp. 25-60.


Z. Jordan, The Development of Mathematical Logic and Logical Positivism in Poland between the Two Wars (NY: Oxford, 1945)


Herbert Feigel, “Logical Empiricism” in Twentieth Century Philosophy: Living Schools of Thought, edited by D.D. Runes, (NY: Philosophical Literature, 1943).Also H. Feigel and W. Sellars, editors, Reading in Philosophical Analysis (NY: Appleton Century-Crofts, 1949).  This volume contains analysis on semantics confirmability, logic and mathematics in the apriori induction and probability, logical analysis of philosophy, philosophy of science and ethics by authors such as Quine, Tarski, Frege, Russell, Carnal, Lewis, Schlick, Nagel, Weismann, Hempel, Broad, Ducasse, Reichenbach, and Stevenson, et.al.


Some major journals are:  Methodos (Italy); Analisi (Italy); Sigma (Italy); Science of Thought (Japan, in Japanese); British Journal for The Philosophy of Science; The Revue internationale re philosophie (see special issue on Logical Empiricism, vol. iv, 1950, pp. 1-11).


Also see my essays, “Prolegomena to Theories of Scientific Revolutions: Kant, Lakatos, Carnal, Popper, Kuhn” and “The Heart of Post Modernism is Rooted in Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, Goedel, Polanyi”; “The Debate Concerning Narrative Displacement” pp. 1-25; constant attention should be noted regarding “Religion and Science.”


This is the second essay on Narrative Displacement on the nature and history of science.  The first essay is Between Rationalism and Empiricism in the 19th Century, and The third and final essay in this series is The Long Day’s Journey of the Death of Reason  See also “the Anti-Science Movement; Social Construction of Reality;” “Attack on Science as Merely A Eurocentric Operation.”



(See the LCC web site http://www.worldvieweyes.org/resource-rv.html)



Dr. James D. Strauss, Professor Emeritus

                                                Lincoln Christian Seminary