A datum on the reception of the 'Verifiability Criterion of Meaning'

One of my pet views about logical empiricism is that the verifiability criterion of meaning, for those who actually espoused some version of it (as opposed to attributed it to someone else), often does not mean exactly what the average professional philosopher in 2011 thinks it means.

I just stumbled across a new data point that suggests the reception of the verifiability criterion was more accurate than the straw-man version popular today. Here's Susan Stebbing, in 1933's "Logical Positivism and Analysis":
A proposition is understood only if it is verifiable; it is verifiable if, and only if, we know the conditions under which the proposition would be true, and the conditions under which it is false.(p.13)
Just as Carnap says in "Overcoming Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language," the meaning of a sentence is given by its truth-conditions. (One cannot be a complete revolutionary about the verifiability principle: the texts rule that out. Discussions of observations appear in treatments of the verifiability principle--these 'truth-conditions' are often further articulated as something like 'sets of possible experiences,' where 'possible' is taken very broadly.)

1 comment:

Wiliam Stirton said...

I am pleasantly surprised to see that some people are still interested in logical positivism. I would be interested to know if anybody else is, apart from you. I myself have composed an article devoted to "patching up" A J Ayer's definition of verifiability - there is a bit of an industry on this topic; see for example the second edition of Crispin Wright's 'Realism, Meaning and Truth'. But my attempts to get it accepted for publication have met only with frustration so far, which I have been inclined to put down to lack of interest in the topic rather than there being anything wrong with my article. If you could give me any recommendations, I shall be very grateful