Positivism and Realism

by | Apr 23, 2022 | Philosophy

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Consider the argument that Schlick gives for the empirical criterion of meaning
on pages 86–87 of “Positivism and Realism”: Suppose your friend doesn’t know what you mean. You would first try to explain to them what you mean by substituting synonyms
for the words in the statement. Instead of “orbits”, “traverses an
elliptical path”; instead of “sun”, “the largest body in the solar
system – that thing”. But your friend still does not understand you.
You might eventually say: “If you were to travel a long distance in
this direction [pointing, say in the direction of Neptune], and you
were to look back at the thing you are currently standing on [pointing
at the Earth], you would see it following a circular path around that
bright object right there [pointing at the Sun].”
First, explain this argument. Then
evaluate it. (Do you think it is a successful argument for the criterion? If so,
why? If not, why not?)
You should begin this paper by explaining Schlick’s
argument. Then you have to evaluate it. One thing you could do is make the
following main claim: Schlick’s argument does not work. How you will demon-
strate that? Here are two routes you might take. (Both will require some filling
in on your part.)
One route: You might argue that at some step of the thought experiment —
perhaps the one where we moved from saying “ellipse” to tracing an elliptical
motion with your hand — we failed to substitute synonyms for synonyms. (Does
a gesture like that have any meaning at all?) Another route: You might also
argue that if this is how we learn the meanings of words (i.e. someone eventually
pointing at something, trying to exhibit the meaning in empirical terms), we
might sometimes become confused about what words mean. Suppose you?re
trying to explain what the word “green” means to your friend. You point at
the grass eventually. How would your friend know that “green” meant the color
green and not the property grass-like? On both routes you should think: Is
there a way for my opponent to respond?

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