so I am currently doing a course on the history and philosophy of science, and we are learning about logical positivism/empiricism and the Vienna circle.

It is to my understanding that the Vienna circle denounced metaphysics in their manifesto by calling metaphysical questions fundamentally meaningless. So naturally I wonder whether or not metaphysics is now a dead field (with no active community), given the uprising of modern science?

  • 2
    Simply put, no. There's several similar questions though none worded quite so directly. There's a vibrant field for analytic metaphysics right now.
    – virmaior
    Oct 15, 2017 at 0:46
  • i think i read last decade that metaphysics is where analytic philosophy is thriving most of all!
    – user28660
    Oct 15, 2017 at 3:44
  • Metaphysics has to take into account modern physics but otherwise nothing has changed. Attempts by many prominent workmen to excuse their philosophical failure by blaming their tools have proved unconvincing.
    – user20253
    Oct 15, 2017 at 11:49
  • What is the first Batman movie with Bane in it? I can't remember. It's the only modern Batman I've seen. Anyway you remember all those people in the stadium? Their minds were up for grabs. Somebody is going to provide the big narrative for them. If it's not philosophy, it will be something else to fill the vacuum.
    – Gordon
    Oct 15, 2017 at 16:38
  • 1
    If you believe that being told their work is meaningless would put off many philosophers then you haven't spent much time around philosophers. Utility has rarely been a requirement and is sometimes considered a hindrance..
    – Alex
    Oct 16, 2017 at 12:56

2 Answers 2


After the Cold War, analytic philosophy gradually began to return to metaphysics. Some important figures in this movement include Saul Kripke, Alvin Plantinga, and Ruth Barcan, who made important contributions to modal logic and the linguistic analysis of necessity and possibility; David Lewis, a student of Quine's who developed a kind of radical empiricist metaphysics; and Peter Strawson, who developed an approach he called "descriptive metaphysics," a kind of descriptive unpacking of the metaphysical assumptions of natural language.

Importantly, this movement happened at the same time as philosophy of science moved out of the "core" of analytic philosophy — logic, philosophy of language, epistemology, and later metaphysics — and became a more distinct subfield of academic philosophy. While philosophy of science was absolutely central to German-speaking[*] analytic philosophers before the rise of the Nazis, today there is relatively little interaction between "core" analytic philosophy and philosophy of science.

[*] Philosophy of science was much less central for major Anglophone analytic philosophers. Bertrand Russell's contributions to logic were important, but he didn't really engage with empirical science. As far as I can recall, G.E. Moore and A.J. Ayer had even less contact with science, and neither wrote any significant work in what we would consider philosophy of science.

Today there is some work in metaphysics within philosophy of science. Two philosophers of physics, Ladyman and Ross, published Every Thing Must Go in 2007, a kind of polemic against analytic metaphysics and for metaphysics based on (philosophy of) science, especially (philosophy of) physics. This stimulated several conferences, as well as an anthology titled Scientific Metaphysics. The second paragraph of that review suggests that there is relatively little contact between scientific metaphysics and analytic metaphysics.

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    Russell did engage with empirical science, for example in "the analysis of matter". I would say it's also important to note that this movement built on the internal and external difficulties of logical empiricism (while your answer could make one think it's a mere change of topic). For example, Kripke's analysis of necessity is an attack against descriptivism, which largely underlines logical empiricism's views. Oct 15, 2017 at 23:09
  • The idea that metaphysics could be based on philosophy of science is a new one on me. It seems rather like the idea building a house beginning with the roof. Metaphysics.in Western thought.is a mess and it's the price of insulating ourselves from the rest of philosophy. To me the OPs question represents a complete misunderstanding of metaphysics and science, but it's hard work arguing the point when the misunderstanding is so widely shared in these professions. .
    – user20253
    Oct 16, 2017 at 11:56
  • @PeterK It's more like building a house by looking at which houses have been doing well so far, I think. Oct 16, 2017 at 12:02
  • I would say not, and see the whole idea as daft, but each to his own.
    – user20253
    Oct 31, 2017 at 13:08

The project of logical empiricism is not considered viable anymore. Part of the reason for this is that an underdetermination of scientific laws by observations cannot be avoided: not only positive results are not enough to confirm a law (this is the traditional problem of induction), but negative results are not enough to refute a law either (because of confirmation holism--Duhem-Quine thesis). It's not even clear that there's a theory neutral observational basis on which to test our theories (because of the theory-ladenness of observations). [Edit]All these are problems that logical empiricists became aware of themselves. [/Edit]

[Edit]Carnap (and most empiricists) view underdetermination by experience as a definite characteristic of metaphysical statements, and to many authors, [/Edit] all this means that there's no clear-cut way to distinguish between scientific and metaphysical statements, since all are underdetermined by experience, or, to say it differently, there's no science without a metaphysical baggage.

Another approach to understand this is through modalities. Logical empiricists attempted to eliminate metaphysics by associating necessity with being a priori and analytic (necessary relations would be so in virtue of the meaning of words only), so that there is no such thing as metaphysical necessity (essential properties that would correspond to the nature of things etc.). Kripke's arguments in "naming and necessity" convinced many, on the basis of arguments in the philosophy of language, that relations of necessity can be a posteriori, which rehabilitated metaphysics in contemporary philosophy.

  • This answer is historically inaccurate. Otto Neurath was a member of the Vienna Circle; in the 1920s he developed confirmation holism and underdetermination arguments in debates against Carnap. When Quine visited Europe in 1932-3, he drew on Neurath's arguments to develop his criticisms of "empiricism," which basically meant Carnap's views. Quine generally failed to attribute these arguments to Neurath, except for the references to "Neurath's boat."
    – Dan Hicks
    Oct 15, 2017 at 15:24
  • Since Neurath himself was a logical empiricist (he was one of the original drafters of the Vienna Circle Manifesto) and considered his arguments an important part of the attack on metaphysics, it doesn't make sense to say that his arguments undermine the logical empiricist attack on metaphysics. For more on Neurath, I recommend George Reisch's How the Cold War Changed Philosophy of Science and Cartwright, Cat, Fleck, and Uebel's Otto Neurath.
    – Dan Hicks
    Oct 15, 2017 at 15:27
  • @DanHicks Agreed. The answer could probably substitute in “the Carnapian anti-metaphysical project” in place of “LE,” though, and be considerably more accurate, no? Oct 15, 2017 at 15:50
  • No, because the anti-metaphysical project was shared by all of the members of the Vienna Circle. Neurath was even more vehemently opposed to metaphysics than Carnap. For example, Neurath thought that Carnap's phenomenalism was metaphysical.
    – Dan Hicks
    Oct 15, 2017 at 16:06
  • @Dan Hicks yes, logical empiricists became well aware of underdetermination problems, and Carnap' liberalisation of verificationist criteria was an attempt to solve them. All that means is that the demise of logical empiricism came largely from the inside. Now there are different ways to respond to these problems with foundationalism: one is to integrate cohetentism, as Neurath does, the other is to go realist and metaphysical. So it's not inaccurate to say that the return of metaphysics war due to this internal difficulties. Oct 15, 2017 at 22:44

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