I've heard that positivism aimed to be purely empirical, while logical positivism recognised that empiricism needed to be combined with logic in order to actually be able to figure out anything. Is this an accurate characterisation of these two movement?

  • Can you place these terms in context? Positivism is a term that has been used in multiple ways (see for instance iep.utm.edu/durkheim )
    – virmaior
    Jun 17, 2017 at 10:48
  • @virmaior: What distinguished logical positivism (that developed in the Vienna circle) from earlier forms?
    – Casebash
    Jun 17, 2017 at 11:02
  • Positivism was mainly 19th Century: Auguste Comte. Jun 17, 2017 at 12:18
  • Logical Empiricism (or Positivism) developed in Europe in 1930s and in US in the 40s. Jun 17, 2017 at 12:19
  • The key-words is "logical": the new "version" developed under the influence of Russell and Wittgenstein. Jun 17, 2017 at 12:21

1 Answer 1


No, it's not.

The basic ideal of positivism, both old and new, was to purify science by eliminating from it all speculation (the positivists identified all speculation with "metaphysics", in a derogatory sense). The older kind of positivism was just more humble. It was a philosophy of science. A typical project of the old positivism was Ernst Mach's attempt to rewrite Newton's physics without assuming absolute space. With logical positivism, the stakes got raised. It was emboldened by new developments in the foundations of logic, and mathematics, which seemed to promise new and scientific foundations for language generally. And with verifiability as a criterion of meaning, not just of good science, logical positivism posited itself as a basic philosophy, not just as a philosophy of science. The logical positivists were indeed occupied with logic, that is inductive logic, the logic of discovery, empirical verification and probability.

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