UMass Phil 701J — Seminar: Logical Positivism

Fall 2016 — Prof. Kevin Klement
Mondays 12:20–2:50pm in 374 Bartlett

Course description:

This course offers a survey of the philosophy of the 1920s and 1930s Vienna Circle and their associates in Germany, England and elsewhere. Figures to be discussed include Schlick, Feigl, Neurath, Carnap, Hempel, Ayer and Reichenbach among others. We also cover criticisms by such figures as Quine and Stebbing, and the reception and influence of logical positivism in the later history of analytic philosophy. Topics include verificationism, the rejection of metaphysics, the nature and purpose of scientific theories, and the consequences of such views for other areas of philosophy. Prerequisite: graduate student in philosophy or consent of instructor.

Contact info:

Prof. Klement’s office is 358 Bartlett Hall. My office hours are Wednesdays and Fridays 11:00am–12:00pm or by appointment. The best way to contact me is by email at

Web pages:

This course has a site on the UMass Moodle server (, which contains all course information, readings, grades, a discussion board and more. Use your UMass OIT account username and password to log in. We also have a “public” website at, which contains only this syllabus.


All required course readings will be made available in electronic format on Moodle. If you don’t own them already, you may wish to purchase physical copies of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ayer’s Language Truth and Logic, and Ayer, ed., Logical Positivism, but this is not required.


Your final grade is based on the following: in-class participation (20%), weekly reading assignments (30%), and a final term paper or book reviews (50%).


You are expected to attend seminar meetings regularly, ask questions, raise points for discussion, and comment on points made by others.

Weekly reading assignments:

You are expected to carefully read the selected texts for each session before the seminar meeting and come prepared to discuss them. To facilitate this, each week you are expected to write a 1–3 page essay in which you (1) summarize the required reading, (2) identify any criticisms or points of discussion (including points in need of clarification). At your discretion, you may focus on certain readings over others, provided you make it clear all required readings were read. These essays are due at the start of class on the day we will be discussing the relevant readings.
Each will be graded on a 1–5 scale, with 1 representing a barely acceptable essay, 2 representing a deeply problematic essay that misrepresents the views in the reading or commits other abuses of philosophical method, 3 representing an essay that is slightly lacking in some area, but generally acceptable, 4 representing a good essay that performs the desired tasks as expected, and 5 representing an essay with substantial and original insight. (You should never expect to receive anything above 4. A student receiving a 4 on every assignment should still expect a good grade for this portion. I will only award a 5 to an essay that surpasses my expectations.)
In determining your grade, I will take into account only your 9 highest scores of 12 possible essays. This means you may either drop your three lowest scores, or simply not write three essays (or combine the two options).

Term paper or book reviews:

You may choose between the following two options:
Term paper (15–25 pages): The paper should constitute critical and original discussion either of the interpretation of the philosophers covered in the course or the philosophical issues they raise. The amount of outside research done for the paper is left to your discretion, but a careful search of the relevant secondary material is strongly recommended.
– OR –
Book reviews: Read TWO books written on or about logical positivism, the Vienna Circle, or a closely related subject, and for each, prepare a lengthy academic-style book review (6–10 pages each) in which you first summarize the book, and evaluate it in terms of both the accuracy of its interpretation of the figures covered, and its other philosophical merits. A selection of 5–6 scholarly articles closely related in topic might be substituted for a book where appropriate.
Your paper or book reviews are due at the end of finals week unless you take an incomplete.


Per departmental policy, graduate students in philosophy taking incompletes must complete all course requirements by the first day of classes for Spring semester.

Seminar and distribution credit:

For students enrolled in the UMass Philosophy doctoral program, the course carries seminar credit, and distribution credit in one of the following areas: Modern History, Epistemology, or Logic, depending on the topic of your term paper or book reviews. For example, to receive Modern History credit, your paper must focus significantly on matters of interpretation, or the development and influence of the 1920s–1930s works by the figures we study, rather than on aiming to contribute to the contemporary discussion of the philosophical issues they raise.

Tentative Course Reading and Topic Schedule

Date Topic / Readings
12 SeptCourse introduction
19 Sept History and Programmatic Statements
Read: Kraft, “The History of the Vienna Circle”; Schlick, “The Turning Point In Philosophy”; Hahn, Neurath and Carnap, “The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle”; Reichenbach, “Logistic Empiricism in Germany and the Present State of Its Problems”
26 Sept The Ayerian Image
Read: Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, chaps. 1, 3, 4, 8
3 OctThe Influence of Wittgenstein
Read: Tractatus 1–3.05, 4–4.25, 4.46–4.52, 5.55–5.641, 6.1–7; excerpts from Waismann’s notes
10 OctColumbus day. Class moved to Tuesday.
(Tu) 11 OctPositivist Metaphilosophy
Read: Carnap, “The Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language”; Schlick, “Positivism and Realism”; Carnap, “The Character of Philosophic Problems”
17 OctProtocol Sentence Debate
Carnap, “Protocol Statements and the Formal Mode of Speech”; Neurath, “Protocol Statements”; Carnap, “On Protocol Sentences”
24 OctStebbing’s Criticisms; Mind/Body Problem
Read: Stebbing, Logical Positivism and Analysis; Feigl, “Logical Analysis of the Psychophysical Problem”
31 OctVerificationism
Read: Carnap, “Testability and Meaning”; Hempel: “Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance: Problems and Changes [with Postscript]”
7 NovSociology and Psychoanalysis
Read: Neurath, “Sociology in the Framework of Physicalism”; Frenkel-Brunswik, “Psychoanalysis and the Unity of Science”
14 NovLater Metaphilosophy
Read: Carnap, “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology”; Waismann, “How I See Philosophy”
21 NovThanksgiving break. No class.
28 NovMature Views on Theory Construction
Read: Carnap, “The Methodological Character of Theoretical Concepts”; Hempel, “The Theoretician’s Dilemma”
5 DecQuine’s Critique
Read: Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, Word and Object (chap. 2 and §56), “Epistemology Naturalized”; Carnap, “Meaning and Synonymy in Natural Languages”
12 DecMore Recent Commentaries
Read: Choice of works by Creath, Friedman, Kaplan, Reisch, Richardson, Salmon, Stein, and/others; see Moodle for list

Links: Course Moodle site | Prof. Klement’s Homepage | UMass Philosophy