Sunday, October 16, 2011

Problems with logical positivism

Does Richard Dawkins implicitly assume some particular philosophy of science?

At the beginning of the 20th century logical positivism was one of the dominant views in philosophy.  Logical positivists claimed that real knowledge is only what can be measured and verified. A statement is meaningful only if it can be verified by observation.
But this verification principle cannot be verified. "Meaningful" is not a scientific category which is amenable to testing in the laboratory.
Karl Popper also exposed problems inherent in logical positivism even within philosophy of science. Popper emphasized that scientific theories cannot be verified but only be falsified.

Perhaps, the most visible proponent of logical positivism today is not any professional philosopher, but popular science author Richard Dawkins.
Before Darwin, even educated people who had abandoned "Why" questions for rocks, streams and eclipses still implicitly accepted the legitimacy of the "Why" question where living creatures were concerned. Now only the scientifically illiterate do. But only conceals the unpalatable truth that we are still talking about an absolute majority.
God's utility function, River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life, 1995

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