Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Positivism: Not So Logical

[Someone emailed me who was concerned about someone was shaken in his faith by Logical Positivism. This surprised me, but I composed the following email for him. A day in the life of a Christian philosopher. He mentioned that he read something about Positivism on the Wikipedia.]

Wikis are not consistently reliable, because of multiple authors and anonymous authorship.

Logical positivism (LP) is widely viewed as a failed philosophy, although it took some time to die. It is self-contradictory, so it is necessarily false--not small defect. See J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pages 197-20o, on the limits of science for a refutation (although he may not use the term itself). You probably had this for a text in PR 501. See also the chapter on this in Carl Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1.

LP claims:

Statements are only meaningful if and only if:

1. They are tautologies or necessary truths (as in mathematics or A=A) or:
2. They can be verified by empirical observation.

Since they claim that the statement, "God exists," fails to fulfill (1) or (2), it is meaningless (which is even worse than false). Actually, if the ontological argument works, "God exists" is a necessary truth, and so fulfills (1). And there is strong indirect empirical evidence (Big Bang, fine-tuning of the universe) for (2). But hold that for now.

LP itself fails to fulfill (1) or (2). It is not a necessary truth (1); it is not an item of empirical observation (2). So, by its own criteria, it must be meaningless!

We can also attack it by a particularist method. There are meaningful items of our knowledge, things we are very sure about, that don't fit (1) or (2).

A. Bach was a better composer than Eminem. (Yes, we can empirically hear this, but the judgment is not a simple issue of empirical observation.)
B. I existed ten minutes ago.
C. It is wrong to discriminate on the basis of race.

If things like A, B, C, are known to be true (even though they don't fulfill LP's requirements), then LP is false.

I hope this helps.

1 comment:

Floyd Collins said...

I'd say that Godel entirely exploded the foundations for LP in any case.