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By S. Chapman

This booklet compares attitudes to empiricism in language examine from mid-twentieth century philosophy of language and from present-day linguistics. It specializes in responses to the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle, really within the paintings of British thinker J. L. Austin and the less famous paintings of Norwegian thinker Arne Naess.

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Extra resources for Language and Empiricism - After the Vienna Circle

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Problems of this kind are not solved, they are dissolved and removed from the domain of legitimate inquiry’ (Feyerabend 1975: 274, original emphasis). During the 1960s and 70s, then, Popper’s work on falsification and the deductive method was being questioned by some younger philosophers of science who wondered whether its claims were too dogmatic and whether the expectations it placed on working scientists were unrealistic. These philosophers also questioned whether scientific theories could really aspire to the empirical credibility that Popper claimed for them, or whether their status would always owe something to the culture and the hegemonic structure in which they were developed.

It is still reasonable to form other expectations about different things in the future. However, scientists can never have conclusive proof of the principle of induction because they can never get beyond a very high level of probability for any particular prediction. The sun rising again increases the probability of this individual prediction but cannot prove the principle of induction. Russell summed up this quandary for empirical investigations as follows: ‘Thus all knowledge which, on a basis of experience, tells us something about what is not experienced, is based upon a belief which experience can neither confirm nor confute, yet which, at least in its more concrete applications, appears to be as firmly rooted in us as many of the facts of experience’ (Russell 1912: 38).

This contrasted sharply with the philosophy department where Schlick and some of the other members of the Circle worked during the day, housed in the main university building on Vienna’s prestigious Ringstrasse, complete with classical columns and sweeping marble staircases. The distance was intellectual as well as physical and cultural. Barry Smith has described how at the very time when the Vienna Circle was in its heyday, the mainstream teaching and writing on philosophy at the University of Vienna concentrated on a rather old-fashioned style of the history of philosophy.

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