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logical positivism

  A particular development of the philosophy of positivism which was formulated by the Vienna Circle in the 1920s and 1930s and which in its modern form is usually associated with the writings of Ayer, Hempel and Nagel (among others). Unlike earlier versions of positivism, logical positivism recognized two (and only two) kinds of statement as scientifically meaningful: (a) empirical (or \'synthetic\') statements, the truth of which had to be established by verification; and (b) analytical statements of logic and mathematics, which were judged to be true by definition. Much of the specific critique of logical positivism, as opposed to the more general critique of positivism, has concentrated on the problems posed by this central \'principle of verification\' and on the physicalism which it was often supposed to entail. Indeed, Popper (1976) insisted that \'everybody knows nowadays that logical positivism is dead\' and declared \'I must admit responsibility\'. He believed that his formulation of critical rationalism in the 1930s, and especially its contrary \'principle of falsification\', had decisively discredited the claims of logical positivism. Certainly Suppe (1977), from a rather more catholic perspective, reckoned that \'virtually all of the positivistic program for philosophy of science has been repudiated by contemporary philosophy of science\' and that today \'its influence is that of a movement historically important in shaping the landscape of a much-changed contemporary philosophy of science\'. Even so, according to Guelke (1978), \'from Hartshorne to Harvey geographical writing on philosophy and methodology has to a greater or lesser degree shown the influence of logical positivist ideas\'. Its most sharply focused application came during the quantitative revolution:

In the 1950s and 1960s, many geographers in emphasising the importance of laws, theories and prediction in empirical research implicitly adopted a logical positivist view of science and scientific explanation. The connection between geography and logical positivism was made explicit by Harvey [in his Explanation in geography (1969)] who presented a thorough logical positivist analysis of geographical explanation. (Guelke, 1978, p. 46)Whether or not it is fair to use Harvey\'s text as an index of human geography as a whole, it is certainly clear that today, as the critique of logical positivism has become more widely known, fewer geographers now cheerfully accept the label and most resist the suggestion that logical positivism represents \'the\' scientific method. (DG)

References Guelke, L. 1978: Geography and logical positivism. In D.T. Herbert and R.J. Johnston, eds, Geography and the urban environment, volume 1. Chichester: John Wiley, 35-61. Harvey, D. 1969: Explanation in geography. London: Edward Arnold; New York: St. Martin\'s Press. Popper, K. 1976: Unended quest: an intellectual autobiography. London: Fontana. Suppe, F., ed., 1977: The structure of scientific theories, 2nd edn. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Suggested Reading Guelke (1978).



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