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Scott J. Simon / p. 1

Science and Metaphysics

The conflict between science and metaphysics may best be expressed by the twentieth

century philosophy know as positivism. The Positivists believe in an empirical (sensory) reality

that can be discovered scientifically, in which the observer can be completely objective and the

observer’s life histories, experiences, viewpoints, and interpretations do not influence the choice

of methodology, data analysis, and strategy of theoretical development. Truths can be discovered

in the lab that are timeless and eternal (universal) and are valid no matter what the particular

context. What is important to note is the Positivist rejection of a transcendent reality (or God) of

any kind, thus, positivists play the role of debunker of pseudo-science and spiritual myths.

The positivists propose the verifiability criterion of meaning. According to this, a statement

is meaningful only if there is the possibility that it can be verified through empirical evidence

(evidence derived solely from the senses). Valid statements are expressed with the rules of

formal logic. Symbolic logic (as used by logical positivists) reduces logical statements to

symbols, in which propositions are absolutely true or false. In addition, logical arguments are

valid or invalid. The validity of a logical argument does not guarantee that it is true, only

formally correct. The logical positivists believed all of reality could be express in the form of

logical statements, until challenged by Russell’s paradox and Gödel’s proof.

Yet, it is this very formal logic, or meta-mathematics, that ultimately calls into question the

positivist anti-metaphysical claims: are not such symbolic systems abstractions of the most

rarified form and as transcendent as the blessed Welt Geist of Hegelian Idealism? Do we find

Arabic numerals floating in space; and do symbolic formulas grow on trees? Positivism, and in

particular logical positivism, is fundamentally dependent on thoroughly abstract structures of the

mind; a mind that Immanuel Kant himself could not rescue from metaphysical speculations.

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