Have there been any recent attempts to revive logical positivism? I've heard discussions that a modified version of the approach is gaining popularity, but I haven't seen any literature to that effect.

  • Possibly logical positivism has been outdated by Popper's theory of confirming or falsifying scientific hypotheses. And by the subsequent discussion of his work. I doubt that the linguistic theses of logical positivism stimulate much current work in the philosophy of science.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Jul 8 at 17:36
  • What discussions? What modifications? The LP's conceded their programme was a failure, and I think philosophy and science continues to explain how observation isn't objective. Conceptual and perceptual theory-ladenness has been defended by Sellars, McDowell, and others. Metaphysics, whatever your take on it, persists despite the project to eliminate it.
    – J D
    Commented Jul 9 at 0:16
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    Every now and then someone will take an old philosophical idea, apply a fresh coat of paint and relaunch it. Sometimes it flies; more often it doesn't. Whatever merits logical positivism had have been absorbed into analytical philosophy. I doubt whether there is much left over that is worth reviving. But every theory deserves to be treated on its merits, so if someone chooses to present a new version then fine, let's see it.
    – Bumble
    Commented Jul 9 at 2:52

2 Answers 2


A lot here depends on what you mean by "logical positivism." If you mean something like Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic or Carnap's Aufbau, then no, those projects hit dead ends decades ago and never recovered.

But Carnap and Reichenbach's efforts to understand causation in terms of probability provided an important background to the modern field of causal inference, which has been massively influential in quantitative social science, especially epidemiology and economics. Clark Glymour, a formal philosopher who played a major role in the development of causal inference theory, sees himself as working in the logical empiricist tradition.

There's also a lot of contemporary interest in Otto Neurath, a social scientist who was very active in the Vienna Circle. The picture of the Vienna Circle we get through Ayer and Quine was hyperfocused on Carnap, and historical studies of Neurath reveals a side of the Vienna Circle that was explicitly political (namely, Austromarxist), more engaged with social science than physics and math, and generally more compatible with contemporary philosophy of science in the wake of Kuhn and the Strong Programme in STS.

  • +1 For the link to Glymour's paper. So, I've been building out my library with some of the less famous perspectives: Gross on the rhetoric of science, Fleck on the genesis of fact, Feist's Husserl and science, etc. Given your obvious competency, what philosophy of science book would you consider a hidden gem?
    – J D
    Commented Jul 9 at 20:28
  • I'm a university professor who specializes in philosophy of science, so it's hard to recommend just one book. What specifically would you be interested in?
    – Dan Hicks
    Commented Jul 10 at 21:59
  • I scanned your website and Carbondale would put you at SIU. Uh, that's a good question. The WP article on naturalism says that there is controversy surrounding the characterization of methodological naturalism. I've been using the term as a broad-brush stroke to emphasize the methodology of science, and the SEP article has a few paragraphs, but I'm more comfortable when I have a full theory lying behind a term. You have any familiarity with that subtopic of naturalism, perhaps even in relation to the ID controversy?
    – J D
    Commented Jul 11 at 23:35
  • The upshot of the SEP article is "no one can agree what these terms mean." Debates over evolution/creationism/ID haven't popped up on my radar for a long time; I'm not sure if this is because there isn't much happening in those debates right now, or I just haven't been paying attention. So maybe the best approach is to start from the authors you're already reading who are using the term, then looking backwards and what they cite and forwards at what cites them? eg, the things by Plantinga, Pennock, Scott in the naturalism WP article? plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/#MetNat
    – Dan Hicks
    Commented 2 days ago
  • Thanks. That's certainly something I can do.
    – J D
    Commented 2 days ago

I have seen no indication of an effort to revive logical positivism.

What I HAVE seen, is that "hard-headed" materialists who are relatively new to philosophy, are strongly attracted to its basic assumptions:

  • Commitment to Rationalism
  • Commitment to science
  • Equating of science and rationalism
  • Scientism -- the dismissal of any other way of getting knowledge
  • Seeing science as based on verification testing
  • Disparagement of most of philosophy, and in particular of metaphysics, due to its lack of possible verification
  • Hostility to religion and spirituality

The critiques of LP that led to its abandonment still apply:

  • Rationalism cannot be grounded, per Munchausen Trilemma
  • Science is pragmatic, not rational
  • Verification promotes confirmation bias, as almost anything is verifiable with cherry picked cases. Falsification is the far more stringent criteria because it forces stress testing on claims.
  • Science cannot justify itself, hence scientism is self-refuted. Other fields actually do provide knowledge.
  • The assumptions of LP are actually METAPHYSICAL! So rejecting philosophy and metaphysics is another self-refutation of LP.
  • You can be as hostile to religion and spirituality as you want, one does not have to adhere to LP to do so.

The inclinations that make LP attractive to certain types of thinkers, will remain after they learn more of philosophy, and inform themselves of the second set of bullets that refute the first. But where they settle in the philosophic community, will not be a revived Logical Positivism.

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