Logical Positivism And Rejection Of Metaphysics Philosophy Essay

Metaphysics has always occupied a crucial position in the field of philosophy. It is the branch of philosophy which deals with reality and the questions related to Being and the World. According to the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, the word “metaphysics” derives from the Greek words Î¼ÎµÏ„ά (metá) (“beyond” or “after”) and Ï†Ï…σικά (physiká) (“physics”). The major work in this field came from the Aristotle’s book titled “metaphysics”.

The philosophy of science has an well-known history of magnetism and aversion towards metaphysics. The latter finds evidence in the Logical Positivist contention that metaphysical questions are meaningless. The major logical positivists were Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, Karl Popper and many other prominent philosophers.

This paper aims to discuss the various criticisms and objections raised by logical positivists against metaphysics and metaphysicians, to elaborate the charges and explain the justifications provided by metaphysicians to support metaphysics.

“Logical positivism (also called logical empiricism and neo-positivism) is a school of philosophy that combines empiricism – the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge of the world – with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions in epistemology”.(Stansford encyclopedia of Philosophy). It grew out of the discussions of a group called Vienna-Circle. Their main aim was to reject metaphysics not as something wrong or invalid but as something which is meaningless. They employed the method of “Verifiability theory of meaning” to demonstrate as to whether a statement is meaningful or meaningless. “This principle holds that a claim is meaningful if and only if it could be verified, that is, if and only if some possible set of observations exists that, were they to be, would establish the truth of the claim.” (Salmon et al 1992:115)

Rudolf Carnap, a major figure of Vienna Circle and a prominent logical positivist, played a significant role in the contributing to the rejection of metaphysics. In his book, Philosophy and Logical Syntax, Carnap uses the concept of verifiability to reject metaphysics. Rudolf makes it explicit that for a statement to be meaningful it must fulfill the following criterions:-

1) It must be grammatically correct.

2)It is analytic in the sense that it must either express a logical truth or logical contradiction.

3) It must be specified that under what conditions the sentence is true or false and that these conditions can in principle be empirically checked.

Carnap and all other logical positivists held that any statement which do not fall under these categories is a meaningless pseudo-statement.

Examples of pseudo-statements

1) One is an and

2) One is an animal.

The former sentence is meaningless as it is formed counter syntactically. In the sense that the rules of grammar specifies that the third position should be occupied a predicate and not conjunctions. However in the latter there is the violation of the “theory of types”. In the latter sentence there is a type confusion between the types of predicates.

With the support of the former claims Carnap proved that the various words and concepts used in metaphysics like God, Omniscient, Infinite etc. are meaningless because they cannot be empirically verified. Further when a metaphysician talks of such concepts such as god, he is not willing to deny anything and thus violates the conditions required for a sentence to be meaningful.

Carnap held that the meaningful statemtns can be divided into three kinds:-

1) Tautologies- true by virtue of their form. Wittgenstein held that they approximate to the analytic judgments in Kant’s philosophy. For example-logical and mathematical formulae.

2) Contradictions- false by virtue of their form. For example-The first rule is that there are no rules.

3) Empirical statements (true or false)- Fall under the domain of empirical science.

Carnap held that any statements which do not fall under these categories are meaningless pseudo-statements. In the words of Rudolf Carnap “Since metaphysics does not want to assert analytic propositions, nor to fall within the domain of empirical science, it is compelled to employ words for which no criteria of application are specified and which are therefore devoid of sense, or else to combine meaningful words in such a way that neither an analytic (or contradictory) statement nor an empirical statement is produced. In either case pseudo-statements are the inevitable product.”(Rudolf Carnap 1959:65)

Carnap suggested that Metaphysics has no “theoretical” content because it does not offer anything that could be empirically verifiable; it merely provides the expression of an attitude toward life – a Lebensgefühl. Further the best way to express Lebensgefühl is through music. The same kind of parallelism between music and metaphysics could be found in the work of Theodor Adorno. However Carnap held that “Metaphysicians are musicians without musical talent”. The reason being the metaphysicians confuses between the two domains namely art and theory that is, the need for expression in art and inclinations to connect concepts and thoughts. Thus inadvertently resulting in the invalidating of knowledge and inadequate expression of attitude.

Justifications in support of metaphysical theory

The second prominent tradition in philosophy of science namely “Post-Positivist view” started with Thomas Samuel Kuhn(1960). The major proponents of this view were W.O.Quine, I.Lakatos, P.Feyerabend and D.Bloor.

They rejected the sharp, philosophically discernible difference between philosophy and science, as held by the proponents of Received-view(associated with logical positivism). They held that science and philosophy are inseparable and thus cannot be demarcated from each other. They vehemently held that science is underdetermined by empirical observations and thus rejected the logical positivists claim that science is built on empirical foundations.

The following claims led to the downfall of logical positivism and thus led to major efforts to support metaphysics:-

1) Proponents of Post-positivist view claimed that the verification principle which states “A sentence S is empirically meaningful if and only if S is verifiable by experience” does not the requirement criteria for meaningful sentence as it is neither synthetic  a posteriori nor analytic a priori. The reason being that it is neither logically true nor false nor can its truth or falsehood can be demonstrated empirically.

2) In “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (1951), W.V.O.Quine rejects the logical positivists claim there there is a distinction between analytic and synthetic statements. He argued that if there is a clear distinction between the two then we must be able to demonstrate it analyticity and in a non-circular method. He gave the following reasons:-

a)  As it cannot be explained in terms of meaning;

b)   it cannot be explained in terms of synonymy, since synonymy itself cannot be explained in a non-circular way (not in terms of definition, nor in terms of interchangeability without change of truth value);

c)  it cannot be explained in terms of the semantical rules of an artificial language.


3) Karl Popper in his book “The logic of Scientific Discovery” criticizes logical positivists for placing too much emphasis on the verification principle. He argued that no matter how many individual observations are made it cannot prove the validity of a general statement(e.g., “all swans are white”). As a remedy to this problem he introduced the principle of “Falsificationism” which holds that a theory is meaningful iff it can be falsified.


Thus from the above discussion it is clear that there is no clear consensus in the field of metaphysics. The question of whether metaphysics can be accepted as a valid branch of philosophy still remains debatable. Furter investigations and researches in this direction are necessary if some progress have to be made in this field. However Carnap’s claim that “Metaphysicians are musicians without musical talent” still remains unparalleled in spite of numerous efforts made in this direction to refute the claim.

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