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logical positivism


Subject Religion

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631198963.2005.x


In 1830 the French philosopher Auguste Comte proposed that all attempts to discover theological and metaphysical explanations for the existence and intelligibility of the world (natural and social) should be abandoned definitively in favour of considering observable phenomena and verifiable states of affairs in order to work out the laws (natural and sociological) by which they are evidently governed. Thus what Comte called ‘positivism’ was born. The assumption from the outset was that theology and metaphysics were superseded. In 1895 a new chair in the philosophy of the inductive sciences at the University of Vienna was offered to the physicist Ernst Mach. His principal concern by this time was to root out the last remaining non-empirical (metaphysical) elements from the philosophy of science and indeed from the natural sciences themselves. The eradication of metaphysics was taking much longer than Comte ever envisaged. Mach sought to show that science is simply an account of sense-given facts—ultimately, an account of sensations. His views were attacked at some length by V.I. Lenin as a form of solipsistic idealism, in his Materialism and Empiriocriticism (1908). In effect, however, Mach had set the agenda for one of the most influential movements in modern philosophy. His emphasis on the ultimacy of sensations meant two things. In the first place, every statement about the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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