Mauro Murzi's pages on Philosophy of Science - Vienna Circle
The Vienna Circle manifesto
 prev History Unified Science next1 

Table of Contents

The Vienna Circle manifesto.

It states the scientific world-conception of the Vienna Circle, which is characterized "essentially by two features. First it is empiricist and positivist: there is knowledge only from experience [...] Second, the scientific world-conception is marked by the application of a certain method, namely logical analysis." (The Scientific Conception of the World. The Vienna Circle in Sarkar, Sahotra, 1996, p. 331 - hereinafter VC).

Logical analysis is the method of clarification of philosophical problems; it makes an extensive use of the symbolic logic and distinguishes the Vienna Circle empiricism from earlier versions. The task of philosophy lies in the clarification - through the method of logical analisys - of problems and assertions.

Logical analysis shows that there are two different kinds of statements; one kind includes statements reducible to simpler statements about the empirically given; the other kind includes statements which cannot be reduced to statements about experience and thus they are devoid of meaning. Metaphysical statements belong to this second kind and therefore they are meaningless. Hence many philosophical problems are rejected as pseudo-problems which arise from logical mistakes, while others are re-interpreted as empirical statements and thus becomes the subject of scientific inquiries.

One source of the logical mistakes that are at the origins of metaphysics is the ambiguity of natural language. "Ordinary language for instance uses the same part of speech, the substantive, for things ('apple') as well as for qualities ('hardness'), relations ('friendship'), and processes ('sleep'); therefore it misleads one into a thing-like conception of functional concepts" (VC p. 329). Another source of mistakes is "the notion that thinking can either lead to knowledge out of its own resources without using any empirical material, or at least arrive at new contents by an inference from given states of affair" (VC p. 330). The latter notion is typical in Kantian philosophy, according to which there are synthetic statements a priori that expand knowledge without using the experience. Synthetic knowledge a priori is rejected by the Vienna Circle. Mathematics, which at a first sight seems an example of necessarly valid synthetic knowledge derived from pure reason alone, has instead a tautological character, that is its statements are analytical statements, thus very different from Kantian synthetic statements. The only two kinds of statements accepted by the Vienna Circle are synthetic statements a posteriori (i.e. scientific statements) and analytic statements a priori (i.e. logical and mathematical statements).

However, the persistence of metaphysics is connected not only with logical mistakes but also with "social and economical struggles" (VC p. 339). Metaphysics and theology are allied to traditional social forms, while the group of people who "faces modern times, rejects these views and takes its stand on the ground of empirical sciences" (VC p. 339). Thus the struggle between metaphysics and scientific world-conception is not only a struggle between different kinds of philosophies, but it is also - and perhaps primarily - a struggle between different political, social and economical attitudes. Of course, as the manifesto itself acknowledged, "not every adherent of the scientific world-conception will be a fighter" (VC p. 339). Many historians of the Vienna Circle see in the latter sentence an implicit reference to a contrast between the so called left wing of the Vienna Circle, mainly represented by Neurath and Carnap, and Moritz Schlick. The aim of the left wing was to facilitate the penetration of the scientific world-conception in "the forms of personal and public life, in education, upbringing, architecture, and the shaping of economic and social life" (VC p. 339-340). On the contrary, Schlick was primarily interested in the theoretical study of science and philosophy. Perhaps the sentence "Some, glad of solitude, will lead a withdrawn existence on the icy slopes of logic" (VC p. 339) is an ironic reference to Schick.

 prev History Unified Science next2