Logical Positivism – The Vienna Circle


In this BBC episode of In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg discusses Logical Positivism, an early 20th century philosophical movement. It began in Vienna after the First World War with the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophically-trained scientists and scientifically-trained philosophers who sought to rethink philosophy in connection with the nature and foundations of knowledge. Their central thesis was verificationism, a criterion of meaning which maintained that only claims which can be verified through empirical observation can have any meaning and therefore be true or false. This was a form of empiricism, which drew inspiration from the work of David Hume and the early Wittgenstein. According to them, anything which cannot be traced back to sensory experience was without cognitive sense and so was not even false, including all religious talk about God, ethical talk about value, aesthetic talk about beauty, and metaphysical talk about the ultimate nature of reality. Logic and mathematical truths were understood by them as mere tautologies, true by definition and not the world. When the Nazis took power, the group fled to England and America where their ideas went on to have a huge impact. Melvyn is joined in this program by Barry Smith, Professor of Philosophy at the University of London; Nancy Cartwright, Professor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics; and Thomas Uebel, Professor of Philosophy at Manchester University.

A. J. Ayer’s “Language, Truth and Logic”: https://ia802605.us.archive.org/10/items/AlfredAyer/LanguageTruthAndLogic.pdf

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