Thursday, May 01, 2008

Cambridge Companion to Logical Empiricism

There is a review of the Cambridge Companion to Logical Empiricism up on NDPR, written by Greg Frost-Arnold. The review makes the book sound fairly appealing. I wanted to comment on one thing. Towards the end there is a brief discussion of Richardson's article which is on the relationship between Kuhn and the logical positivists. The question is why Structure was taken to be damaging to the positivists. The review notes that Structure of Scientific Revolutions appeared in the Vienna Circle's encyclopedia, Carnap felt it fit with his own views, and none of the positivists published negative reviews. I would like to add something to that. Hempel's 1966 Philosophy of Natural Science, an intro book in the same series as Quine's Philosophy of Logic, argues for many similar things that Kuhn's book does. There are differences enough, but, for example, some of what Hempel says about theory testing fits right in with what Kuhn says about paradigms. Of course, Hempel always couches things in terms of theories and doesn't take as radical a view as Kuhn with respect to theory change, but there is a fair amount of alignment. In fact, there is much more than I antecedently thought going into Hempel's book.


Clark Goble said...

So why was it taken to be damaging. I remember encountering Kuhn in college and hearing so many say it did in logical positivism. I was quite surprised to learn latter who published the book and its relation to the logical positivists. Yet it came to be almost canonical that the combination of Kuhn and Popper is what destroyed the positivists yet that always seemed a bit facile to me.

Shawn said...

I'm not sure why it was taken to be damaging. I think the article in the Cambridge Companion is supposed to go into that some. Kuhn claims in the book that he is attacking the mainstream views of his contemporaries. I gather that the views he attacked were mainstream several decades before he wrote the book. It is another question why attacking outdated views should've had that effect. I have no idea. Did people not read their positivists closely back then?

Greg said...

Thanks for the plug!

Part of Alan Richardson's point in his Cambridge Companion piece was that people didn't read the logical empiricists all that closely (it was all in German, or so technical that it might as well have been), and that both Kuhn and Quine were taken to be experts on the field (and they wrote in English, and in a much prettier style).

The _real_ damage Kuhn did to logical empiricism was that he changed the methodological standards of debates in the philosophy of science. If you were going to say science has some feature or trait, you had to adduce evidence from a detailed, realistic historical record -- not from a 'textbook' picture. The analysis of science done in the logical empiricist tradition (I choose my words intentionally there) came to look like mathematical castles in the sky, having insufficient contact with the actual scientific ground. (This is more or less what Richardson says in the article, too.)

Shawn said...

That is an interesting assessment of where the real attack on the logical empiricist tradition comes from. It doesn't seem to me to be an altogether bad thing though. Surely, if done well, the historical case studies can be quite enlightening and surprising. Philosophy of science hasn't wandered too far from that course now has it? It is a bit surprising that the logical empiricist methodology was rejected so quickly. So many of the main logical empiricists were well educated in scientific matters that one would think that the mathematical approach and idealizations they offered would be taken a bit more seriously. I suppose that once you move a generation or so down the line, you run the risk of learning only the mathematical idealization and not the source material from the various sciences. I should go read that Richardson article.