Reg comments60

Google and the End of Science

Bringing it all back Hume

Even when this type of thinking is felt to be repugnant, the tendency remains to treat people as parametrically determined objects. The phrase "hearts and minds" admits that people feel and think, but implies that what matters is to ascertain which feelings and thoughts affect them most strongly. Modern politics consists to a large extent of this type of appeal, and that part conducted through the media, almost exclusively.

(It also suggests governments will stagger on until their last gasp, on the assumption that the appropriate corrections to "hearts and minds", based on focus groups, are all that is necessary to revive them for power for ever).

Another effect of logical positivism has been the way that its verification principle has changed the shape of concepts of explanation in regard to literature, film, etc during the 20th century. Modern literary criticism no longer deals directly with intentions, values, and the real concerns of people, but treats them indirectly, via an interpretative "theory", such as psychology, Marxism, or via a reconstruction (interpreted histories of race or gender). In the post logical positivist world, semiotics is to the humanities only what the measuring instrument is to the scientist - a tool to build theories with.

One curiosity with the historical record remains. And it's an important one, because without it, we can't fully understand the implications of this discussion Which is - who were the logical positivists waving their magic wand at?

The debate in Hume's time between Empiricists and Rationalists had run out of takers over a century earlier. By the early 20th century, the positivists' purported target, the metaphysician, hardly existed as more than a memory. Institutionalized religion was of course no threat. An answer to this is not entailed by the history of ideas I've described; it would require delving into the history of the actual people concerned, which is beyond the scope of this article.

The absence of metaphysicians, and the subsequent 20th century repurposing of philosophy so it could not easily steer in that direction either, had a profound consequence. When scientists ran out of gas in criticizing each others' theories, there was no-one else with the interest or the expertise to row the boat. What happened next is another fascinating story, particularly in the (largely unconscious) handling by physics of the metaphysical concept of substance.

Sponsored: The Joy and Pain of Buying IT - Have Your Say

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2017