Notes on "The Turing Test, or how we use the verb "to think"" -- from link
quoted above. Slightly edited by JLS. (c) Abelard.
"K. Lashley, after studying the "memory unit" for 30 years, supposedly
stated that he was not even sure if the his "engram" (unit of memory) even
_existed_. Some still imagine that it is as yet not possible to define
"thinking that p". After much study, I do have some idea of the nature of
what does "thinking that p"/"believing that p" while being aware what a
most complex issue it still is. And then Turing suggested this Test, since
widely known as "the Turing Test" as a yardstick -- no less -- for
determining whether a "digial computer" could be regarded as "thinking that
p". Simply put, what Turing proposes is..."
a machine automaton A may be deemed to think that
p if and only if A can act in such a manner that a
human being cannot distinguish the agent A from human
merely by asking questions via a mechanical link.
"We are then, testing the A's "intelligence" (or A's ability to think that
p) via the A's ability to _fool_ our own "intelligence" within a particular
context. Put yet another way, if we are not intelligent enough to solve the
riddle, we will call the A _intelligent_ (like us?)."
"As a negative exposition, this could be thought as rather a _ropey_
definition, or it might be seen as mighty similar to
defining a mouse as _intelligent_
(or able to think that p) if and only if
the mouse fails to distinguish an elephant from
another mouse without having sight or
sound or smell of the pair.
"On the other hand, if we can _not_ tell the difference, we could consider
that it's _our own_ intelligence that is limited or lacking. What we are
ultimately testing, then, is the ability of A to _fool_ an individual
humans, and, perhaps, labelling that ability to deceive us as "thinking
"Yet another possibility is that the human being, used as the comparison
standard in the test, could perhaps persuade the tester that they were a
machine. It's interesting that Turing uses chess as a test-bed for working
out early ideas on computers. He also works with many of the leading chess
players when developing the code-breaking method during the Second World
War. Despite his considerably great mathematical insight and creativity, he
was by comparison an amateur at chess. It is probable that chess players
qualities, including a dash of deviousness (The strongest chess machine so
far developed is now able to push, and often defeat, even the greatest
practising modern players)".
"A frog can distinguish "near" from "far": An object that is "near" and
flying around is conceptualised as "food", so the frog sticks out tongue &
eats it. An object flying at a distance is a likely nuisance, who may in
its turn imagine _you_ as lunch, so dive for cover." Does this mean that
the frog "thinks" that object x is near while object y is far?
"You can distinguish between many individuals on the basis of looks, but
also often intelligence. There is a clear theoretical intellectual
difference between Einstein and Darwin, on the one hand, and a Down's
syndrome individual, a child, or a duck on the other. Intelligence is not
merely "there" or "not there" but presents on a continuum where we are
potentially able to make some distinctions."
"I have noted that when most people use the term "is intelligent" (can
"think", etc), they are inclined to mean something like "That's a fine
fellow. He agrees with me". Or, rather, though less often, "My, he _is_
impressive’ (Most tend to emphasise the first, for admitting the
impressiveness of others is not widespread in
human society apart from where people's own offspring are concerned).
"Psychologists say that intelligence may be defined as "the ability to
solve new problems": problem-solving heuristic abductive reasoning. Thus,
if one has experience of IQ tests, those tests become less valid."
"Further, if you come across a person who has gained some skill in a
field of which you know little, that person may be thought impressive or
_intelligent_ -- a good thinker. Alternatively, it may merely be that the
person has received effective education in that skill. It is often
difficult in this complex society to distinguish intelligence (actual
thinking) from learning."
"Bernard of Chartres used to say, "We are like dwarfs on the shoulders
of giants -- so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater
distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any
physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by
their giant's size". Thus also do we build our skills brick by brick.
Whether we build a large, complex, and impressive structure can depend much
upon persistence. As E A Poe used to say, genius is 1% inspiration -- 99%
"Thus, also our computers exert much high-speed perspiration, while we
are much _less organised_, but rather better at forming associations.
However, this skill of organisation we are also slowly learning to teach to
our inorganic friends. Currently, we have advantage in that our peripherals
for gaining input from
the outside world are comparatively more efficient. As Thomas Aquinas said,
"All knowledge is first in the senses" ("Nihil est in intellectu quod
fuerit primum in sensu")."
"Intelligence" -- "thinking that p", like "being hot" or "being heavy",
is a property of an agent. It is
not an _object_ of itself. It is something an object/agent does. As such,
intelligence may be regarded as inherent in every object down to the level
of stimulus-response (or even the "equal"/opposite reaction of
"So to the first result of this analysis of the Turing test, is "yes,
computers are "intelligent" -- we can say that an mechanical agent "thinks
"The problem then becomes "_how_ intelligent?" -- which expands outward
into "how does this relate to _human_ intelligence?’ How, then, does this
_distinguishing apart_ advance our understanding, assuming that it does?"
"It is clear that the test suggested by Turing has generated much
thought. As may be seen, what is regarded as "being intelliget" is much
bound up with the various levels of "knowledge" of various subjects,
ourselves and of computers. As we provide our computers with ever better
sensory peripherals and increasing databases, it is likely that
increasingly we will think of them as "being intelligent"."
"But let us return to the possibility of distinguishing human vs
computer intelligence, while remembering that computers *solve* problems
generally by different methods than humans: we humans most often perceive
intelligence in the sense of stimulus and response from the outside, where
we say, "Hey! That person is real clever". We are not always distinguishing
between sheer creativity and mere learning."
"It is fairly clear that Turing did not make such fine distinctions in
his test and Turing’s Test. It does seem strange that humans should so
often concern themselves with _the manner_ in which computers produce their
impressive results, rather than the striking fact that _they do_.
"Turing, being a rather superior sort of fellow, one assumes that he
was rather more confident and objective than average Jo and, therefore,
that he meant "being intelligent" in the "my, that is impressive" mood,
rather than the previously noted more common form, "they must be bright
because they agree with me". Turing also chose the human as his yardstick
for intelligence, despite the considerable intelligence often shown by
other animals. He is clearly assuming a human intelligent enough to make
the necessary distinctions."
"Now, humans vary in their capacity and ability and knowledge. As a
considerable sophisticate on these matters, I would expect it to be far
harder to fool me in such a test than the average Jo, although there is
that rather arbitrary 5-minute rule proposed by Turing in the original
test. I do rather like to take my time to consider problems, which could
put me at some disadvantage as humanity's representative. I am also rather
prejudiced in that I rather like the idea of some intelligent computers as
company. After all, they may well be rather more rational and friendly than
most humans I meet."
"Thus we gradually refine Turing's meaning to that of whether a
reasonably bright human can tell the human apart from the computer."
"Off now on another side track. Could I distinguish a computer from a
particularly _dull_ human that communicated in grunts, especially if the
computer were primed to respond with similar crudity. In such
circumstances, I might doubt my own ability to discriminate."
"Which human, then, is to carry out the test? Which is to be the human
to represent humanity in this rather strange task of _proving_ that
computers are or are not intelligent, or at least not able to fool us into
thinking that they are human?"
"Chess computers have some interesting personality traits, they do not
go round bleating "Did you win - Did you win - Did you win", an incantation
widely heard at chess congresses. Pointless to explain that one learns much
more from a loss than a win. Chess is a good way to learn, to keep the
brain fit and the ego in check, a mental form of your local gymnasium.
Those who see chess merely as a means of self-proof make the game
experience uncomfortable and drive many of the better, more sensitive
brains to analysis, correspondence, problems, studies and the like. But a
computer is another matter: it is a a friendly, tireless, patient
and is steadily becoming able to produce more interesting games than the
games provided by weak, fallible and emotional humans. With a computer, you
may repeatedly try different approaches in interesting positions or access
data-bases of hundreds of thousands of games by able players. Further,
computers can _learn_ by various means to improve their game. I watch with
mischievous joy as the computers steadily overhaul human arrogance and ego.
Time perhaps we leave winning to our new friends, the machines, and
remember that we are merely human."
"What if the human comparator in the test were to deliberately simulate
a computer-like response? Well again, some may get very good at such a
task. Again, this may make errors quite likely. Humans are indeed very able
dissemblers. In the test, then, we have yet _another_ hidden assumption: an
honest test subject and an honest tester."
"Whe then see that the Turing test provides a rather sloppy definition
of "thinking that p" as opposed to an analysis via truth-conditional
necessary/sufficient conditionas a la classical analytical philosophy. And
it is certainly not to be taken as a very _clear_ definition of "being
intelligence" or "thinking that p"".
"It's better to regard the Turing test as a particular benchmark for
growing intelligence (or the ability to think that p) in a mechanical
agent. That is, it is just one particular stage in the process of defining
the nature of "being intelligent" or "thinking that p"".
"The test may have the potential for contamination by elements of
duplicity. Perhaps we should also consider whether the human is really
trying (though unfortunately there is no clear or fool-proof manner in
which we could test for veracity). This consideration would rather seem to
undermine the usefulness of the Turing test."
"If our computers become sufficiently fluent, perhaps they may learn
also to dissemble in order to claim the great prize of our approval of
"I will, however, try to further confine the test to rather less
obscure considerations. One may refine the Turing Test still further: can a
reasonably intelligent human discern another reasonably honest and
intelligent human from a similar culture apart from a computer? Maybe the
ability to fool is a more interesting question than the original, rather
sloppy, attempt to define "being intelligent" or "thinking that p". Turing,
clearly one of the great thinkers and contributors to the advance of
knowledge last century, achieved one of the more important functions of the
creative scientist: he asked interesting questions. Whether he gave us a
useful test of machine intelligence/thought is another matter."
"Consider for the moment a reverse question: can a machine tell us (any
of us) apart from any other machine? If a machine cannot make such a
distinction, are we still to call the machine _intelligent_? Or if it
cannot, should we move to withhold the accolade? Perhaps this gives us a
caution that we may have a prior difficulty and need a method for deciding
just what we mean by _being a human being_ from _being a machine_. Perhaps
we must consider whether there is any useful distinction worth attempting,
rather than just considering the nature of _being intelligent_ by this
rather haphazard and sloppy means".
"The real world includes the continuities of space and time. It is
merely a human convenience and limitation that we seek to reduce so much to
on/off logic. _Being intelligent_ is a graduated measure because it is an
inherent function of the real world. It is not an on/off process. It has to
function with analogue problems and is a spacial object. Chess is a digital
construction of our limited human minds, as are our attempts at intelligent
test construction, and even the digital manner in which we presently
understand and describe our neuronal minds."
"When we reduce _being intelligent_ still further to some single rather
simplistic test like Turing's, we do mayhem to the reality we seek to
understand, however interesting or usefully provocative the exercise may
prove. Clearly a chess computer playing over a link would already defeat
maybe all human attempts to distinguish it from a human player. It would
already play more effective chess than the vast majority of human players."
"Kasparov claimed to be able to distinguish computer play from human
play. During a simultaneous event over the Internet, he once stopped
playing a certain game, saying that he was up against a computer (it was
supposed to be human opposition). (He was losing at the time!). Kasparov
has also claimed, while losing against a computer, that the computer was
being given human assistance!"
"A number of chess players would fancy their chance of distinguishing
humans from computers by virtue of the style. Mere strength of play alone
therefore hardly proves they cannot so distinguish. Similar claims have
been made with respect to jazz and computers. Also, some knowledge-based
computer systems are far more effective than their human competitors, e.g.
those for plant-diseases and the identification of chemicals."
"I know very little of the workings of mechanical objects such as motor
vehicles. It's then highly likely that a discussion with a well-organised
knowledge-based computer programme would quickly leave me baffled with
science, leaving me without any useful questions to ask the car computer
genius. How then could I decide whether the computer is "intelligent" or
not? Could I perhaps decide that it was a computer on the basis that it
knew far more than myself, or even that it was more consistent than the
average disorganised human? I would then be deciding that it was a machine
because it was superior in its behaviour than me. How then am I to call the
computer less intelligent than the human because it is more effective?"
"While discussing the intelligence of machines, or our inclination to
ascribe "propositional thoughts to thm", Turing even suggests injecting a
certain dose of _irrationality_ into the functioning of a computer aimed at
emulating human intelligence. Likely he had another good point."
"Consider a very likely scenario when a computer, or even the web,
gives access to so great and well structured a knowledge-base that the
machines know more than any individual. This is not a difficult assumption,
after all our great libraries are already such oracles. The only difference
with our growing computer technology is that interactivity and retrieval is
steadily growing more efficient than is the
case with libraries."
"I think it rather clear then that the Turing test offers a useful
basis for clarifying our relationships with and our understanding of the
wider world. The test also gives us ideas upon the means by which we may
make our silicon friends more like us where that is useful".
"But, I would submit, it hardly gives us a clear manner of
distinguishing a computer from a human".
"It has been said that much human progress is just a matter of adding
another decimal point of accuracy to our knowledge. While such view is
simplistic, that is a function well-suited to computer-based information."
NOTES & REFERENCES:
Notes and References: Bernard of Chartres is in John of Salisbury (tr by D
McGarry), Metalogicon. bk. 3, ch. 4. A Turing's essay in Mind 'Computing
Machinery & Intelligence', available from link above. Cf The mathematical
cornerstone of VonNeumann's theory of games as the "minimax theorem". Its
applications are in the book he wrote with O Morgenstern in _Theory of
Games & Economic Behaviour_. The minimax theorem says that for a large
class of two-person games, there is _no point_ in playing. Either
player may consider, for each possible strategy of play, the maximum loss
that he can expect to sustain with that strategy and then choose as his
_optimal_ strategy the one that minimises the maximum loss. If a player
follows this reasoning, he can be statistically sure of not losing more
than that value (called the mini-max value). Since that minimax value is
the negative of the one, similarly defined, that his opponent can guarantee
for himself, the long-run outcome is completely determined by the rules. In
computer theory, VonNeumann did much of the pioneering work in logical
design, in the problem of obtaining _reliable_ answers from a machine with
_*un*reliable_ components, in the function of "memory", in machine
imitation of "randomness" and in the problem of constructing automata that
can reproduce their own kind. -- "Robotics"
was coined by K Capek who introduced the word in "Rossum's Universal
Robots". It was Asimov who developed a set of ethics for robots and
intelligent machines that greatly influenced other writers’ treatment of
the subject. He called his rules the three laws of robotics: 1. A robot may
not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come
to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except
where such orders would conflict with the (1). 3. A obot must protect its
own existence, except where such protection would conflict with the (1) or
(2) -- On the other hand, the preponderance of books on chess concentrate
mainly on the cramming great masses of fact and experience: a constant
stream of opening
variations, endings, combinations, principles, and tricks. All of this is
merely memory and calculation, functions much better performed by a
computer than a creative human (v. A Degroot, Thought and Choice in Chess
-- the interesting "Zugswang", that chess position in which you are
compelled to move because it is your turn, but any move that you make will
weaken your position, so you would rather not have a move.
"By way of conclusion, I would imagine that, by any reasonable
assessment, computers have already gone far toward the goal of "passing"
the Turing test. By the way, remembering from where I started (memory),
human memory is primarily associative, but that is for another essay.
Finally, I repeat below the Gricean links, with some further comments. For
Turing, I am referred to the work of A. Hodges, of Wolfson College, Oxford.
For Gricean conversational pragmatics and AI, to the work of Y. A. Wilks,
of Sheffield, England.
Some Turing/Grice links:
Conversation, context, & computers: References. Grice, HP. 'Logic and
conversation', for the introduction of the notion of conversaional
implicature, and whether we can programme a computer to produce and
recognise them. Also citing Turing, AM. Computing machinery and
intelligence. Mind 59,
Natural-Language Conversational Agents. Citing Grice, HP. 'Logic and
Conversation', for the definition of conversational implicature' and
Turing, AM. Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Mind 59
Troubles with Functionalism. Discusses a "sort of Turing machine" --
totally different from a Turing Test, that is. A Turing Machine (introduced
by Turing in an earlier article than the one discussed here) cannot really
pass the Turing Test). Ned Block here views the Turing machine as the model
below contemporary functionalist theories of the mind, such as the seminal
essay by HP Grice in "Method in philosophical psychology" - in _The
Conception of Value_.
Can a Turing machine tell us what she thinks of Picasso? (Turing's own
example). No context-sensitive automaton can ever master the rules of
Grice's conversational implicature -- based as they are on heuristic
abductive and defeasible problem solving reasing patterns, but maybe it
will. Work by Reichmann, Grosz, etc.
Grice & Turing. Meaning, thinking & implicature: Inter-disciplinary
foundations, by Richard Thomason, the literary executor of Montague, and a
proponent of so-called accomodation theory attempting to link Grice's
intention-based theory of meaning with Grice's later work in
(c) 2001 by Analytic
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> Notes on "The Turing Test, or how we use the verb "to think"" --
> quoted above. Slightly edited by JLS. (c) Abelard.
Interesting site. One wonders, who is this Abelard? Hints from Heloise
are called for.
Some comments on the chess examples, which are unlike the others in
that I know something about them...
Ooh, that hurts: chessplayers like me have watched over the last
couple of decades with mixed fascination and dismay. Some relevant
background, for those who may not know the story already:
In the 1950s a few learned articles appeared in philosophy journals
arguing that of course computers could never play chess better than
their programmers, because they could do no more than embody the
codified wisdom of their creators. Some early AI optimists countered
with the view that machines could be built with clever learning
The skeptics turned out to be embarrassingly wrong, though for reasons
that had almost nothing to do with clever heuristics. What's been
discovered over the last decade or two, is that a computer endowed
with only the most rudimentary sense of what it's aiming for (more
material, king safety, checkmate is a very good thing, etc.) can play
extremely well, so long as it analyzes deeply enough. And this is
largely a question of raw speed, coupled with the appropriate parallel
processing and tree-pruning technologies.
In terms of practical strength, in other words, brute calculating
force has turned out to be a good substitute for "understanding",
whatever that may be. A human who knows his way around the chessboard
and looks at a few hundred possibilities is roughly comparable to a
computer which has little inductive knowledge to speak of, but which
looks at millions of possibilities in the same amount of time.
So, as the AI people say, most of the currently successful chess
programmers are in the business of "emulation", not "simulation". The
attempt to make a computer think like a grandmaster was largely
abandoned long ago. The point now is simply to play as well as one, or
It seems to me that this lessens some of the force of the proposal to
use chess as a Turing test. However, as Abelard notes, there remains
the possibility that in this dry, restricted context an emulating
machine could fool the tester as well as a simulating one (though I
suppose a dissimulating one would work best of all):
There are indeed little quirks of style that suggest computer play,
but it's hard to say what that proves. For example, computers are
noticeably *fearless* compared to human players --- they'll take what
appear to be massive risks to win a pawn or two, if they don't "see"
anything specifically wrong with their greedy adventures. However, it
would be possible to program a chess computer to be more timid, hence
a better candidate for the role of Turing contestant. The thing is,
this would most likely be a step backward for a program whose main
objective is winning.
> "(2) -- On the other hand, the preponderance of books on chess
> mainly on the cramming great masses of fact and experience: a
> stream of opening
> variations, endings, combinations, principles, and tricks. All of
> merely memory and calculation, functions much better performed by a
> computer than a creative human (v. A Degroot, Thought and Choice in
> -- the interesting "Zugswang", that chess position in which you are
> compelled to move because it is your turn, but any move that you
> weaken your position, so you would rather not have a move.
> "By way of conclusion, I would imagine that, by any reasonable
> assessment, computers have already gone far toward the goal of
> the Turing test."
In this final passage I think Abelard has underestimated the roles of
imagination and general inductive reasoning in human chess play. One
way of putting it is: now the mystery is no longer how computers can
play as well as people, but how people can play as well as computers.
In this article, Abelard shows that he's kept up with some recent
developments --- but the very idea that chess is an important Turing
test strikes me as a bit old-fashioned, based on assumptions that
seemed more plausible before very fast machines came along. So your
conversational example about the aesthetics of "Shall I compare thee
to a summer's day" strikes me, for a variety of reasons, as a much
more interesting candidate for the Turing treatment.
Leaving aside love and lust, maybe the *cognitive* capacity that's
hardest to mimic is the ability to jump nimbly from one frame to
another, as Gregory Bateson used to put it.
Not having seen much recent history I don't know what
topics have been done to death or what are likely to
be of sufficient interest for discussion.
My own philosophical leanings are much at odds with
contemporary analytic philosophy and most closely
sympathetic with the general tenor of logical positivism.
I see that recent literature includes a certain amount
of re-evaluation of logical positivism (e.g. a book of papers
entitled "Reconsidering Logical Positivism" by Friedman)
and wonder whether there would be any interest in revisiting
the merits of the various aspects of logical positivism
on this list.
I recall that I suggested you check out the group in
reply to your query on the philos-list. Glad you could
make it. Regarding your invitation for a discussion
into the tenets of logical positivism, I may mention
that I am only just getting around to reading Ayer's
book (truth, language, logic) and I must say his
unapologetic daring is rather amusing. Aside from that
I simply can not agree with the verificationist
method; that sentences that can not be verified by
observation are meaningless. In my mind, this is
thorough confusion about the nature of meaning and the
understanding of the basis of facts. Facts are not
based on sensation, therefore any kind of reduction
attempt, by me, is faulty-logic, not to mention,
pointless. However, I am sympathetic to the
understanding that philosophy consists primarily in
logical analysis with the intent at definition,
followed by a comprehensive account of the
consequences that follow from such definition. Yet, in
my mind, the type of definition that Ayer refers to is
not what I would regard as logical analysis,
particularly in the fact that he takes up Russell's
method as logically useful. Logical positivism, on the
whole, suggests to me a good step forward in its
denial of metaphysics, yet its view was, I maintain,
much too radical in many respects. I suppose it is all
a matter of a more comprehensive understanding and
this, I am certain, will necessarily come into being
(yes, I think there is still a place for the
dialectic). It is a curious thing to me, metaphysics.
Mostly, I suppose that they seek to answer the
question of existence. At times, I suppose that they
could be helped in this endeavor if they considered
certain aspects of consequence, value, and the
dynamism of meaning. Of-course, they suffer from the
fact that they can not do logical analysis directly in
their investigation. This surely puts them in a
certain disadvantage, yet only a relative one (so its
best not to be condescending). At any rate, I do not
deny metaphysics as meaningless, indeed, the
definition that logical analyis intends is necessarily
meaningless (as I see it, the definition is the exact
resolution of any possible meaning, as its sole
interest is to identify function) and therefore I
believe that the logical positivism position was a
conclusive step in a good direction, yet it faltered
in a misunderstanding of meaning and the basis of
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"Not having seen much recent history I don't know what topics have been
done to death"
Hey hey _and_ hey: some respect for analytic philosophy, bitte! Analytic
philosophical topics are, by circular definition, DEATHLESS, like the
deathless army of the Tennyson poem.
"or what are likely to be of sufficient interest for discussion."
Anything from you as far as I'm concerned since I like the way you express
yourself. Music to my Speranglish ears.
"My own philosophical leanings are much at odds with contemporary analytic
Who's talking contemporary? H. P. Grice (I know -- you were not quoting
him) was born in 1913!!!! If that's contemporary, I'm Dutch (which I'm
not). If you mean LIVING philosophers, they are old already. So never mind
being at odds with anything, will you.
"and most closely sympathetic with the general tenor of logical positivism."
Fair enough. I was wedded to Logical Positivism for a time. No way you can
actually come to love GRICE (with the undying love I do) if you don't tread
that path, I say (i.e. if you have not been a logical positivist, in
plainer English). (cfr. Grice's metaphor of the Pilgrim's Progress in
PGRICE (ed. R. Grandy et al) mentioned below).
"I see that recent literature includes a certain amount of re-evaluation of
logical positivism (e.g. a book of papers entitled "Reconsidering Logical
Positivism" by Friedman)"
Who's the man, and full list of contents, with author names included,
please! None of your summaries here :). I hope he is England-based, since
my hobby is England's analytic and post-analytic philosophy. I'm doing a
PhD on England's Philosophy in the 21st Century -- few books so far!
"and wonder whether there would be any interest in revisiting the merits of
the various aspects of logical positivism on this list."
Course there is! Merits and de-merits, of course.
I. MERITS: (acc. to JL, that is -- you can call me "Speranza" as they do in
here. It makes me feel more famous. I can call you Jones).
1. It's such an English thing (unless you're Welsh -- and I say, it's such
a Welsh thing). Without LP (henceforward Logical Positivism) there wouldn't
have been GRICE, inter alia.
2. It's so OXFORD. Ayer was Oxford's _enfant terrible_ (Grice's moniker)
for a time, and Grice's mentor. They met at All Souls, Oxford, every
Thursday night, along with Austin and Hampshire and Urmson and Hare and a
few others. Freddie Ayer was just a genius.
3. AYER changed the face of England's philosophy. That book Daniel is about
to finish reading must be the most important book in England's 2oth c.
philo, after Grice's _Studies in the Way of Words_ that is. (Ayer was not
strictly Anglo-Saxon, but born in London -- there is a town he was proud
of, called "Ayer" in Switzerland -- I read his Bio).
4. It's easy to understand, it's in plain English, and it's anti-Bradleian.
5. Yes, it's a wee bit too over German-oriented (Ayer having learned it
from the Vienesse Circle (Kraus?) upon that rather naive advice by Ryle
(who wasn't that kind, so he probably was jealous of Ayer's intelligence,
and wanted him far far far from _his_ Oxford. As a revenge. Freddie became
Sir Freddie while Gilbert was always just Gilbert -- but then, it was
before the WWII so you _can_ forgive that (Also, I'm told once and again
but I forget: Austria is NOT Germany -- see the Waltz and Wittgenstein).
6. It's all-pervading and all-inclusive. It deals with metaphysics (or the
negation thereof which is by circular definition also a metaphysics) as
Daniel points out, but it's also a theory of ethics, and all!
7. It's a bit rough in the dealing of English syntax, but you can't have
everything, can you. Also, you wouldn't have had Grice if LP served as a
good analysis of English usage! (see WARNOCK, A Hundred Years of English
8. It's consistent with Grice. Since Grice is Russellian of _Principia
Mathematica_, and so is LP (as Daniel notes).
9. It's original. Positivism was I think first used by French sociologist
Auguste Compte in Sociology (I think he also coined the word "sociology" --
a hybrid if ever there was one. I must check the OED). So, the idea to have
a new philosophical "-ism" was very innovative at the time.
II. DEMERITS (slightly exaggerated, since I don't adhere to any of the
1. It is an affrent (if that's the English word -- I meant shameful
violation, or something) against English usage. Nobody would say that
"Killing people is wrong" is truth-conditionally equivalent to "Don't kill
people!" (see our discussion with Silcox -- analytic-prize winner - here)
2. It's blind. Since it does not consider the history of philosophy. Just a
kow-tow to Hume and Kant (this relates to Daniel's doubts about the
analytic/synthetic distinction, which I share). The LP-ists just BOUGHT
Kant's distinction as a DOGMA, as they shouldn't! (cfr. R. Vanegas and Quine).
3. It's naive. Since it's based on a pre-Albert-Einstein physics. I.e.
deterministic Newtonian physics. With Einstein and relativity (and the
Hiroshima bomb) and Heisenberg, you cannot just hold that physics is the
ultimate science of reality. Since quantum mechanics involves
indeterminacy, theory-laden observation, anti-Humean non-causality, etc.
4. It's political. Since Ayer did not like Greek and Latin (as he wasn't
upper class as Austin and Grice were -- England's public school tradition
and all that) and hoped to change the way of doing philosophy at Oxford,
based as it has always been (and SHOULD be -- recall it's :) here) on Greek
and Latin Studies. Recall at Oxford Philosophy is a branch of the Belles
Letters (as diff. from Cambridge).
5. It's un-English, since the English way of doing philosophy is, by racial
temperament, subtler, and Ayer can be so schematic and unsensitive about
things. And obviously he can't believe the thing he promotes, since he
married, had children, and was even politically involved! (pacifism).
6. It's silly. As the history of the trials and tribulations of the only
thing of merit in PL, viz the Verification Principle, was the laughing
stock of 20th Philosophy -- see Mundle's book. A Welshman he. And the
famous article on the "History of the Verification Principle", repr. in
Ayer's book, ed. LP. (an excellent collection that, with papers by Ramsey,
et al et al).
7. It's NOT philosophy! Since it denies metaphysics and metaphysics is all
philosophy must ever dream of (see Hamlet in Shakespeare -- "more than your
philosophy can ever dream about). See also Grice in his publication
unlisted in his festschrift, PGRICE, viz: _The Nature of Metaphysics_ (ed.
DF Pears, BBC Third Lectures programme), and his 'Reply to Richards' in
PGRICE Philosophical Grounds of Rationality: intentions, categories, ends.
(Grice never used in his later days the "H" of his name, hence the
incomplete name of the festschrift. It should be HIGHER philosophical
8. It's unacademic. Since it presupposes that you don't need an education
to have a philosophical post. This was Barnes's criticism in a book I've
got ("The Philosophical Predicament"). As I recall, Barnes taught at the
prestigious Durham university, and he was amongst the millions of academic
philosophers who opposed Ayer (cfr. T P Uschanov on Gellner's criticism.
Uschanov being our latest analytic-prize winner).
9. It's Cambridge! Since it's based on Russell and Ramsey, who were
Cambridge. It's ultimately furrin, since it started in Wein...
Now, after that meaningless tirade from yours truly, you DO pose some
specific point you want to discuss, willya! :)
The Grice Circle
PS. Thanks to Daniel for bringing RB here!
R.B. Jones writes: "Not having seen much recent history I don't know what
topics have been done to death or what are likely to be of sufficient
interest for discussion. My own philosophical leanings are much at odds
with contemporary analytic philosophy and most closely sympathetic with the
general tenor of logical positivism. I see that recent literature includes
a certain amount of re-evaluation of logical positivism (e.g. a book of
papers entitled "Reconsidering Logical Positivism" by Friedman) and wonder
whether there would be any interest in revisiting the merits of the various
aspects of logical positivism on this list".
(c) 2001 by Analytic
| Welcome to the list Roger!
Thanks, its nice to be back.
| Regarding your invitation for a discussion
| into the tenets of logical positivism, I may mention
| that I am only just getting around to reading Ayer's
| book (truth, language, logic) and I must say his
| unapologetic daring is rather amusing.
"language truth and logic" was my starting point in
philosophy, and I don't believe I have ever moved
very far away from it.
As to the "unapologetic daring" this is surely typical
of great philosophical works.
| Aside from that
| I simply can not agree with the verificationist
| method; that sentences that can not be verified by
| observation are meaningless.
I agree that the verification principle is untenable.
I don't think that's quite as obvious as you suggest
it is, but I accept that the various criticisms and
failed attempts at its repair have shown this to be
However, though the verification principle is
frequently represented as being the essence of
logical positivism, this seems to me a misrepresentation.
It certainly doesn't seem to play a significant role
in Carnap's philosophy, and it is Carnap with whom
I now feel the closest affinity among the logical positivists.
(though my acquaintance with his work is fairly recent)
| Facts are not
| based on sensation, therefore any kind of reduction
| attempt, by me, is faulty-logic, not to mention,
Carnap was not dogmatic about reduction to
sensation. He attempted this, and also other kinds
of reduction, and had a liberal attitude expressed as
his "principle of tolerance".
As to the general merits of reductionism, I think
one should take it and leave it, which is exactly
what science does.
Scientists seek a "theory of everything", which is a
reductionist enterprise, but also continue to develop
particular theories of particular areas of science without
being inhibited by a reductionist dogma, or an antireductionist
This is consistent with Carnap's principle of tolerance.
| However, I am sympathetic to the
| understanding that philosophy consists primarily in
| logical analysis with the intent at definition,
| followed by a comprehensive account of the
| consequences that follow from such definition. Yet, in
| my mind, the type of definition that Ayer refers to is
| not what I would regard as logical analysis,
| particularly in the fact that he takes up Russell's
| method as logically useful.
I myself am extremely unsympathetic to the idea
that it is possible or desirable to characterise
philosophy in general.
This leads to one philosopher attempting to dismiss
another on the grounds that what he is doing is
Of course we are all free to chose what kinds of
philosophy we want to engage in, but I don't believe
that anyone should arrogate to themselves any authority
to legislate for philosophy as a whole.
[I'm not suggesting here that that was what you were doing]
As to analytic philosophy, well that phrase also covers
many different kinds of analysis as like as chalk and cheese.
I like the term "logical analysis" as a description of a kind
of philosophy, and a kind in which I have a particular
interest and consider important, but one which seems
to have fallen into disrepute.
[I like also the even stronger "formal logical analysis"]
I should say however that my own interest is not in
the logical analysis of language.
It is in the logical analysis of philosophical problems
and of philosophical arguments, with a particular
emphasis on eliminating verbal confusions and focussing
on real problems.
On the matter of metaphysics I think you have to consider
the historical context.
At the turn of the last century, when Russell and Moore
conspired to make philosophy "analytic", the then dominant
source of nonesense in philosophy was metaphysical idealism.
The logical positivists, in attempting to move forward the
program begun by Russell (quite distinct of course from the
kind of analysis initiated by Moore) and contributed to in a
influential if ambivalent way by Wittgenstein's Tractatus,
naturally attempted to characterise that kind of nonesense.
They were not successful.
However, logical analysis does not depend on solving this problem.
It suffices to have clearer conception of logic.
Today the dominant source of nonesense is ordinary usage,
and the view that one can coherently undertake philosophy
in a language whose semantics is to be sought in that usage.
The following response will show that it is possible to
be in sympathy with a philosopher without agreeing
with anything that he says.
| Nice hearing from you, Roger (I'll call you R.B. :))
RBJ is a good short handle.
| "My own philosophical leanings are much at odds with contemporary analytic
| Who's talking contemporary? H. P. Grice (I know -- you were not quoting
| him) was born in 1913!!!! If that's contemporary, I'm Dutch (which I'm
| not). If you mean LIVING philosophers, they are old already. So never mind
| being at odds with anything, will you.
By contemporary I mean "of the last forty years".
I confess to being entirely ignorant of Grice.
| "I see that recent literature includes a certain amount of re-evaluation of
| logical positivism (e.g. a book of papers entitled "Reconsidering Logical
| Positivism" by Friedman)"
| Who's the man,
| and full list of contents, with author names included
all his own papers:
Preface page xl
Part One: Geometry, Relativity, and Convention
1 Moritz Schlick's Philosophical Papers 17
Postscript: General Relativity and General Theory of Knowledge 34
2 Carnap and Weyl on the Foundations of Geometry
and Relativity Theory 44
3 Geometry, Convention, and the Relativized A Priori:
Reichenbach, Schlick, and Carnap
4 Poincare's Conventionalism and the Logical Positivists 71
Part Two: Der logische Aufbau der Welt
5 Carnap's Aufbau Reconsidered 89
6 Epistemology in the Aufran 114
Postscript: Carnap and the Neo-Kantians 152
Part Three: Logico-Mathematical Truth
7 Analytic Truth in Carnap's Logical Syntax of Language i6~
8 Carnap and Wittgenstein's Tractatus 177
9 Tolerance and Analyticity in Carnap's Philosophy
of Mathematics 198
| 1. It's such an English thing (unless you're Welsh -- and I say, it's such
| a Welsh thing). Without LP (henceforward Logical Positivism) there wouldn't
| have been GRICE, inter alia.
| 2. It's so OXFORD. Ayer was Oxford's _enfant terrible_ (Grice's moniker)
| for a time, and Grice's mentor. They met at All Souls, Oxford, every
| Thursday night, along with Austin and Hampshire and Urmson and Hare and a
| few others. Freddie Ayer was just a genius.
But Ayer was the odd man out here.
Logical positivism never really caught on at Oxford.
| 3. AYER changed the face of England's philosophy. That book Daniel is about
| to finish reading must be the most important book in England's 2oth c.
| philo, after Grice's _Studies in the Way of Words_ that is.
Quite possibly, but if it had any influence on English philosophy
it was to encourage Oxford philosophers to find an alternative
to this species of philosophy which was concerned with logic
and science and to engross themselves in the analysis of
Ayer talked past the establishment to a wider audience
who bought his book in large numbers but did not influence
the course of professional philosophy.
| 7. It's a bit rough in the dealing of English syntax, but you can't have
| everything, can you. Also, you wouldn't have had Grice if LP served as a
| good analysis of English usage! (see WARNOCK, A Hundred Years of English
I see very little sign of Logical Positivism seriously attempting
the analysis of ordinary english usage, and this is in my mind
an important merit.
| 9. It's original. Positivism was I think first used by French sociologist
| Auguste Compte in Sociology (I think he also coined the word "sociology" --
| a hybrid if ever there was one. I must check the OED). So, the idea to have
| a new philosophical "-ism" was very innovative at the time.
The original is really Hume, and the proximate positivistic influence is Mach.
The logical positivists were much more interested in physics than sociology.
| II. DEMERITS (slightly exaggerated, since I don't adhere to any of the
| propositions below).
I shall therefore minimise my response.
| 1. It is an affrent (if that's the English word -- I meant shameful
| violation, or something) against English usage.
Here are some pukka English alternatives:
affront to [meaning "open insult to"]
violation of [meaning "breach of"]
| Nobody would say that
| "Killing people is wrong" is truth-conditionally equivalent to "Don't kill
| people!" (see our discussion with Silcox -- analytic-prize winner - here)
But this is one minor corner of LP on which we can
agree it was rather weak.
| 2. It's blind. Since it does not consider the history of philosophy. Just a
| kow-tow to Hume and Kant (this relates to Daniel's doubts about the
| analytic/synthetic distinction, which I share). The LP-ists just BOUGHT
| Kant's distinction as a DOGMA, as they shouldn't! (cfr. R. Vanegas and Quine).
It is rooted in a philosophical distinction which is very ancient.
You are correct to cite Hume, but the philosophy disagrees
with Kant (though taking up some of his terminology).
Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" is itself
much more dogmatic than the doctrines it criticises
and a great deal less well-founded in its critique.
| 3. It's naive. Since it's based on a pre-Albert-Einstein physics. I.e.
| deterministic Newtonian physics. With Einstein and relativity (and the
| Hiroshima bomb) and Heisenberg, you cannot just hold that physics is the
| ultimate science of reality. Since quantum mechanics involves
| indeterminacy, theory-laden observation, anti-Humean non-causality, etc.
This is quite incorrect.
See the first section of Friedmans book which is largely
given over to discussions about relativity.
Friedman observes "Einstein was on close terms with several
leading members of the logical positivist movement" who were
very concerned to understand the philosophical implications
of the theory of relativity.
| 4. It's political. Since Ayer did not like Greek and Latin (as he wasn't
| upper class as Austin and Grice were -- England's public school tradition
| and all that) and hoped to change the way of doing philosophy at Oxford,
| based as it has always been (and SHOULD be -- recall it's :) here) on Greek
| and Latin Studies. Recall at Oxford Philosophy is a branch of the Belles
| Letters (as diff. from Cambridge).
This has no bearing on Logical Positivism but only on
its presentation and reception in England.
| 5. It's un-English, since the English way of doing philosophy is, by racial
| temperament, subtler, and Ayer can be so schematic and unsensitive about
| things. And obviously he can't believe the thing he promotes, since he
| married, had children, and was even politically involved! (pacifism).
But substantially inspired by Russell, who is as English as they come.
Russell's influence on the programme of logical positivism is,
contrary to popular opinion, much more important than that of
Wittgenstein, who was miscontrued as a disciple of Russell and
whose main contribution was the ill-fated verification principle.
| 6. It's silly. As the history of the trials and tribulations of the only
| thing of merit in PL, viz the Verification Principle, was the laughing
| stock of 20th Philosophy -- see Mundle's book.
You need to look beyond the verification principle, but
even that is not silly.
Its a representative of an ancient class of philosophical
errors about semantics which are still being made to this day.
[usually by the most distinguished philosophers]
| 7. It's NOT philosophy!
Denying that something is philosophy is close to the
weakest assault you can possibly make upon it.
| 8. It's unacademic.
Thank god for that.
| 9. It's Cambridge!
Though Russell was a Cambridge philosopher his philosophical
influence there was very quickly eclipsed by that of
(mid and late) Wittgenstein.
| Now, after that meaningless tirade from yours truly, you DO pose some
| specific point you want to discuss, willya! :)
I'll let the dust settle on my initial two responses first I think.
Thank you for your reply, I do enjoy your style (if I
may endulge a bit).
--- Roger Bishop Jones <rbj...@rbjones.com> wrote:
> in response to Daniel Language Wednesday, July 18,
> 2001 2:33 PM
> | Welcome to the list Roger!
> Thanks, its nice to be back.
> | Regarding your invitation for a discussion
> | into the tenets of logical positivism, I may
> | that I am only just getting around to reading
> | book (truth, language, logic) and I must say his
> | unapologetic daring is rather amusing.
> "language truth and logic" was my starting point in
> philosophy, and I don't believe I have ever moved
> very far away from it.
> As to the "unapologetic daring" this is surely
> of great philosophical works.
Typical? Yes, maybe, but even Ayer mentioned that
there was a bit more unrestrained emotion (though not
in those words) than most philosophers care to show in
their work. But let's remember that he was only 24 in
writing the book...wonder if this explains anything.
> However, though the verification principle is
> frequently represented as being the essence of
> logical positivism, this seems to me a
> It certainly doesn't seem to play a significant role
> in Carnap's philosophy, and it is Carnap with whom
> I now feel the closest affinity among the logical
> (though my acquaintance with his work is fairly
I have only read a few articles by Carnap and I do
find his approach rather stimulating; however, I am
not familiar enough with his program in order to
comment on it in much depth. I would be interested to
discuss his philosophy if you would be willing to
recommend a good starting place.
> | Facts are not
> | based on sensation, therefore any kind of
> | attempt, by me, is faulty-logic, not to mention,
> | pointless.
> Carnap was not dogmatic about reduction to
> sensation. He attempted this, and also other kinds
> of reduction, and had a liberal attitude expressed
> his "principle of tolerance".
> As to the general merits of reductionism, I think
> one should take it and leave it, which is exactly
> what science does.
> Scientists seek a "theory of everything", which is a
> reductionist enterprise, but also continue to
> particular theories of particular areas of science
> being inhibited by a reductionist dogma, or an
Well, it does seem that these types of debates are
seldom appreciated by scientists; I suppose because
scientists, more or less, go ahead with whatever works
best in a theoretical approach. I wonder if scientists
care to speculate whether or not their approach could
be described as reductionistic. And this is not a
critisicm; its merely a matter of the relative
importance of this kind of inquiry in either
department. It is an enduring position of mine that in
philosophical inquiry it must be possible to identify
logical grounds upon which the validity of any
reductionistic approach may either be substantiated or
conclusively denied. I do not agree that it is simply
a matter of whether reductionism works or not in
practice because I hold as an important insight that
it is possible to describe a scientific theory as
reductionist and non-reductionist. Since it is a
description it is only a matter of a shift in the
frame of reference in order to regard, say, Newton's
formula as a reduction of experimental data or as a
higher-level synthesis (it would seem that there could
be no such thing as a "reductionist method" as a
program by which one practices). It seems to boil down
to what one regards as accomplished by a theory. Yet,
naturally, the logical grounds that I was referring to
have yet to be demonstrated at this level of debate
and this is why I maintain that there is a great deal
more that can be accomplished by logical analysis than
has, at yet, been appreciated.
Well, I hope that my ungarded statement would not lead
to such an implication. I would not propose to dismiss
anyone's work as illegitamte philosophy (whatever that
means), however there is nothing inconsistent with my
view that all philosophical problems are to be solved
by logical analysis because this is a necessary
dimension of my view, in that, if I were to claim the
contrary then my program could not be maintained. I
hope one understands that it is necessary to the
understanding of logical analysis that I intend that
all philosophical problems must be solved from the
definitions that are to be concluded by such a method.
The reasons for this are, naturally, complicated, but
it has much to do with the fact that I regard language
as a function of knowledge, and thus logical analysis,
being the method of definition, in consequence
(meaning) is necessarily comprehensive of all types of
knowledge. In any case, I do not propose that this
method is "better" or "more important" than any other
because, to me, that is purely a claim of subjective
value and anyone is entitled to value whatever they
please. This is also a logical consequence of the view
that I maintain.
> Today the dominant source of nonesense is ordinary
> and the view that one can coherently undertake
> in a language whose semantics is to be sought in
> that usage.
I do not consider "nonsense", especially in ordinary
usage to be a "problem" (indeed, i prefer to regard
philosophical "problems" as "mis-understandings", and
I realize, once again, that this may sound like a
contention when it is only a re-description from a
different viewpoint). I don't believe that
philosophers need another language to deal with
philosophical problems, they just need to understand
language at a greater depth and thus learn how to use
it differently. The reason that I say this is because,
the objectives or purposes that we undertake in
ordinary use are distinct from the objectives we have
in a philosophical use, therefore this should
necessarily effect a different kind of use of
language. One could say, a more "technical and
At any rate I would garner that there is considerable
possibility to the method of logical analysis, than
has been explored to date.
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"9. It's original. Positivism was I think first used by French sociologist
Auguste Comte in Sociology (I think he also coined the word "sociology" --
a hybrid if ever there was one. I must check the OED). So, the idea to have
a new philosophical "-ism" was very innovative at the time."
RBJ comments: "The original is really Hume, and the proximate
positivistic influence is Mach. The logical positivists were much more
interested in physics than sociology."
If you are Austrian (Vienna-born) you may not be interested in details of
English usage, but then, I was born in the middle of no-where and I am. So
go figure! Anyway, I leave an edition (by yours truly) of what the OED says
about "positivism" for the ps. I realise that what the OED says
specifically about LOGICAL positivism is found under "logical" -- which was
a rather tricky editorial policy I thought.
Nothing in here meant as a refutation of anything you said. I was just
curious about the expression, and would have to analyse closely some of its
more interesting "usages" below (call it Grice's heritage! :)).
PS. In here, Randall Helzerman (who I wish would contribute more often in
here -- since I love his sense of humour and irony) calls me an obscure
From the OED. A. About "Logical Positivism". Under "Logical".
The OED writes: "A "special collocation" of "logical" is:
Logical POSITIVISM: name given to the theories and doctrines of
philosophers active in Vienna (the Vienna Circle), which were aimed at
evolving in the language of philosophy formal methods for the verification
of empirical questions similar to those of the mathematical sciences, and
which therefore eliminated metaphysical and other more speculative
questions as being logically ill-founded. Hence logical positivist.
FIRST QUOTE IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE:
1931 Blumberg & Feigl Jrnl. Philos. XXVIII. 281
To facilitate criticism and forestall even more unfortunate attempts at
labelling this aspect of contemporary European philosophy we shall employ
the term "logical positivism".
1934 Philos. Rev. XLIII. 125
The logical positivism of the Vienna Circle is based upon this
consideration of empirical meaning
1968 M. Black Labyrinth of Lang. vi. 147
Logical Positivism has seen its best days.
1931 Jrnl. Philos. XXVIII. 291
The principle of causality is for the logical positivist not a categorical
necessity of thought.
1967 J. Passmore in Encycl. Philos. V. 55/1
The logical positivists ordinarily took for granted the substantial truth
of contemporary science. Thus, it was a matter of vital concern to them
when it became apparent that the verifiability principle would rule out as
meaningless all scientific laws.
Ayer is regarded by the OED as a logical "empiricist" rather than a
"Logical empiricism: name given to philosophical theories which replaced
those of logical positivism.
1936 A. J. Ayer Lang., Truth & Logic 10
Our own logical empiricism to be distinguished from positivism.
1937 Mind XLVI. 345
Logical Empiricists are not attempting to be metaphysical, when they
distinguish between language and reality. On the contrary, the distinction
refers only to certain rules of usage for statements and modes of speech.
Since we have investigated the rules of speech in empirical sciences, we
are justified in calling our viewpoint "Logical Empiricism".
B. About positivism in general.
POSITIVISM. From the French "positivisme" (Comte). From "positive" +
"-ism": "la philosophie positive" being Comte's name for his system. "La
philosophie positive" occurs first in St. Simon's, "Introduction aux
Travail Scientifique", _Oeuvres_ I, p.198.
USAGE 1.1: a system of philosophy elaborated by Auguste Comte which
recognizes only positive facts and observable phenomena, with the objective
relations of these and the laws that determine them, abandoning all inquiry
into causes or ultimate origins, as belonging to the theological and
metaphysical stages of thought, held to be now superseded.
USAGE 1.2: a religious system founded upon this philosophy, in which the
object of worship is Humanity considered as a single corporate being.
USAGE 1.3.: the view, held by Bacon and Hume amongst others (including
Comte), that every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically
verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof.
USAGE 1.4.: the view that philosophy can do no more than attest to the
logical and exact use of language through which such observation or
verification can be expressed.
USAGE 2.: elliptical for "logical positivism".
First usage in English
1847 J. D. Morell Hist. View Philos. (ed. 2) I. i. i. 88
Let those who claim Bacon as the apostle of positivism, give us an
interpretation of this whole division of his system.
1854 Brimley Ess., Comte's Positive Philos. 330
We are obliged to conclude, then, that positivism in M. Comte's hands,
while pretending to take upon itself the regulation of human conduct, fails
to furnish a guiding principle for either individuals or societies.
1865 (title) A General view of Positivism. Translated from the French of
Auguste Comte, by J. H. Bridges.
1866 J. Martineau Ess. I. 21
Such deification of mortals..is the avowed religion of positivism. A.
1866 J. Grote Exam. Utilitarian Philos. (1870) 2 A way of thinking about
morals, which may be roughly called by the name Positivism; by which I mean
the line of thought which endeavours to construct a system of morals..from
observation and experience of fact alone.
1868 (Nov. 8) Huxley Phys. Basis Life Lay Serm. (1883) 140
In fact M. Comte's philosophy in practice might be compendiously described
as Catholicism minus Christianity. [Often referred to as `Huxley's
well-known description' or `definition of Positivism']. ]
1875 Bridges tr. Comte's Syst. Positive Polity I. 264 In the conception
of Humanity the three essential aspects of Positivism, its subjective
principle, its objective dogma, and its practical object, are united.
1892 Monist II. 261 Positivism i.e. the representation of facts without
any admixture of theory or mythology, is an ideal which in its purity
perhaps will never be realised.
1934 W. M. Malisoff tr. R. Carnap in Jrnl. Philos. of Sci. I. 16 In the
following example we deal with the conflict of two theses..which correspond
more or less to positivism and to realism.
1945 K. R. Popper Open Society I. v. 59 Ethical positivism..maintains
that..what is, is good. (Might is right.)
1961 M. Capek Philos. Impact Contemp. Physics xvi. 297 The positivism
prevailing amongst contemporary physicists, who insist on a consistent
elimination of all unobservable factors.
1964 Fodor & Katz in R. Klibansky Contemp. Philos. (1969) III. 303 We
shall therefore examine the two dominant schools of thought in recent
philosophy of language, ordinary-language philosophy and positivism.
1967 Encycl. Philos. VI. 415 Both share the general idea of progress,
but whereas social positivism deduces progress from a consideration of
society and history, evolutionary positivism deduces it from the fields of
physics and biology.
1974 H. Wang From Math. to Philos. p. ix, The much publicized
juxtaposition of logic with positivism (or empiricism or `analytic'
philosophy) has burdened logic with a guilt by association.
USAGE 3: definiteness, peremptoriness. Also Certainty, assurance,
1854 Geo. Eliot Feuerbach's Essence Chr. (1881) 32
Israel is the most complete presentation of Positivism in religion.
1870 Lowell Among my Bks. Ser. i. (1873) 150 The metaphysicians can
never rest till they have taken their watch to pieces and have arrived at a
happy positivism as to its structure, though at the risk of bringing it to
1874 P. Smyth Our Inher. v. xxi. 415
The Doctor..adopts that with positivism.
1894 E. H. Barker Two Summers in Guyenne 404 The decision and positivism
of the Roman character.
USAGE 4: In law, a term derived from "positive law" and applied to
theories concerned with the enactment of law, the reaching of legal
decisions, the binding nature of legal rules and the study of existing law;
which postulate that legal rules are valid because they are enacted by the
`sovereign' or derive logically from existing decisions, and deny that
ideal or moral considerations (such as those of natural law, or that a rule
is unjust) should in any way limit the operation or scope of the law.
1927 M. R. Cohen in Proc. 6th Internat. Congr. Philos., 1926 469 (title)
Positivism and the limits of idealism in the law.
1944 W. Friedmann Legal Theory xv. 135 Positivism in jurisprudence
comprises legal movements, poles apart in every respect.
1945 H. Kelsen Gen. Theory Law i. iii. 52 No sanction without a legal
norm providing this sanction, no delict without a legal norm determining
that delict. These principles are the expression of legal positivism in the
field of criminal law.
1959 Jowitt Dict. Eng. Law II. 1366/2 Positivism, in international law,
this means the method which attempts to present law as actually applied in
1961 H. L. A. Hart Concept of Law i. 7 Some contemporary legal theory
which is critical of the legal `positivism' inherited from Austin.
1967 Encycl. Philos. IV. 419/1 The definition of law as the command of
the `sovereign' is no doubt the most prominent example of a form of
1967 Encycl. Philos., IV. 419/1 Sometimes `legal positivism' is used to
refer to the view that correct legal decisions are uniquely determined by
pre-existing legal rules.
1969 M. Moritz in R. Klibansky Contemp. Philos. IV. 140 The author
intends to give an empirical account of what is a legal order. He regards
the distinction between natural law theory and legal positivism as being of
1971 Mod. Law Rev. XXXIV. vi. 632 Positivism regards law as a system of
comprehensive and closely defined rules.
| Many thanks for your detailed, informative reply, Roger.
| Fascinated to learn you are Austrian.
Sorry, that's not the case.
I intended to assert that "logical positivism" was Austrian rather
than English (though of course it transcends national boundaries),
and had not noticed that you were in fact speculating about
my own nationality.
It may be that I have Welsh roots but I know nothing of them
and consider myself English.
Thankyou for your extensive facts about the use of "logical positivism".
Here are my own brief reactions:
It is my impression that the world "positivism" as used in
analytic philosophy is by many regarded as a synonym for
"empiricism", except where historical questions about usage
are concerned (i.e. except when we are discussing who used
| Ayer is regarded by the OED as a logical "empiricist" rather than a
| logical positivist:
| "Logical empiricism: name given to philosophical theories which replaced
| those of logical positivism.
| 1936 A. J. Ayer Lang., Truth & Logic 10
| Our own logical empiricism to be distinguished from positivism.
I am suprised at the suggestion that Ayer in
"Language Truth and Logic" was putting forward a
philosophy distinct from logical positivism.
I have not been able to find the quoted passage from
Ayer and so am unable to judge properly its meaning
from the context.
Note however, that he speaks of "postivism" not of
"logical postivism" and without more of the context it
is not possible to be sure that he was not simply making
clearer the distinction between logical positivism and
previous kinds of positivism or empiricism.
My view is that Ayer simply prefers the term "empiricism"
to "positivism", which is a thoroughly English preference
in which I concur with him.
This usage would have the disadvantage that it makes it harder
for contemporary philosophers to indulge their prejudice
against this particular form of logical empiricism while
tolerating the muddle which Quine contrived to replace it.
On the general desirability of knowledge about past usage
I am much less convinced than you appear to be.
In past half century philosophers have allowed
a pretence at coming to a precise understanding
of usage to supplant the need to make their own
usage clear and precise or to understand the usage
of other philosophers.
This is in my opinion highly determinental to addressing
any genuine philosophical questions.
It means that those who attempt to formulate and
answer such questions will invariably be misunderstood,
and that sophistry will be applauded and rewarded in
preference to a genuine and disinterested love of truth.
(plus ca change).
| I have only read a few articles by Carnap and I do
| find his approach rather stimulating; however, I am
| not familiar enough with his program in order to
| comment on it in much depth. I would be interested to
| discuss his philosophy if you would be willing to
| recommend a good starting place.
You could do worse than look at my web pages on
Carnap, which tell you something about his life and
| > Scientists seek a "theory of everything", which is a
| > reductionist enterprise, but also continue to
| > develop
| > particular theories of particular areas of science
| > without
| > being inhibited by a reductionist dogma, or an
| > antireductionist
| > one.
| Well, it does seem that these types of debates are
| seldom appreciated by scientists; I suppose because
| scientists, more or less, go ahead with whatever works
| best in a theoretical approach. I wonder if scientists
| care to speculate whether or not their approach could
| be described as reductionistic.
I would be very suprised if there are many scientists
around who do not believe that in some sense all
science is in principle reducible to physics, but that it
doesn't quite work out in practice.
| I hope one understands that it is necessary to the
| understanding of logical analysis that I intend that
| all philosophical problems must be solved from the
| definitions that are to be concluded by such a method.
Unless you are a rationalist (which I doubt) then
you will accept that some problems (will the sun rise tommorrow?)
are not answerable soluble by purely logical means.
Your doctrine therefore amounts to refusing to
recognise any of these as philosophical problems.
This does violence not only to the origins of analytic philosophy
in ancient Greece, but also to the great variety of contemporary
I am like you very interested in what can be achieved by
It does not help to pretend that this encompasses the whole
| > Today the dominant source of nonesense is ordinary
| > usage,
| > and the view that one can coherently undertake
| > philosophy
| > in a language whose semantics is to be sought in
| > that usage.
| I do not consider "nonsense", especially in ordinary
| usage to be a "problem" (indeed, i prefer to regard
| philosophical "problems" as "mis-understandings", and
| I realize, once again, that this may sound like a
| contention when it is only a re-description from a
| different viewpoint). I don't believe that
| philosophers need another language to deal with
| philosophical problems, they just need to understand
| language at a greater depth and thus learn how to use
| it differently.
Some care is needed in talking about the adequacy
of "ordinary language".
For two entirely different things can be meant by those
who endorse "ordinary language".
Language is a living and evolving thing, and all that
mankind has ever or will ever accomplish is accomodated
by this living cultural artefact.
In this encompassing sense formal languages are an
integral part of natural language.
Not only is it natural and pervasive for every group
of specialists to evolve a special terminology within
our language which enables them to talk with the
precision they need about the matters which concern
them, but also scientists and mathematicians
freely adopt special notations which takes this specialised
evolution of language much further.
The effects of such innovation cannot be separated from
the less specialised aspects of the language.
The meaning and precision with with the concept of "set"
is used in informal english discourse is strongly influenced by
the meaning it has been given in precise formal languages,
and similar claims can be made for many scientific concepts.
However, this evolution of our language is fuelled by
its defects, the language evolves at least in part because
we discover new problems for which it is not ideal.
The philosophy of Wittgenstein and the practice of
much subsequent philosophy flies in the face of these
mundane facts about language.
In the hands of many philosophers the belief that
ordinary language is good enough amounts to a
denial of the right or need of philosophers to do
what all other users of language do, which is to evolve
their usage in accordance with their needs (or whims)
and to adopt greater formality where it suits them.
This is inimical to achieving in philosophy that rigour
which belongs to mathematics but will forever
evade philosophers so long as they decline to adopt
notations and methods adequate for deductive rigour.
I sense that we are not so far apart, and you may
therefore find something of interest in my philosophical
I here distinguish between "analytic philosophy"
and "speculative philosophy" but it is important to
understand that under the rough heading "analytic"
I am concerned primarily with formal logical analysis
(though there is some discussion of the various other
kinds of analysis).
I also use the term "philosophical logicism"
for my programme in logical analysis.
These web pages have been almost static for the
last couple of years, but I am hoping to do some
more work on them before long, and perhaps the
discussion here on analytic will stimulate me to get
I too would be more than happy talking about Carnap. I'm especially
interested in his lesser appreciated work in the philosophy of science--ie.
his contribution to the debate concerning observational vs. theoretic terms.
Reading your posts thus far, I think we will more likely disagree than agree
on most issues. But it will be nice to meet the name behind the website you
run, which I've visited on many occasions over the years and highly
`The shapes of things are dumb.'
This surprises me. How is such a thing maintained,
even theoretically? If all science is reducible to
physics, in principle, then wouldn't this mean that
every other scientific field is studying a mere
illusion (unless reducible means something other than
I think). Can this conclusion be avoided-(does it even
matter?) I suppose I can't see how you can have both.
Either biologists are studying quantum particles or
they are really studying a complex organic system that
is distinct from its energy composition. What is it
really with these natural "levels"? It always strikes
me as very odd that such levels are a reality, but I
am not quite sure why it should.
> | I hope one understands that it is necessary to the
> | understanding of logical analysis that I intend
> | all philosophical problems must be solved from the
> | definitions that are to be concluded by such a
> Unless you are a rationalist (which I doubt) then
> you will accept that some problems (will the sun
> rise tommorrow?)
> are not answerable soluble by purely logical means.
I suppose I would have to disagree. We can define this
question as insoluble, which is to say we can
determine by logical means that such a question,
although meaningful to some extent, is not answerable;
purely because, under "current" conditions, we do not
know how to answer it. Were the conditions to change,
it may become possible to answer this question. Indeed
we can even determine the conditions in which such a
question would be answerable, and therefore, as it
happens, it is soluble by logical means.
> Your doctrine therefore amounts to refusing to
> recognise any of these as philosophical problems.
> This does violence not only to the origins of
> analytic philosophy
> in ancient Greece, but also to the great variety of
> philosophical thinking.
On the contrary I think it vindicates many of the
enduring intuitions of the philosophy of ancient
Greece, particularly that of Plato or Aristotle.
> I am like you very interested in what can be
> achieved by
> logical analysis.
> It does not help to pretend that this encompasses
> the whole
> of philosophy.
Well, I am not pretending.
> In this encompassing sense formal languages are an
> integral part of natural language.
> Not only is it natural and pervasive for every group
> of specialists to evolve a special terminology
> our language which enables them to talk with the
> precision they need about the matters which concern
> them, but also scientists and mathematicians
> freely adopt special notations which takes this
> evolution of language much further.
Naturally mathematics, science and other specialized
fields, such as economics and so forth, come to
develop their own terminology as suits their purpose,
yet it is senseless for philosophers to do the same.
Formal logic, in respect to the general objective in
treating philosophical problems, is, in my view,
useless and mis-guided.
> The effects of such innovation cannot be separated
> the less specialised aspects of the language.
> The meaning and precision with with the concept of
> is used in informal english discourse is strongly
> influenced by
> the meaning it has been given in precise formal
> and similar claims can be made for many scientific
I do not deny any of this, simply that a formal
philosophical language (consisting of ulterior
symbols) is a mistake.
> In the hands of many philosophers the belief that
> ordinary language is good enough amounts to a
> denial of the right or need of philosophers to do
> what all other users of language do, which is to
> their usage in accordance with their needs (or
> and to adopt greater formality where it suits them.
No-one need withold the right of anyone to do whatever
they please, philosophers included. This however,
doesn't quite change the fact. I would never claim
that philosopher's should abandon formal languages; it
is not my business. Nevertheless, I believe that it is
a waste of time and effort if it is meant to aid in
solving many of the traditional philosophical
> This is inimical to achieving in philosophy that
> which belongs to mathematics but will forever
> evade philosophers so long as they decline to adopt
> notations and methods adequate for deductive rigour.
This is where I believe you are mistaken. The rigour
that may be achieved by logical analysis is
unparrelleled. That is why it is so throughly
exciting. In a deeper and more comprehensive
understanding of language as function, the rigour and
logical finality of this kind of use excells that of
mathematics only in the sense that a definition of
number is only possible by the kind of use that is
performed in logical analysis. The practice of
mathematics is not at all concerned with the
definition of number, which is precisely what makes
such practice (such use) possible. Yet, naturally,
only in this way do I claim that logical analysis
excells the practice of mathematics since it is
remains a matter of purpose.
> I sense that we are not so far apart, and you may
> therefore find something of interest in my
> pages at:
Thanks, I'll be sure to give it a look.
> discussion here on analytic will stimulate me to get
> moving again.
Looking forward to it...
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| I too would be more than happy talking about Carnap.
| I'm especially
| interested in his lesser appreciated work in the philosophy of science--ie.
| his contribution to the debate concerning observational vs. theoretic terms.
I'm not clear what you are referring to here.
Is this about semantics, or is it ontology?
Any particular books or papers you have in mind?
> | I'm especially
> | interested in his lesser appreciated work in the philosophy of science--ie.
> | his contribution to the debate concerning observational vs. theoretic terms.
> I'm not clear what you are referring to here.
> Is this about semantics, or is it ontology?
> Any particular books or papers you have in mind?
Partly I am thinking of The Logical Structure, but mostly the short essay "The
Unity of Science" and the late book "Introduction to the Philosophy of Science".
Reduction sentences in the two earlier works seem very like the definitions one
gives of theoretical concepts in terms of observational contexts in the later.
Also, I am thinking of the way Hempel developed Carnap-ian/Positivist accounts of
the theoretical/observational divide in "The Theoreticians Dilemma" and other
`The shapes of things are dumb.'
1. This is an atom. 1. This is a table
2. This is a molecule. 2. This is a chair.
3. This is an electron. 3. This is a coat.
Thanks to RB(J) for his reply.
He writes: "I have not been able to find the quoted passage [p.10 of 1936
edn] from Ayer and so am unable to judge properly its meaning from the
context. Note however, that he speaks of "postivism" not of "logical
["Our own logical empiricism to be distinguished
from positivism", as cited by OED2]
"and without more of the context it is not possible to be sure that he was
not simply making clearer the distinction between logical positivism and
previous kinds of positivism or empiricism."
Mmm. Let's see. I've got the tenth edition of the second edition. (My, you
_are_ right. The book DID sell: My book mentions: "First published. second
impression, 3 months later (meaning first impression sold out). third
impression, 7 months later. fourth impression, one year and a half later.
second edition ("revised and reset") eight years later. tenth impressions
thereof! in less than ten years!)
Anyway, I hope I can find the sentence in my book!
Not that it will prove anything, of course -- but a slight question of
usage, if at all!
1. For all RB Jones says against the importance of _not_ trying to
"engross yourself" with niceties of English usage (or as I prefer,
"syntax"), I find Ayer's attempt to modify his approach from a narrow
scientist one (where one analyses "atom", "molecule", and "electron") to a
more ordinary-English one (where what one perceives are "tables, chairs,
and coats", as per our six examples above -- from Ayer's section in
"Rationalism and Empiricism" -- within the chapter, "Solutions to
Outstanding Philosophical Disputes").
2. There's also a crucial distinction as to the interpretation of
metaphysics, it seems to me: while the positivists (as per Ayer's
characterisation in ch.1) would say "metaphysics" is nothing short of a
branch of poetry (if that's the way you express it), Ayer seems to be
rightly pointing out that the metaphysician (and they all seem to be
meaning poor old Heidegger at his worst here) is trying to speak sense (and
failing!)... Thus, Ayer is being more provocative than your average
positivist it seems. But I doubt England ever had a metaphysician such as
Germany had Heidegger. Never found one!
3. There's also the minor divergence about how "logical empiricist" Ayer
deals (contra "logical positivists") with "generalisations" (Ayer's
reference to Schlick).
PS. Thanks to L. Tapper for his interesting remarks on "fictional". I think
Grice and I would say that there's no need to qualify those usages (as
identified by Tapper) as "fictional"! I'll revise my Grice!
Thanks to JL for his kind words! (That's Lynch!) -- i.e. "keep it up"!
(I'll try to think of something re symbolism to recommend!)
Thanks to D. Language for his clarifications re: function/value. I'll
think about it!
* I notice that p.10 (1936) -- as cited by the OED2 -- sounds like
"beginning", but I check with my 2nd edn. and "positivism" is _also_
featured in the index, viz.:
There, Ayer writes (emphasis mine. JLS):
"An explicit rejection of METAPHYSICS, as distinct from a MERE ABSTENTION
from metaphysical UTTERANCES, is characteristic of the type of EMPIRIICSM
which is known as POSITIVISM".
"But we have found ourselves"
My, he was in need of sympathy and corporate support. Oxford's infant
terrible (and an outcast by Oxonian standards, in Jones's view :)), is an
24-year old, as Daniel notes, thinking all the world is behind him. Hate
those majestic "our" and "ourselves" and "we"...! :) (I think Ayer was
later to criticise his own style in _Language, Truth & Logic_ in _Part of
My Life_ - he said he wrote it in a week or something! Because he needed
the money for the wedding?). (It was published by I think Anglo-Jewish
Gollancz - Anglo-Jewish as Ayer was. Oxford's Clarendon Press would not
have accepted it!)
"unable to accept the criterion which the POSITIVISTS employ to distinguish
a metaphysical utterance from a GENUINE synthetic proposition". For THEY"
i.e. the POSITIVISTS
require a synthetic proposition that it should, in PRINCIPLE at least, be
CONCLUSIVELY VERIFIABLE. And as, for reasons which we have already given,
NO PROPOSITION IS CAPABLE, EVEN IN PRINCIPLE, of being verified
CONCLUSIVELY [...] the POSITIVIST criterion, so far from marking the
LITERAL SENSE & NONSENSE
as it is intended to"
One (i.e. I) wonders how can Sir Freddie (as I friendily call him) be so
sure what the logical positivists intended to -- a few months at Vienna
don't bestow privilege access on the Vienesse mind, does it? Especially, as
I expect his German wasn't as good. Quine also attended the Vienna Circle
meetings, now that I recall (having read!)).
"makes every utterance NONSENSICAL. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt a
weakened form of the POSITIVIST verification principle". In pratice, very
little of what is allowed to be SIGNIFICANT by this"
"criterion would NOT be allowed also by the POSITIVISTS. But that is
because they do not apply their own criterion consistently."
My, he does sound like a 24 year-old. 13 year-old even! Such teenager
"It should be added that we"
That's Sir Freddie going majestic. :)
"dissent also from the POSITIVIST doctrine with regard to the signficance
of particular symbols. For it is characteristic of a POSITIVIST to hold
that all symbols, other than LOGICAL constants"
Daniel, recall we've been there!
"must either themselves stand for sense-contents or else be explicitly
definable in terms of symbols which stand for sense contents. It is plain
that such physical symbols as
1. x is an atom.
2. x is a molecule.
3. is an electron.
"fail to satisfy this condition. And some POSITIVISTS, including Mach, have
been prepared on this account to regard the use of them as ILLEGITIMATE.
i.e. the positivists.
"would have have been SO RUTHLESS if THEY had realised that they ought,
also, if they were to be consistent in the application of their criterion,
to have condemned the use of symbols which stand for material things. For
as WE have seen, even such familiar symbols as
4. x is a table.
5. x is a chair.
6. x is a coat.
"cannot be defined explicitly in terms of SYMBOLS WHICH STAND FOR
SENSE-CONTENTS, BUT ONLY IN USE [...] This condition is well satisfied by
the physical symbols which POSITIVISTS have condemned as by the symbols
which stand for familiar material things".
I find Ayer also uses "POSITIVIST" at least on p.37 of my edition -- why it
would be good to have the whole thing digitalised so that we could do nice
searches on it! --(ch 1: the elimination of metaphysics): "In face of this
difficulty, some POSITIVISTS (Schlick, "Causality in Contemporary Physics")
have adopted the HEROIC COURSE OF SAYING THAT GENERAL PROPOSITIONS ARE
PIECES OF NONSENSE."
[the subject was Reconsidering Logical Positivism]
| --- Roger Bishop Jones <rbj...@rbjones.com> wrote:
| > in response to Daniel Language Friday, July 20, 2001
| > I would be very suprised if there are many
| > scientists
| > around who do not believe that in some sense all
| > science is in principle reducible to physics, but
| > that it
| > doesn't quite work out in practice.
| This surprises me. How is such a thing maintained,
| even theoretically?
I doesn't have to be maintained "theoretically", it works.
| If all science is reducible to
| physics, in principle, then wouldn't this mean that
| every other scientific field is studying a mere
| illusion (unless reducible means something other than
| I think). Can this conclusion be avoided-(does it even
| matter?) I suppose I can't see how you can have both.
The conclusion is not inevitable.
You can't do Biolgy using the language of quantum mechanics.
You need biological concepts.
In practice these never are defined using the language
| Either biologists are studying quantum particles
They aren't, I'm pretty sure most of them would say
that they are not, but I also expect that many
of them would accept some kind of reducibility in
principle to the basic laws of physics.
They would accept perhaps that whatever physics
says there is, really is all that there is and that the
things they study are made up from these kinds of thing.
<snip a whole lot>
| > I sense that we are not so far apart ...
I think I was wrong there!
I am confused about your position.
Do you hold that everything that can
be known can be known by logical analysis?
If so do you hold that everyday facts about the
world and the "empircal" laws of science are
not known or that they are known by logical analysis?
I am not myself interested in attempting to mandate
limits to what philosophy is, though there are many
kinds of philosophy which are not so interesting to
So whatever your position is on what counts as philosophy
I am not likely either to concurr or debate, however
I'd just like to clear up a little my understanding of
where you are coming from.
Another point you might comment on is:
1) why should philosophers be the only people
not allowed to adapt language to their purposes?
2) how can you hold such a position and talk
about "logical analysis"?
Thanks for the many quotes from Ayer.
I conclude from these that Ayer was keen to
distinguish his contribution both from positivism
and from logical positivism, but often fails
to distinguish these two (all the cited sections
referred simply to positivism not to logical
positivism, both Mach and Schlick are referred
to simply as positivists).
Bearing in mind that we think of Carnap as
a logical positivist throughout and that his
philosophy continued to develop up until his
death in the 60s it doesn't seem sensible to
follow Ayer's usage of the distinction between
"logical positivism" and "logical empiricism".
Though Ayer cites Carnap the member of the
Vienna circle whose philosophy he most appreciates
the distinction between their philosophy is quite
The two most substantial points which occur
in my mind are:
1) that Ayer makes the verification principle
central to his philosophy, to an extent which
goes some way to justifying the sense that its
collapse renders in doubt the whole.
[whereas in Carnap very little of what I have
read is impacted by the complete abandonment
of this principle]
2) Ayer shows no sign of interest in Carnap's
attempts to use formal notations in philosophy
| 1. For all RB Jones says against the importance of _not_ trying to
| "engross yourself" with niceties of English usage (or as I prefer,
| "syntax"), I find Ayer's attempt to modify his approach from a narrow
| scientist one (where one analyses "atom", "molecule", and "electron") to a
| more ordinary-English one (where what one perceives are "tables, chairs,
| and coats", as per our six examples above -- from Ayer's section in
| "Rationalism and Empiricism" -- within the chapter, "Solutions to
| Outstanding Philosophical Disputes").
what do you find it????
| 2. There's also a crucial distinction as to the interpretation of
| metaphysics, it seems to me: while the positivists (as per Ayer's
| characterisation in ch.1) would say "metaphysics" is nothing short of a
| branch of poetry (if that's the way you express it), Ayer seems to be
| rightly pointing out that the metaphysician (and they all seem to be
| meaning poor old Heidegger at his worst here) is trying to speak sense (and
| failing!)... Thus, Ayer is being more provocative than your average
| positivist it seems. But I doubt England ever had a metaphysician such as
| Germany had Heidegger. Never found one!
[not sure whether the following really bears upon this observation]
If you read Carnap's autobiography it is clear there that
the main impact of Wittgenstein on Carnap's thought
was to make Carnap more radical in his rejection of metaphysics
and that the verification principle (which Carnap attributed
to Wittgenstein) was an important factor in this.
This is interesting partly because this more radical
feature which Ayer is attributing to positivism does not
seem to have come to Carnap from his positivistic
predecessors (notably Mach) but from Wittgenstein.
Secondly I note that this more radical rejection of metaphysics
seems to me contrary to the general tenor of Carnap's
Carnap's undogmatic temper is there to see in his
"principle of tolerance", in the way he himself tried
multiple approaches to the formalisation of science,
and in his own ready accounts of how he was naturally
inclined to shift his language according to who he was
In this and other areas Carnap's character seems to me
to have been diametrically opposed to that of Wittgenstein.
[Wittgenstein, far from adapting his language in
discourse with Carnap declined to speak to him at
all once he knew that Carnap had a mind of his own
and might question the wisdom he was dispensing]
Soon, we must move from discussion of words like
"logical positivism" and "logical empricism" to discussion
of more substantive philosophical issues.
[probably not the verification principle since there
might be a shortage of defenders]
> The conclusion is not inevitable.
> You can't do Biolgy using the language of quantum
> You need biological concepts.
> In practice these never are defined using the
> of physics.
This is, naturally, my point.
> | Either biologists are studying quantum particles
> They aren't, I'm pretty sure most of them would say
> that they are not, but I also expect that many
> of them would accept some kind of reducibility in
> principle to the basic laws of physics.
My original question remains that (given that they are
not studying quantum particles) what possible form
could this reduction take? I mean if you take a strict
route then whatever could validate a distinction
between what a biologist studies and what a physicist
studies? I garner a biologist would be hard-pressed to
explain blood-clotting by quanta. This reducibility,
"in principle" is very misleading. It implies that
"blood-clotting" is merely a quantum phenomena, which
I may not disagree with, if someone would first
explain what they would be using this reduction to
mean. In other words, "blood-clotting" is a real thing
and so is the basic energy composition, however, the
relation that can be made between them is an
explanation of quantum particles and their behavior
NOT of "blood-clotting". That quantum particles are
the BASIS of everything is an explanation of what
quantum particles are NOT of what they are the basis.
What I am getting to here is that the reducibility is
NOT one by which, "blood-cells" are to be reduced or
transformed into quantum particles, such that we can
describe and explain blood-cells as quantum particles,
but rather the reducibility is one by which the
structural composition of reality may be understood
and organized. To confuse this reducibility as
implying that blood-cells are JUST quantum particles
is to confuse the structure of reality as stages of
> They would accept perhaps that whatever physics
> says there is, really is all that there is and that
> things they study are made up from these kinds of
> <snip a whole lot>
> | > I sense that we are not so far apart ...
> I think I was wrong there!
I thought you may come to this conclusion :)
> I am confused about your position.
> Do you hold that everything that can
> be known can be known by logical analysis?
Absolutely. If this is to mean that the possibility of
knowledge provides for the kinds of things that we can
know. Whatever is not possible of knowledge is not
possible to know.
> If so do you hold that everyday facts about the
> world and the "empircal" laws of science are
> not known or that they are known by logical
You confuse the meaning of my position. I am talking
about the representation of knowledge in language. In
logical analysis we do not treat of the types. To
answer your question very directly I would say the
1. Logical analysis is a definitive method. That is,
its sole objective is a "description of knowledge"
which is what we call "a definition of value (the
world)". In defining language we necessarily define
"the possibility of its use", which defines, by
default (so to speak) any possible use. Thereby we
define the structure of facts, what facts are, what
role they have in the representation of knowledge in
language. We also define meaning, value, kinds, types,
etc...and in doing so we define the world. It is a
confusion to treat this analysis as saying that "we
know that the sky is blue" a priori, for when we have
defined: relations, sentences, meaning, value,
etc...then such considerations are superfluous. In
other words, it becomes natural that the factual
structure of the world can be reformed as the purely
objective representation of knowledge in language. You
should look closely at what Einstein's theory proves
2. We can not know anything that is not provided in
the possibility of knowledge.
The so-called "empirical facts" such as "the sky is
blue" do not represent sensation, they represent our
knowledge. There is an "external world" but it is not
"external" to knowledge, for "external world" is only
a kind of description that is valid in a particular
kind of use.
> I am not myself interested in attempting to mandate
> limits to what philosophy is, though there are many
> kinds of philosophy which are not so interesting to
> So whatever your position is on what counts as
Well, as I explained, I myself am not interested in
mandating what counts or what doesn't count as
philosophy. It is again, a matter of value. I consider
an important fact that there are certain (an infinite
actually) positions from which one can describe the
world, yet only certain things follow logically from
any position. It is not that we are able to decide how
the world looks from one position. Either a statement
is consistent with that position or it is not
> Another point you might comment on is:
> 1) why should philosophers be the only people
> not allowed to adapt language to their purposes?
Well, they shouldn't. I believe that you have
miss-interpreted what I tried to say very clearly.
Philosophers are of-course "allowed" (who can stop
them) to do so. It is just a logical consequence of
the position that I hold that such language-adaption
with the objective of solving certain particular
problems is inconsistent and unhelpful.
> 2) how can you hold such a position and talk
> about "logical analysis"?
What is this supposed to mean?
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