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Neurath's ship

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


E pistemology, philosophy of science A metaphor invented by the Austrian sociologist and philosopher Otto Neurath. Neurath was a leading member of the Vienna Circle , but disagreed with the epistemological foundationalism of another important member, Rudolf Carnap. Carnap believed that there is a set of incorrigible protocol statements that directly report sense- experience. All other valid complex statements are constructed out of these protocol statements. In criticizing this picture, Neurath compared our body of knowledge to a ship, and said: “We are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismount it in dry-dock and reconstruct it from the best components.” Accordingly, knowledge is historically conditioned and is maintained if a sufficient range of its claims is acceptable at any given time. Nevertheless, any piece of knowledge can be replaced to keep the whole project of knowledge going. Nothing can claim to be the foundation of knowledge. This metaphor was adopted by Quine and is widely cited as a powerful image of anti-foundationalism. “The philosopher's task was well-compared by Neurath to that of a mariner who must rebuild his ship on the open sea.” Quine, From a Logical Point of View ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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