Logical Positivism insists that the verifying and refuting of a statement have to be done or at least can be done by sense-experience and logical and mathematical reasoning. If this is not done then the statement is not meaningful even if it is true. This is called the Verification Principle. The principle teaches that a statement that can be verified but isn’t yet is meaningful as long as you have evidence that you can verify it. For example, if X is accused of murder and you have not seen the evidence for his guilt but somebody you trust says they have this means you can check up and if you assert X is guilty it is a meaningful statement.

Strong verification is when you can go out to see if there is a man Jesus in Nazareth.

Weak is when you have to depend on others to tell you if there is.

A problem faced
Today’s Logical Positivists have a problem with the Verification Principle. They reject it though they say it is right in spirit for they feel it eliminates too much – for example, when J says she feels elated this is meaningless to everybody else for they cannot prove or disprove it – or too little. Therefore they say that it cannot be formulated properly. But some answer: “But they know fine well that if a principle infers things they despise it does not make it wrong. They are lying.  It doesn’t matter what the problems are for it is self-evidently true that the principle is perfectly correct.”

According to some, “The principle verifies all we want so there is no need for such lies as that the principle is wrong for it leads us to conclusions we do not like or which prove harmful. It does not matter if J’s statement is meaningless. It does us no harm to act as if it might be true. The lies were told because the Logical Positivists failed to see this and didn’t want to declare most of our statements meaningless – out of the fear of being despised and out of prejudice – which they didn’t have to do at all. Happily, we know that all doctrines which are specifically religious and have no support are meaningless. They are nonsense – in the sense of being meaningless. It is nonsense to say there is a God but it is not nonsense to say there is no God for we can verify that. Or those who disagree would say it is nonsense to say one or the other.”

While if we can verify very little and give meaning to very little, going along with the things society says are verified though they are not is an option.  But why would we go along?  If you say it is meaningless to think somebody loves you for you cannot show they love then to insist people must assume love anyway is secretly saying, "I don't really think it is meaningless."


Also compare, "Meaningless statement 1, God loves me" with, "Meaningless statement 2, my child loves me."  It is 2 that turns everybody off logical positivism even if they say different.  If you water down or reject it over love then you are doing it for humanitarian reasons.  This shows that logical positivism goes with a debate not over God but a debate about the qualities of human nature, compassion and love and kindness.  God then should be assumed to be meaningless and deserving of being ignored. The principle leads to a sort of practical atheism.

Finally, it is true that you cannot prove that J is elated but when she says it she is probably telling the truth. You know that she looks happy enough so she is a bit elated. You really have to go by her testimony although she might be a good actress.

The meaning of unverifiable statements
At any given moment, I am only conscious of one thing and one thing only. When I make a statement I don’t know if it is true or false at that moment. For example, I can't prove even to myself that I thought of an apple a minute ago. Perhaps my memory is an illusion?
If logical positivism is true then it seems there are no meaningful statements at all. Statements you can't verify such as the existence of a God beyond the senses would be the most meaningless statement of the lot along with the statement that Sleeping Beauty existed and slept for a hundred years. And especially when God is spirit. We might not understand matter but we know its there. But we cannot be sure that spirit, which many define as a nothing that is a something and a something that is a nothing, is possible or that the concept of spirit is coherent. Religion has arguments for the existence of spirit or God but how do we know they are no better than arguments for the existence of a dog that is a cat?
A statement can be verified right now but the future is a different story. Afterwards, it is the memory of the verification that verifies it for you. So if you think a past statement is believable, the statement becomes meaningful for you through memory afterwards. This seems to say that as long as you believe in something you make it meaningful for yourself. You can never verify that your memories are real or accurate or complete.
So a statement being verified now is meaningful in a way it will not be in a few minutes time. Memory makes it meaningful in a weaker way.

Suppose I deceive myself that a statement or proposition is true or false. A statement of fact that I pretend is verifiable or shown false would seem to be meaningful when my self-deception succeeds. If so, then logical positivism is incorrect. The truth of the matter is that if I fool myself, part of me knows the truth or thinks it knows it but won't admit it. Thus the argument fails to refute logical positivism.

VP and rationality

It is said that the Verification Principle contradicts reason if reason cannot be verified itself. But reason is the truth of experience that A is A. This is self-evidently correct therefore the principle should not be abandoned to protect reason for it does protect it.
If reason is a method rather than something proven, then the VP is fine. It would in fact be demanded by reason.
If the alternatives to the Verification Principle are more irrational than it is, then it is reasonable to accept the principle.
Also, the VP even if it contradicts itself still at least says reason is correct and demands to be discarded if it is irrational.
Objections to Logical Positivism
1 Strong verification doesn't work. Even if you experience the taste of an apple you can't prove that the taste is not an illusion. Ayer himself put this problem in the second edition of his Language, Truth and Logic. Another problem with it is that you can do experiments to prove something works but one time you may do the experiment and you may get a result that proves it or indicates it does not work.
Weak verification is too liberal and allows any silly statement to have meaning. For example, you can feel that there is a God and conclude that there is one for the feeling verifies it. You can say he sent you the feeling to tell you. Ayer himself outlined this problem in the second edition of his Language, Truth and Logic.
Reply: Ayer proposed two things in the place of these. One is direct verification and the other is indirect verification. Direct verification is what you use when you go to see if a statue you have been told about is there. Indirect verification is when you look at the evidence for black holes and you see that they must exist though you cannot directly prove there is such a thing. You use indirect when you wish to prove that somebody is a thief though nobody will be able to catch in him the act.
It has been pointed out that strong verification means you cannot verify that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. It was too long ago to be sensed. If the past is made meaningless because of that, then how much more is the future? The past happened but the future hasn't happened yet. The future doesn't exist yet.
2 Verificationism is unverifiable itself for sense observation cannot prove it true. In other words, the Verification Principle - which says that a statement of fact is meaningless unless it can be proven or disproven - cannot itself be proven. The Verification Principle is no good for it fails to verify itself.
Reply: What if a statement is meaningless unless you have a way of proving or disproving it? If it is meaningless then it is in the same category as 2 + 2 = 5. It speaks for itself and its lack of meaning does not need any verification. The objection is totally rigged. It is wrong. The argument is as ridiculous as saying, "Proof shows something to be true but you cannot prove that proof proves anything".
Once you understand what it means to say a statement is meaningless or factually insignificant you experience that it is meaninglessness yourself so you do verify it by your inner sense. Your mind senses things too as distinct from touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. Once you understand what it means to say that a statement is meaningful you will understand that the principle is right. It is right for the same reason as, "Bachelors are unmarried men", is right.
Even if the objection were reasonable it still does not debunk Logical Positivism. We could need the principle as a working model for it is the only suitable one even if it is imperfect. But only as a very rough model. Beggars cannot be choosers.
People say that scepticism is silly for it says there are no beliefs and yet the sceptics believe there are no beliefs meaning they believe in something after all. But it is rationally possible to believe that the only thing that can be known is that you can know nothing else. In other words, that to believe there are no beliefs other than the belief that there are no beliefs is fine. The refutation of the Verification Principle which says it makes itself meaningless is wrong for similar reasons.
3 Religion is not meaningless for one day we will know if it was all true. For example, we will meet the risen Jesus one day.
Reply: But what religion? But what about now? That's the whole point. You could use the argument this way: "If it is meaningless to say Jesus was a fraud then it won't be the day when God tells us he was." It is no good.
I know logical positivists say that a statement can be meaningful if it can be verified but ONLY IF YOU HAVE EVIDENCE THAT VERIFICATION IS POSSIBLE. You cannot verify that you will ever see or not see Jesus again. Also, if you end up going to Hell, you will never see Jesus. There is no evidence that verification is possible in relation to religion for religion is basically about religious experience and people have conflicting experiences. For example, the resurrection of Jesus means nothing if the disciples who reported it didn't have a religious experience of faith and joy and spiritual transformation because of it. Without that the miracle was just a show-off and it is undignified to attribute it to God. The important miracle was what it did for the disciples. But the problem is their "miraculous" response to the seeming resurrection is the miracle. Was it really a miracle response? Even if it was, it does not indicate that the miracle of resurrection is real.


Possibilities do not count.  Plausibility does.  It is the difference between assuming Queen Victoria was a man (possible) or a woman (plausible). 
4 Some have responded that a statement can have meaning without being testable.  You may say there is an invisible alien using technology to hide itself visiting your house.  That is a simple contradiction of the verification principle not a refutation.  The question is, is it meaningful to say something like that?  The words making sense do not mean it makes sense.
5 Ayer believed you must depend on your sense-data - just on what your senses tell you and to keep any analysis of this out of it. For example, if you smell something let the sense speak to you and do not try to rationalise it in any way. Do not ask yourself if you really smell it. I hate people saying that sense data seems to be totally private. There is no seems about it. It is totally private.
Ayer was right. The problem sense-data created for logical positivism is that you can never say that your wife exists or that you met her. You are locked in your private world of senses. You know your sense impressions of her but not her. She is not really your wife for you married what your senses told you about her and not her. In reality, each person is in a condition of total mental solitude. The person has to delude themselves that this is not true. You have never really met anybody else. If our powers of delusion are so strong imagine what they are like when it comes to God who by definition is the only being who can look after us. Others only help us if he empowers them to.
As regards memory, if you see the Statue of Liberty and recall it, you do not really see the Statue in your mind. You are pretending you see it but you do not. Creating an image of the statue is not seeing the statue in your mind. You do not recall anything but merely an image of it.
We certainly tell ourselves and therefore each other a lot of lies. That is why nobody who says they know God and have a relationship with him should be trusted. That is only a boast coming from liars.
All we have is our sense data. It is private to each of us. Each of us is in our private world. We cannot criticise logical positivism on the basis that we don't want that to be true. It is true and we can do nothing about it.
Quantum physicists such as Bernard d' Espagnat tell us that objective reality - things as they really are without us imposing our imagination on them - is eternally hidden from us. All we know is how things appear to us in the the laboratory but have no reason to think that this appearance is accurate.
Is Meaningless Talk Useful?
Logical positivism denies the meaningfulness of ethical statements. One person says a painting is beautiful and interesting and somebody else says it is ugly and boring. Neither statement is really factual. But the statement lies that it is. Just because somebody thinks that the painting is beautiful doesn't mean that it really is. And so logical positivism says that ethics is just preferences as well. If such talk is meaningless it is still not wholly useless. It has its uses. Some use is better than none.
It might be meaningless to accuse an adulterer of doing wrong. You might say it is always wrong for a man to cheat on his wife - even it it is to earn a million dollars to save her life. You might say it is wrong for the bad consequences but many adulteries don't have bad consequences. You can't prove that it is really wrong only that you want it to be wrong. But as meaningless as such talk is, it is still useful. Does it really matter if most statements are meaningless as long as they are useful? They are emotionally useful to us - that's all.




The verification principle certainly advocates that we be scientific before all else.  But religionists and philosophers say it cannot be scientifically verified that the Verification Principle is scientific.  So they argue that the Verification Principle is unscientific.


It amounts to saying that claiming that only verified science is any good is making an assumption and you may as will guess it is no good. 


That is extremely odd reasoning.  They will answer that science in fact does not verify very much and to insist only verified statements are worth caring about means you will end up not believing in very much.


It is obvious that we should worship the proven scientific data first and foremost.  We can still give secondary status to scientific ideas that are not so clear.  So it is verified that scientific facts matter supremely but that does not mean we cannot let other beliefs matter too but in a lesser way.  It is self-verifying that we should.  God by definition is that which alone matters and thus he is the creator of science.  The facts of science mattering while he matters not or less means there is no God.


The error is that science is being boxed away like it was something in a bubble and unrelated to other disciplines. But in fact no discipline stands alone. Even the historian is doing philosophy in a sense for he has to reason and serve the truth. So the philosophy of the VP can connect to the philosophy of science (or vice versa).  And does.
Logical Positivism needs to be approached with tremendous caution though there is much of value in it, it is easy to take it too far.


It is certain that its view of the God belief and many religious statements being meaningless is correct.


A proven statement has more meaning than one that is simply backed up by good evidence at this moment in time. If God statements had any meaning they would not have much. We would not be entitled to absolutely commit to God if the meaning level was low. If there is a problem applying the VP correctly that still makes it possible that supernatural and magical and God statements are devoid of meaning. You are not saying they are meaningless but at high risk of being meaningless. 


The Verification Principle would be better applied not to meaningful and meaningless but objective and subjective.  So if I say I like bubblegum icecream you have no way to verify that but that makes it subjective not meaningless.


The Principle tries to be too binary - meaningful and meaningless.  Actually that whole issue is a spectrum.  It is not an either-or.  Meaningful statements have different grades of meaningfulness.  Meaningless statements are not just meaningless.  They have different levels of meaninglessness.


Nobody denies that Logical Positivism and its friend falsificationism "overreached, but they were reaching in the right direction."  From The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World.
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