Does Philosophy Investigate Language or Reality?

Course at IAP-PUC, Second Semester 2011, Tuesdays 14.00-15.20 h, by Daniel von Wachter. Those participants who live outside Chile should call at 16.55 h the Skype address iap-puc1.

Contact: - replace "ABCD" by "von-wachter". Tel. 354-1509. I am there to help you. Usually I am in the office at the IAP at least Monday till Thursday from 7.30 h. Usually it is best to send me questions by email. I will then answer by email or ask you to come.

Content of this page

Descripción del curso

The possibility and meaningfulness of metaphysics has been rejected in various ways. One influential idea with which it was rejected in the 20th century was that philosophy cannot investigate reality but can and should only investigate language. It led to the ‘linguistic turn’ and to ‘logical positivism’. We shall explore and evaluate various versions and aspects of this. What is the right method for investigating reality? Are the methods that are used in contemporary philosophy correct?

See official course description (PDF).



If you want to participate, send me an email now, so that I have your email address. Between the meetings we will communicate by email, so read it regularly. I recommend that you use an email program like Thunderbird, which is much more efficient than reading email online ('webmail').

In general, participants have to attend every session. (If you want an exception, for example if you would like to do distance learning, talk to me.) You may miss maximally three sessions (without good reason). You are welcome to try the course until the 9th of July and decide then whether you want to continue to participate.

The course starts at 14.00 h. Be on time.


For each session there are a few pages obligatory reading. You must study them. If for some reason you could not read them, tell me before the session. Always bring this as well as the text discussed in the session with you.

Besides that, there may be ‘further readings’ of which you should do at least some.

Sometimes there will be a short written homework. It will not be marked, but you must not fail to do it more than twice in the semester.

Send me written homework the day before the session (22 h) by email. If it is short (up to 1.000 words), write or paste the text in an email. If it is longer (which it usually is not) or if it contains formatting which would be lost, send it to me as a file in format ODT (OpenOffice) or PDF or RTF (if you use MS Word, save as RTF) and follow THESE instructions.


An intermediate exam and an essay at the end of the semester.

Half-term exam

On 11 October 2011 there will be the half-term exam.

Material for the exam: Everything covered in the sessions until 4/10/2011. Hume, Vienna Circle, Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap. Analyticity. The debate about the possibility of synthetic a priori (intellectual) knowledge. The most important texts to have read are:

I shall send you the slides used in the sessions.

Instructions for the final essay

Before you write, read Instructions for writing a philosophical essay and criteria for marking and follow these instructions. Your mark will depend also on whether you do this, so be precise, do not write anything that is not necessary, etc.

Write an essay on: "The Doctrines of Logical Positivism". Describe the main doctrines and evaluate or criticise them. Write 2.500 - 3.500 words. Describe the main doctrines and also how they are connected. Then pick one or several of these doctrines and criticise them. Look also for other texts that criticise these doctrines. Your description of Logical Positivism should include the following topics (not necessarily in this order):

Minimal reading (for details see the bibliography below:

Send me the essay as a ODT file (or something similar, or a LaTeX PDF) until 30 November.

You can also choose another topic, but talk to me about it before!


Hume etc.

Hume etc.

Notes for the sessions

2 August, 2011, Introduction

Find links on David Hume below.

9 August, 2011: cancelled

Read ‘The Vienna Circle’ in SEP.

16 August, 2011

Obligatory reading: sections II and III of David Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

23 August 2011: „Die Wissenschaftliche Weltauffassung: Der Wiener Kreis“

Hahn, Otto and Neurath, Otto and Carnap, Rudolf, 1929, ‘The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle’, HTML, PDF, Español: PDF, PDF

20 September, 2011

The half-term exam will be on 11 October 2011.

For this session: (find links to the texts below in the bibliography)

27 September 2011: Moritz Schlick

Reminder: The half-term exam will be on 11 October 2011.

18 October, 2011

No meeting because I am at a conference in Mexico.

Use the time to read
Bergmann: „Logical Positivism, Language, and the Reconstruction of Metaphysics“,

25/10 - 22/11: Gustav Bergmann (1906-1987)

Follow the links below.

Read my review of Bergmann's collected papers.

Philosophers who made a linguistic turn

The members of the „Wiener Kreis“ (‘Vienna Circle’) made a linguistic turn. Their position is called ‘logical positivism’ or ‘logical empiricism’.

The term ‘Analytic Philosophy’ sometimes refers to philosophers who made a linguistic turn. Read articles on ‘Analytic Philosophy’ and its history to find out more. At and also you find many texts from this movement. Today the term is used in a wider sense, simply to refer to the project of answering philosophical question with clarity, precision, and argument. This we can also call ‘scientific philosophy’ (‘wissenschaftliche Philosophie’, to distinguish it from everything that some call ‘philosophy’ but that is something else, e.g. attempts to find the meaning of life, poetry, confusion, etc. (Note however that the logical positivists use this term in a narrower sense, presupposing positivism so that the term ‘scientific’ refers only to the natural sciences.)

David Hume 1711-1776. Praised beyond rational judgement in Anglosaxon empiricist philosophy.

Moritz Schlick 1882-1936

Rudolf Carnap 1891-1970

A.J. Ayer

Gustav Bergmann

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Gilbert Ryle

J. L. Austin, 1911-1960

J. M. Hare

Anthony Flew

Peter F. Strawson (‘descriptive Metaphysics’)

David Lewis

Otto Neurath



Hans Reichenbach


Additional Internet Resources

Use the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy!

Wikipedia: Logical Positivism, Empirismo Logico; Positivismo

Vienna Circle’ in Wikipedia. and, Circulo de Viena en Wikipedia.

Ordinary Language Philosophy’ in Wikipedia.

Web-exercises by Gensler about Ayer (look at the bottom)

Further philosophy links at (German)

On David Hume

Texts by David Hume

Texts about David Hume

On Gustav Bergmann (1906-1987)

The Ontological Turn: Studies in the Philosophy of Gustav Bergmann, ed. by Moltke S. Gram and E. D. Klemke (Iowa, 1974).