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Friday, November 29, 2019

Wittgenstein and the Logical Positivists

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s influence on the logical positivists was next to nothing. His first book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, was read with interest by logical positivists, and Wittgenstein had a number of conversations with Moritz Schlick, the founder of the Vienna Circle, and other logical positivists, but there is a major difference between the philosophy of logical atomism that is there in the Tractatus and the thesis of logical positivism.

The logical positivist philosophy was established before Wittgenstein met Schlick and his associates. Wittgenstein could not make them change their mind on anything. The logical positivist view was that the roots of factual knowledge lie in empirical observation; in their usage, the word “metaphysics” held as a synonym for “nonsense”; Wittgenstein, on the other hand, was applying modern logic to metaphysics, via language. The logical positivists were propounding that the argument “there is a god” is an empty claim, since this claim cannot be proved or disproved by empirical observation, whereas Wittgenstein, throughout his life, accorded a great value to the matters concerning religious ethics and god. On the theories of probability and induction there is a major disconnect between the logical positivists and Wittgenstein.

In fact, there is evidence that the one who was influenced during their interactions was Wittgenstein himself. The Vienna Circle scholars made him realize that many of the statements that he had made in the Tractatus could not be defended. This realization set him on the course of distancing himself from the Tractatus. In his 1932 letter to Schlick, he writes: “There are many, many formulations in that book (the Tractatus) that I am no longer in agreement with.” In his record of Wittgenstein’s conversations, Frederich Weismann, an associate of Schlick and a member of Vienna Circle, has made a note of this sentiment. The logical positivists enabled Wittgenstein to develop his later philosophy by making him notice the problems in the Tractatus.

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