Verificationism

Inspired by Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the philosophers of the Vienna Circle devised a new system of philosophy that would eliminate confusions that originate from the misuse of language. Thus was born Logical Positivism.

The founding principle of the logical positivists was the Principle of Verifiability. The Principle held that the semantic meaning of your proposition is found in the way that you would verify its truth. If you don't know how to verify (or disprove) your proposition, then your proposition lacks semantic meaning, and your proposition is nonsensical to you.

Initially, the standard of verifiability required the possibility of positive scientific proof. Every meaningful proposition was either anayltic (true in light of definitions) or scientifically provable through empirical means. This elegant philosophical system grew to dominate philosophy in the middle of the 20th century.

However, cracks in the system began to appear almost immediately. Positive scientific proof turned out to be too strong a requirement because scientific consensus is contingent on data collected so far. Karl Popper introduced the notion of falsifiability. Ultimately, the other principles of logical positivism were also challenged, and positivism was cast aside.

Nevertheless, isn't there something sensible and salvageable in the Principle of Verifiability? If you can't say what experiences count as evidence for your proposition versus against it, do you really know what your proposition means?

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  • A former member
    A former member

    I believe that Deutsch is among the most articulate students of Popper today. Videos worth watching...

    Deutsch in a TED Talk about difficult to vary explanations being the key to post-enlightenment progress:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=folTvNDL08A

    Deutsch in a talk about how to think about the future rationally to Oxford Transhumanists...

    http://vimeo.com/22099396

    April 25, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    "... the desirable future is one where we progress from misconception to ever better (less mistaken) misconception... the nature of science would be better understood if we called theories 'misconceptions' from the outset, instead of only after we have discovered their successors. Thus we could say that Einstein's Misconception of Gravity was an improvement on Newton's Misconception, which was an improvement on Kepler's..."

    -- David Deutsch in "The Beginning of Infinity"

    April 25, 2012

  • Erik C.

    we certainly count each other as different insofar as we must think of ourselves as making an exchange in dialogue. However, we must at least not think the impossibility of the dialogue (to whatever extent we find ourselves participating in it). When we reflect and understand our dilemma in relating to the other, it seems we must take up the rational belief of the possibility of the dialogue, and consider what it contains positively.

    April 9, 2012

  • Erik C.

    Since speaking with Ivan the other day, the interest I have in continuing the conversation lies somewhere in the realm of this: given that objects relate to the good, though not as constitutive of the good (that is, what 'is' good is not matter), in what way does one verify certain propositions about the good between others. We need to direct ourselves to what we have in common in determining the good ourselves, and clarify that area. (There is still the matter of normal verification as well)

    April 9, 2012

  • Brian

    Yes, certainly there is a phenomena of going to the good that Plato is talking about, for example. And i tend to think the action plans of the various wisdom traditions represent different descriptions of that same phenomena.

    April 7, 2012

  • Erik C.

    The typical accusation from me is that your phenomenology is restricted in advance, and so not a complete phenomenology. You seem to take phenomena as qualia, where qualia are basically sense data. But, what is good shows itself (is a phenomena) on an equal footing to the things that simply appear. We don't infer to what is good, just as we don't infer to appearances - these both show themselves. We should be systematically accounting for inferences from both, and should avoid confusing them.

    1 · April 7, 2012

  • Ivan

    Erik, I start from phenomenology, then refine my epistemology and conclude at an ontology. Each piece has to be consistent with the others, e.g., I can't have an ontology that is inconsistent with my phenomenology or my epistemology. Nothing matters in itself. However, people happen to care about things.

    April 7, 2012

  • Thrashionalist

    Erik, you sound like Lucky.

    April 7, 2012

  • Erik C.

    I don't think anyone here was wishing on a star (though I don't deny others have). What I am interested in is the scope of your ontology, and how ultimate that scope is versus how ultimate you take it to be. For the sake of argument, let us say that we have an exhaustive list of everything that 'is'. Now, do we even have a single thing that MATTERS (pun intended?) in itself on our list? This may seem puzzling to you as a question at first, but I am satisfied in answering it in the negative.

    1 · April 7, 2012

  • Ivan

    I'm sorry that the inescapable, rational conclusion of the ontological project isn't what the throng wished upon a star it would be. Just kidding! I'm not sorry.

    2 · April 7, 2012

  • Erik C.

    I certainly think it is fair to say that living verificationalists have a 'fear' of Spirit. But, how does one verify the existence of 'spirit'? Certainly a material verification will show us that there IS no spirit. In the spirit of verificationalism, however, we can provide a different mode of verification, such as Kant did with his practical reason. Kant is a 'verificationalist' through and through, but I happen to think he is a more consistent one than Carnap et al.

    April 6, 2012

  • Erik C.

    I agree that this is the most central concern I have with actual people who are verificationalists, but I don't think it's something that need be inherent in verificationalism itself. It's apparent to me that 'matter' cannot be a satisfactory answer to the question of "who am I?". However, I can see that when concrete verificationalists here this response, they immediately fear that the implication is that the anser is 'spirit' or 'mind' instead of matter. No such implication is necessary.

    April 6, 2012

  • Erik C.

    Maybe we can properly formulate verificationism for the first time.

    3 · April 5, 2012

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