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John Passmore in 1967 said that logical positivism

"...is dead, or as dead as a philosophical movement ever becomes."

Are there any modern philosophers that advocate logical positivism the same way Vienna Circle did? If not, to what principles and views should a philosopher subscribe to be a consistent logical positivist considering all criticisms and refutations?

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There are no cogent criticisms or refutations, just a bag of hot air. –  Ron Maimon Dec 6 '13 at 15:43

3 Answers 3

You might be interested in the wikipedia article on Post-Positivist Verificationists. E.g.

After the fall of logical positivism, verificationism and empiricism more generally lost many adherents. This trend was stopped and in large part reversed in 1980 with the publication of van Fraassen's The Scientific Image. Constructive empiricism states that (1) scientific theories do not aim at truth, but at empirical adequacy; and (2) that their acceptance involves a belief only that they are empirically adequate.

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This adds nothing to positivism, and is a retrenchment of the position of positivism, where "empirical adequacy" and "truth" are identified as indistinguishable. –  Ron Maimon Dec 6 '13 at 15:42

There are no modern philosophers who continue the tradition of the Vienna circle. But you're in luck, nearly all physicists continue it, even if they never heard of the Vienna circle. The philosophy started in physics, with Mach and Carnap (who was trained in physics), and it cannot die in physics, because it is essential for understanding physics, at least past 1900. Relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, holography, that's all positivism.

This is why physicists ignore philosophers, and will continue to ignore them, until they get with the ball on this. There are no refutations of positivism, there cannot be, any physicist has grown so comfortable with this position, they can see it is self consistent.

What there was in philosophy was a horrified reaction: it resolved all the classical questions! Instantly. And not in a way that made previous philosophers look good, it showed the questions were meaningless! Of course philosophers buried it, it makes the classics in the field look dated and stupid. It was an academic political nightmare.

But it also has the advantage of being correct, and on the internet the position of academic politics is about as powerful as "First post!". So this can't be hidden. You can read the modern physics literature for modern positivism.

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Based on a comment of yours, it seems that you do not understand how proofs of consistency must come from outside the system, if the system is susceptible to Gödel's second incompleteness theorem. You appear to have placed the verification axiom outside of science, by saying that "they don't expect to verify the verification principle". That very statement indicates that there are meaningful statements which do not need to pass the verification principle. Do you mean to say that there exists exactly one exempt statement? –  labreuer Dec 6 '13 at 16:39
I've promoted the above comment to its own question: Does Gödel's second incompleteness theorem interact with logical positivism? –  labreuer Dec 6 '13 at 19:34
@labreuer: There are exactly as many exempt statements as are used to define what words mean. The verification principle is a definition of meaning, and as a definition it is exempt. Other definitions are also exempt, they are axioms that define terms precisely. It is never a problem in positivism, and it is only someone who doesn't understand the philosophy at all that can consider this a criticism (really). The idea that "verification can't be verified" is obvious to any positivist, it's not worrying, anymore than saying a "froobah" is a horse with three legs. Why? I just defined it! –  Ron Maimon Dec 12 '13 at 1:41
I answered there, it's nothing to do with Godel. The objections are also kind of silly, the method to state positivism is as an equivalence relation between computational models of knowledge--- two systems that predict the same sense experience are equivalent. This doesn't require you to separate sense-experience and non-sense-experience, just to be able to tell when a prediction for sense-experience matches sense-experience, something you can program a computer with a camera and a microphone to do. –  Ron Maimon Dec 12 '13 at 2:53
Is your answer to: "How do you know that you have established precisely what has meaning and what doesn't?", "I just do."? What I meant to get at, with Gödel, was how you know that your way of knowing is (i) consistent; (ii) complete. Incompleteness would happen, for example, if you've called some things 'meaningless' which aren't. –  labreuer Dec 12 '13 at 6:01

Philip Kitcher's (1993) The Advancement of Science (Worldcat link) is the account of science I think of as closest to a contemporary version of Logical Empiricism/Positivism. Kitcher might deny that, and certainly his rhetoric in the book suggests he feels he's moved far away from that position. But when it comes down to it, some of us agree that he ends up pretty close to their views. He adds a sociological dimension to science (though that was not actually entirely lacking in the Vienna circle, either), but what he adds it to, and even the way he adds it, is pretty traditional LP.

One other place to look is in the HOPOS or "History of Philosophy of Science" movement. They now have a journal by that title. Among the philosophers working recently under that heading are a number of folks who are pretty sympathetic to classical LE/LP and they sometimes argue for the contemporary relevance of Vienna Circle positions and arguments. If you're interested in their early legacy in North America post-war you might also look at the Minnesota Studies volume "Logical Empiricism in North America" (contents/Worldcat).

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