Re: Logical positivism

Douglas Houts (
Sun, 27 Apr 1997 00:02:44 -0400

Max More:
>> Philosophical nit-pick: The logical positivists would not say this. They
>> would say that the question of the existence of atoms is meaningless
>>*if* they cannot be observed. Any statement that cannot be broken >>down
into directly observable entities is meaningless to the logical >>positivists.

Dejan Vucinic
>What would "directly observable" mean? Eyes? Light microscope?
>Accelerator? Where does one draw the line?

Max More:

>Good questions, and they point to major problems with logical >positivism.
Today's descendents of the logical positivists are the >empiricists like van
Fraasen. I find far more plausible the scientific realist >approach which
lets you talk meaningfully about entities that cannot be >directly observed
(with unaided human senses) or observed at all (they >can be inferred by
their effects).

This thread reminded me of a paper from my "Science, Reason, and
Rationality" class last semester.

On the topic of Hacking's arguments against anti-realism:
"One area that I think Hacking does not explore in enough depth is the
anti-realist reliance solely upon the senses... I would have explored this
topic further. For instance, what would an anti-realist, who would deny the
existence of infra-red radiation, think of a picture taken with a thermal
imaging device? S/he would say that we have no way of knowing if it
represents what is real. What would an anti-realist say, however, about a
person who could see into the infra-red spectrum because of a genetic mutation?

Taking this line of questioning further, what if genetic engineering
eventually allows us to enhance our current senses, allowing us to detect
the polarization of photons, or even to design a completely new sense, such
as the ability to detect ionizing radiation on our skin?

I went on to point out that changes in human senses, whether from random
mutation or engineered, would cause problems to the anti-realist position.
My professor didn't think that this refuted the anti-realist argument to any
extent. I don't know if his reaction was because I misinterpreted the
anti-realist position and wasn't really arguing against a critical part of
it, or because this would blow such a big hole in anti-realism that it
wasn't readily apparent. Comments on this from the philosophy of science
heavyweights on this list would be appreciated.

Doug Houts