Verificationism

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Verificationism, also known as the verification principle or the verifiability criterion of meaning, is the philosophical doctrine that only statements that are empirically verifiable (i.e. verifiable through the senses) are cognitively meaningful, or else they are truths of logic (tautologies).

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Empiricism theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience

In philosophy, empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. It is one of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism and skepticism. Empiricism emphasises the role of empirical evidence in the formation of ideas, rather than innate ideas or traditions. However, empiricists may argue that traditions arise due to relations of previous sense experiences.

Sense Physiological capacity of organisms that provides data for perception

A sense is a physiological capacity of organisms that provides data for perception. The senses and their operation, classification, and theory are overlapping topics studied by a variety of fields, most notably neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and philosophy of perception. The nervous system has a specific sensory nervous system, and a sense organ, or sensor, dedicated to each sense.

Contents

Verificationism thus rejects as cognitively "meaningless" statements specific to entire fields such as metaphysics, spirituality, theology, ethics and aesthetics. Such statements may be meaningful in influencing emotions or behavior, but not in terms of truth value, information or factual content. [1] Verificationism was a central thesis of logical positivism, a movement in analytic philosophy that emerged in the 1920s by the efforts of a group of philosophers who sought to unify philosophy and science under a common naturalistic theory of knowledge.

Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between possibility and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

Spirituality philosophical / theological term

The meaning of spirituality has developed and expanded over time, and various connotations can be found alongside each other.

Theology Study of the nature of deities and religious belief

Theology is the critical study of the nature of the divine, and more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the unique content of analyzing the supernatural, but also especially with epistemology, and asks and seeks to answer the question of revelation. Revelation pertains to the acceptance of God, gods, or deities, as not only transcendent or above the natural world, but also willing and able to interact with the natural world and, in particular, to reveal themselves to humankind. While theology has turned into a secular field, religious adherents still consider theology to be a discipline that helps them live and understand concepts such as life and love and that helps them lead lives of obedience to the deities they follow or worship.

Origins

Although verificationist principles of a general sort—grounding scientific theory in some verifiable experience—are found retrospectively even with the American pragmatist C.S. Peirce and with the French conventionalist Pierre Duhem [2] who fostered instrumentalism, [3] the vigorous program termed verificationism was launched by the logical positivists who, emerging from Berlin Circle and Vienna Circle in the 1920s, sought epistemology whereby philosophical discourse would be, in their perception, as authoritative and meaningful as empirical science.

Pragmatism Philosophical movement

Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870. Its origins are often attributed to the philosophers Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Peirce later described it in his pragmatic maxim: "Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object."

Charles Sanders Peirce American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist

Charles Sanders Peirce was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". He was educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for thirty years. Today he is appreciated largely for his contributions to logic, mathematics, philosophy, scientific methodology, semiotics, and for his founding of pragmatism.

Conventionalism is the philosophical attitude that fundamental principles of a certain kind are grounded on agreements in society, rather than on external reality. Although this attitude is commonly held with respect to the rules of grammar, its application to the propositions of ethics, law, science, mathematics, and logic is more controversial.

Logical positivists garnered the verifiability criterion of cognitive meaningfulness from young Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy of language posed in his 1921 book Tractatus , [4] and, led by Bertrand Russell, sought to reformulate the analytic–synthetic distinction in a way that would reduce mathematics and logic to semantical conventions. This would be pivotal to verificationism, in that logic and mathematics would otherwise be classified as synthetic a priori knowledge and defined as "meaningless" under verificationism.

Ludwig Wittgenstein Austrian-British philosopher

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

Philosophy of language, in the analytical tradition, explored logic, the nature of meaning, and accounts of the mind.

<i>Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus</i> philosophical work by Wittgenstein

The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the only book-length philosophical work by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein that was published during his lifetime. The project had a broad goal: to identify the relationship between language and reality and to define the limits of science. It is recognized by philosophers as a significant philosophical work of the twentieth century. G. E. Moore originally suggested the work's Latin title as homage to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by Baruch Spinoza.

Seeking grounding in such empiricism as of David Hume, [5] Auguste Comte, and Ernst Mach—along with the positivism of the latter two—they borrowed some perspectives from Immanuel Kant, and found the exemplar of science to be Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

David Hume Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian

David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, scepticism, and naturalism. Hume's empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, George Berkeley, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is founded solely in experience.

Auguste Comte French philosopher

Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte was a French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is sometimes regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. He is also regarded as the founder of the academic discipline sociology.

Ernst Mach Austrian physicist and university educator

Ernst Waldfried Josef Wenzel Mach was an Austrian physicist and philosopher, noted for his contributions to physics such as study of shock waves. The ratio of one's speed to that of sound is named the Mach number in his honor. As a philosopher of science, he was a major influence on logical positivism and American pragmatism. Through his criticism of Newton's theories of space and time, he foreshadowed Einstein's theory of relativity.

Revisions

Logical positivists within the Vienna Circle recognized quickly that the verifiability criterion was too stringent. Notably, all universal generalizations are empirically unverifiable, such that, under verificationism, vast domains of science and reason, such as scientific hypothesis, would be rendered meaningless. [6]

Vienna Circle

The Vienna Circle of Logical Empiricism was a group of philosophers and scientists drawn from the natural and social sciences, logic and mathematics who met regularly from 1924 to 1936 at the University of Vienna, chaired by Moritz Schlick.

In predicate logic, generalization is a valid inference rule. It states that if has been derived, then can be derived.

Hypothesis Proposed explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem

A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories. Even though the words "hypothesis" and "theory" are often used synonymously, a scientific hypothesis is not the same as a scientific theory. A working hypothesis is a provisionally accepted hypothesis proposed for further research, in a process beginning with an educated guess or thought.

Rudolf Carnap, Otto Neurath, Hans Hahn and Philipp Frank led a faction seeking to make the verifiability criterion more inclusive, beginning a movement they referred to as the "liberalization of empiricism". Moritz Schlick and Friedrich Waismann led a "conservative wing" that maintained a strict verificationism. Whereas Schlick sought to reduce universal generalizations to frameworks of 'rules' from which verifiable statements can be derived, [7] Hahn argued that the verifiability criterion should accede to less-than-conclusive verifiability. [8] Among other ideas espoused by the liberalization movement were physicalism, over Mach's phenomenalism, coherentism over foundationalism, as well as pragmatism and fallibilism. [6] [9]

In 1936, Carnap sought a switch from verification to confirmation. [6] Carnap's confirmability criterion (confirmationism) would not require conclusive verification (thus accommodating for universal generalizations) but allow for partial testability to establish "degrees of confirmation" on a probabilistic basis. Carnap never succeeded in formalizing his thesis despite employing abundant logical and mathematical tools for this purpose. In all of Carnap's formulations, a universal law's degree of confirmation is zero. [10]

That same year saw the publication of A. J. Ayer's work, Language, Truth and Logic , in which he proposed two types of verification: strong and weak. This system espoused conclusive verification, yet accommodated for probabilistic inclusion where verifiability is inconclusive. Ayer also distinguished between practical and theoretical verifiability. Under the latter, propositions that cannot be verified in practice would still be meaningful if they can be verified in principle.

Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery proposed falsificationism as a criterion under which scientific hypothesis would be tenable. Falsificationism would allow hypotheses expressed as universal generalizations, such as "all swans are white", to be provisionally true until falsified by evidence, in contrast to verificationism under which they would be disqualified immediately as meaningless.

Though generally considered a revision of verificationism, [4] [11] Popper intended falsificationism as a methodological standard specific to the sciences rather than as a theory of meaning. [4] Popper regarded scientific hypotheses to be unverifiable, as well as not "confirmable" under Carnap's thesis. [4] [12] He also found non-scientific, metaphysical, ethical and aesthetic statements often rich in meaning and important in the origination of scientific theories. [4] [13]

Decline

The 1951 article "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", by Willard Van Orman Quine, attacked the analytic/synthetic division and apparently rendered the verificationist program untenable. Carl Hempel, one of verificationism's greatest internal critics, had recently concluded the same as to the verifiability criterion. [14] In 1958, Norwood Hanson explained that even direct observations must be collected, sorted, and reported with guidance and constraint by theory, which sets a horizon of expectation and interpretation, how observational reports, never neutral, are laden with theory. [15]

Thomas Kuhn's landmark book of 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions —which identified paradigms of science overturned by revolutionary science within fundamental physics—critically destabilized confidence in scientific foundationalism, [16] commonly if erroneously attributed to verificationism. [17] Popper, who had long claimed to have killed verificationism but recognized that some would confuse his falsificationism for more of it, [11] was knighted in 1965. In 1967, John Passmore, a leading historian of 20th-century philosophy, wrote, "Logical positivism is dead, or as dead as a philosophical movement ever becomes"—a general view among philosophers. [18] Logical positivism's fall heralded postpositivism, where Popper's view of human knowledge as hypothetical, continually growing, and open to change ascended, [11] and verificationism became mostly maligned. [2]

Legacy

Although Karl Popper's falsificationism has been widely criticized by philosophers, [19] Popper has been the only philosopher of science often praised by many scientists. [12] Verificationists, in contrast, have been likened to economists of the 19th century who took circuitous, protracted measures to refuse refutation of their preconceived principles. [20] Still, logical positivists practiced Popper's principles—conjecturing and refuting—until they ran their course, catapulting Popper, initially a contentious misfit, to carry the richest philosophy out of interwar Vienna. [11] And his falsificationism, as did verificationism, poses a criterion, falsifiability, to ensure that empiricism anchors scientific theory. [2]

In a 1979 interview, A J Ayer, who had introduced logical positivism to the English-speaking world in the 1930s, was asked what he saw as its main defects, and answered that "nearly all of it was false". [18] Still, he soon admitted still holding "the same general approach". [18] The "general approach" of empiricism and reductionism—whereby mental phenomena resolve to the material or physical, and philosophical questions largely resolve to ones of language and meaning—has run through Western philosophy since the 17th century and lived beyond logical positivism's fall. [18]

In 1977, Ayer had noted, "The verification principle is seldom mentioned and when it is mentioned it is usually scorned; it continues, however, to be put to work. The attitude of many philosophers reminds me of the relationship between Pip and Magwitch in Dickens's Great Expectations . They have lived on the money, but are ashamed to acknowledge its source". [2] In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the general concept of verification criteria—in forms that differed from those of the logical positivists—was defended by Bas van Fraassen, Michael Dummett, Crispin Wright, Christopher Peacocke, David Wiggins, Richard Rorty, and others. [2]

See also

Notes

  1. Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, "Verifiability principle", Encyclopædia Britannica, Website accessed 12 Mar 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 C J Misak, Verificationism: Its History and Prospects (New York: Routledge, 1995), p viii.
  3. Miran Epstein, ch 2 "Introduction to philosophy of science", in Clive Seale, ed, Researching Society and Culture, 3rd edn (London: Sage Publications, 2012), pp 18–19.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Karl Popper, ch 4, subch "Science: Conjectures and refutations", in Andrew Bailey, ed, First Philosophy: Fundamental Problems and Readings in Philosophy, 2nd edn (Peterborough Ontario: Broadview Press, 2011), pp 338–42.
  5. Despite Hume's radical empiricism, set forth near 1740, Hume was also committed to common sense, and apparently did not take his own skepticism, such as the problem of induction, as drastically as others later did [Antony G Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy, rev 2nd edn (New York: St Martin's Press, 1984), "Hume", p 156].
  6. 1 2 3 Sahotra Sarkar and Jessica Pfeifer, eds, The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1: A–M (New York: Routledge, 2006), "Rudolf Carnap", p 83.
  7. Moritz Schlick, 1931, "Die Kausalität in der gegenwärtigen Physik", Die Naturwissen-schaften, 19: 145–162; transl. "Causality in Contemporary Physics" in Schlick 1979b, pp. 176–209
  8. Hahn, Hans, 1933, Logik, Mathematik und Naturerkennen, Wien: Gerold, transl. "Logic, Mathematics, and Knowledge of Nature", in B. McGuiness 1987, pp. 24–45.
  9. Antony G Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy, rev 2nd edn (New York: St Martin's Press, 1984), "Neurath", p 245.
  10. Mauro Murzi "Rudolf Carnap (1891–1970)", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 12 Apr 2001.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Malachi Haim Hacohen, Karl Popper: The Formative Years, 1902–1945: Politics and Philosophy in Interwar Vienna (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp 212–13.
  12. 1 2 Peter Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p 57–59.
  13. Falsificationism is simply Popper's scientific epistemology, whereas critical rationalism is Popper's general epistemology.
  14. James Fetzer, "Carl Hempel", in Edward N Zalta, ed, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013): "However surprising it may initially seem, contemporary developments in the philosophy of science can only be properly appreciated in relation to the historical background of logical positivism. Hempel himself attained a certain degree of prominence as a critic of this movement. Language, Truth and Logic (1936; 2nd edition, 1946), authored by A J Ayer, offers a lucid exposition of the movement, which was—with certain variations—based upon the analytic/synthetic distinction, the observational/theoretical distinction, and the verifiability criterion of meaningfulness.

    Hempel (1950, 1951), meanwhile, demonstrated that the verifiability criterion could not be sustained. Since it restricts empirical knowledge to observation sentences and their deductive consequences, scientific theories are reduced to logical constructions from observables. In a series of studies about cognitive significance and empirical testability, he demonstrated that the verifiability criterion implies that existential generalizations are meaningful, but that universal generalizations are not, even though they include general laws, the principal objects of scientific discovery. Hypotheses about relative frequencies in finite sequences are meaningful, but hypotheses concerning limits in infinite sequences are not. The verifiability criterion thus imposed a standard that was too strong to accommodate the characteristic claims of science and was not justifiable".
  15. Bruce Caldwell, Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the 20th Century, rev edn (London: Routledge, 1994), p 47–48.
  16. Samir Okasha, Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) ch 5.
  17. "But for a brief lapse around 1929/30, then, the post- Aufbau Carnap fully represents the position of Vienna Circle anti-foundationalism. In this he joined Neurath whose long-standing anti-foundationalism is evident from his famous simile likening scientists to sailors who have to repair their boat without ever being able to pull into dry dock (1932b). Their positions contrasted at least prima facie with that of Schlick (1934) who explicitly defended the idea of foundations in the Circle's protocol-sentence debate. Even Schlick conceded, however, that all scientific statements were fallible ones, so his position on foundationalism was by no means the traditional one. The point of his 'foundations' remained less than wholly clear and different interpretation of it have been put forward. ... While all in the Circle thus recognized as futile the attempt to restore certainty to scientific knowledge claims, not all members embraced positions that rejected foundationalism tout court . Clearly, however, attributing foundationalist ambitions to the Circle as a whole constitutes a total misunderstanding of its internal dynamics and historical development, if it does not bespeak wilfull ignorance. At most, a foundationalist faction around Schlick can be distinguished from the so-called left wing whose members pioneered anti-foundationalism with regard to both the empirical and formal sciences" Thomas Uebel, "Vienna Circle", sec "3.3 Reductionism and foundationalism: Two criticisms partly rebutted", in Edward N Zalta, ed, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012 edn).
  18. 1 2 3 4 Oswald Hanfling, ch 5 "Logical positivism", in Stuart G Shanker, Philosophy of Science, Logic and Mathematics in the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 1996), pp 193–94.
  19. Shea, Brendan. "Karl Popper: Philosophy of Science". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  20. Mark Blaug The Methodology of Economics: Or, How Economists Explain, 2nd edn (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), ch 3 "The verificationists, a largely nineteenth-century story", p 51.

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