My teacher told to me that "logical empiricism" aborted the research and science. logical empiricism want to remove metaphysics from the science and built a "pure science". But that was an mistake and let to "Sterilization of science and research". Is this true? Thanks.

  • More commonly, logical positivism. Although attempts of logical positivists to "eliminate" metaphysics are seen as ultimately unsuccessful and perhaps misguided, your teacher's opinion seems to be very tendentious and way over the top. Their efforts led to clarification of the interaction between empirical and non-empirical sides of science, and they directly aided in the formulation of quantum mechanics, see Why was the Vienna Circle so important?
    – Conifold
    Jan 23, 2017 at 21:41
  • is this a religious "teacher" of some sort?
    – amphibient
    Jan 23, 2017 at 21:59
  • 1
    Fankly speaking, I do not see how to make sense of "Sterilization of science and research". Sub-atomic theories, missions on Moon, new energies... in what sense we may assert that Logical positivism has impeded them ? Jan 24, 2017 at 10:18
  • logical empiricism was a philosophical school of thought. very unlikely that it had significant practical influence on working scientists, many (most?) of whom pay not attention to philosophy.
    – user20153
    Jan 24, 2017 at 20:26
  • iow, LE could be true, it could be false. Either way, it makes no difference to the actual conduct of scientific research.
    – user20153
    Jan 24, 2017 at 20:27

2 Answers 2


The claim that logical empiricism (= logical positivism) has "sterilized science" seems far fetched, even without getting into specific facts. The sciences have their own trajectories. Scientists are barely aware of what the philosophers are doing.

Still, logical positivism was a popular philosophy between WWI and WWII, and it did apparently influence some scientists to some extent, in the direction of behaviorism and instrumentalism. And there has been some talk about impediments causes by scientists being, for a while, too impressed with the strictures of logical positivism. For example, here is what Nobel prize laureate physicist Steven Weinberg said in a 2015 interview on the history of physics:

I think academic philosophy is helpful only in a negative sense — that is, sometimes physicists get impressed with philosophical ideas, so that it can be helpful to hear from experts that those ideas have been challenged within the philosophical community. One example is positivism, which decrees that you should only talk about things that are directly detectable or observable. I think philosophers themselves have challenged that, and it’s good to know that...

And sometimes, as with the example of positivism, the work of professional philosophers actually stands in the way of progress. That’s also the case with the approach known as constructivism — the idea that every society’s scientific theories are a social construct, like its political institutions...

  • There's a certain irony to Steve Weinberg, a notable proponent of scientism, criticizing Positivism, when the two are so closely related. Jan 25, 2017 at 18:26
  • @AlexanderSKing Yes, an interesting point. Jan 25, 2017 at 21:04

Your professor might be echoing Hilary Putnam, who argues in this video and this book that the fact/value dichotomy has been harmful to the social sciences and to sciences in general, and that this is mainly due to the influence of the logical positivists.

His argument can be summed up as follows:

  • Influenced by the logical positivists and A.J Ayer's emotivism, who claimed that questions of ethics and value were ultimately always subjective, social scientists, economists, etc...who were eager to put their fields on the same footing as the hard sciences, stopped trying to make value judgements about the fields they were studying. But what purpose are social sciences if they have to abstain from arguing about what is humane and what isn't? what is just and what isn't? what is fair and what isn't?

  • Based on the positivist distinction of facts and values, values are purely subjective and therefore no logical reasoning can apply to them. Just as it is impossible to make a logical argument about whether chocolate tastes better or vanilla tastes better, per the logical positivist/empiricists, one cannot make any logical arguments about right or wrong. Putnam argues that this is bad: We can and should apply logical reasoning to value judgements, otherwise we would never be able to solve ethical dilemmas and challenges.

  • Putnam also argues that based on Quine's results on the impossibility of separating facts from theories, that it is impossible to separate facts from values as well. Since scientific theories cannot be separated from values, to discuss them without discussing the underlying values is wrong.

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