The Vienna Circle and American Philosophy: an upper level seminar

You are here

Course Information
Discipline(s): 
Philosophy
Terms offered: 
Spring
Credits: 
4
Language of instruction: 
English
Contact Hours: 
60
Prerequisites: 

Recommended chiefly to those students who are philosophy majors at their respective home universities, but it will also be of interest to those with a philosophy minor, to religious studies and psychology majors, and even to those who already have some significant experience in philosophy. It is open to those who have a genuine interest in philosophy and would like to produce a serious and well-researched paper on a philosophical problem they find worth investigating in depth.

Description: 

The idea behind this 400 course, an upper-level seminar, is that those IES students who already have a relatively solid background in philosophy might find a forum where they are able to study philosophy on a more advanced level than the one offered by the course “PH390 THE VIENNA CIRCLE AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY”. PH490 is “built upon” PH390 in the sense that, while all students in the seminar attend PH390 (meeting twice a week for two classroom-hours, i.e. 2x90 minutes), they are also offered an additional session, meeting once a week for two classroom hours (90 minutes). The main goal of the additional session, creating a real upper-level seminar atmosphere is to help students write a seminar paper of about 20 standard pages on a topic they are particularly interested in and/or they already have done some research on at their respective home universities.

The basic tenets behind the course is as behind PH390: the movement called the Vienna Circle (roughly between 1922-1936), including eminent scientist and philosophers like Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap, or Otto Neurath, had a very significant impact on the intellectual history of both Europe and the United States. (Many of them were prosecuted by the Nazi authorities after the Anschluss in 1938, and most of them left for America to continue teaching there). The course proposes to concentrate on the following problems: the status of language (why and how language became a problem for philosophy at all at the beginning of the 20th century); the logical analysis of language (its method and significance); the critique of metaphysics; the verification principle (establishing the truth of sentences containing experienced-based (empirical) statements about the world); the relationship between language and world, with special reference to Wittgenstein’s picture-theory in the Tractatus (1920) and to his later work, Philosophical Investigations (1953, 1958), building on the Tractatus but rejecting some of its most significant tenets); and the ‘sense’ of non-empirical sentences, i.e. the sentences of ethics, aesthetics and theology. Thus the logic of the course, somewhat also figuring the order in which the Circle encountered its problems, is the following: it proceeds from language to world (reality), and then goes back to the user of language, the human being.

Attendance policy: 

See IES Abroad Vienna handbook for attendance policy.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Know the basic concepts and philosophical principles of the philosophy of the Vienna Circle, including its context: verification, logical analysis, analytical and synthetic truth, a priori and a posteriori, contradiction, tautology, truth-value, sense-datum, experience, the nonsensical nature of non-factual sentences, the picture-theory of meaning, meaning viewed as use, private language, rule-following. 
  • Have gradually growing expertise in the ability to reproduce arguments and in critical thinking.
  • Take a stand, both in writing and orally, in philosophical debates, evaluating the feasibility of a certain position, including their own.
Method of presentation: 

Since the course is built upon the PH390 course, students in PH490 will be required to attend PH390, and meet with one another and the instructor for an additional session of 90 minutes for 10 weeks. This means that students in this course will be required to write the Midterm and Final of PH390 as well, but they will also be working on a roughly 20 page-long research essay. PH390 consists of 20 ninety minute-long sessions.

We will be discussing the material under the sub-title Compulsory reading, assigned for each meeting. The reading mostly contains classic pieces by members of, and philosophers associated with, the Vienna Circle, together with some important, later interpretations (including Harvard philosopher’s Quine’s attack on positivism); less technical and relatively easily available articles have been selected. The course-material will be available through Moodle. The course will pay careful attention to the intercultural aspects of the ideas of the Vienna Circle: the intellectual climate under which these ideas were formed, how the thoughts of its members found an echo outside of Austria, and how they made a lasting influence on philosophical thinking in England and in the United States. PH390 sometimes uses the lecture-format, primarily at the beginning of the term, but does everything to engage students in genuine philosophical discussions and debates throughout the term and to prepare them well for the midterm and the final exams. The additional PH490 meetings will be more in the manner of discussion sessions.

Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Midterm exam - 20%  a first draft of the seminar paper.
  • Final exam - 60%  the seminar paper (please see below)
  • Class participation - 20%  absolutely regular attendance (see IES Vienna attendance policy, in your Student Handbook), activity in class, taking part in the discussions.

The topics to be written on will be discussed at the very beginning of the term and must meet the instructor’s approval. The ultimate choice of the topic will try to cater to individual needs and interests. The topic may conveniently be chosen from among the topics dealt with in PH390, thus developing a problem, an argument etc. into an in-depth analysis in the form of a mature philosophical essay. Since one of the tasks in the upper-level seminar will precisely be to collect secondary literature (also to be approved of, and possibly extended, by the instructor) on the subject-matter the student will be writing on, no list of secondary sources will be given beforehand (however, there is a list of “Recommended readings at the end of this syllabus).

The main substance of the upper-level seminar sessions will be as follows:

  • Distribution and discussion of the topics the students will be working on (1st week)
  • Research phase (2nd-3rd week): collecting relevant secondary literature, presenting outline
  • Presenting drafts and sections of the essays (4th-5th-6th-7th week)
  • Presenting “almost ready” second drafts (8th-9th week)
  • Presentation and submission of finished essays (10th week)

Outlines and drafts will be accessible through Moodle two days prior to the session, and each member of the seminar is required to read everyone else’s material before the meetings.

The sessions themselves will consist of presentations and critical commentaries on the material presented (and read beforehand) by all participants.    

content: 

 

Week Topics Readings
1
  • 1st meeting: getting acquainted, distribution of topics, discussing course-work
  • 2nd meeting: Getting acquainted and introduction: rationalism, empiricism, phenomenology and positivism: ways of doing philosophy
  • 3rd meeting: the Vienna Circle and the intellectual climate of Vienna: the Language-crisis
  • Friedrich Stadler, “Aspects of the Social Background and Position of the Vienna Circle at the University of Vienna” in T. E. Uebel (ed.), Rediscovering the Forgotten Vienna Circle, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991, pp. 51-77.
  • Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, The Lord Chandos Letter, trans. from the German by Russell Stockman, Marlboro, Vermont: The Marlboro Press, 1986, pp. 11-33
2
  •  4th meeting: showing results of collected secondary literature, adjustments and possible extensions, presentation of outlines
  • 5th meeting: Background to the philosophical method of the Vienna Circle: the function and task of empirical philosophy (Russel)
  • 6th meeting: Background to the philosophical method of the Vienna Circle: the problem of meaning and the function of logic (Frege)
  • Russell, Bertrand “Appearance and Reality”, “The Existence of Matter”, “The Nature of Matter” and “Idealism” in Russell, Bertrand, The Problems of Philosophy, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, (1912), 1959, pp. 7
  • Gottlob Frege, “Sense and Reference” (trans. by Max Black), The Philosophical Review 57, Issue 3, (May, 1948), pp. 209-230
3
  • 7th meeting: showing results of collected secondary literature, adjustments and possible extensions, presentation of outlines
  • 8th meeting: the philosophical program of the Vienna Circle
  • 9th meeting: the philosophical goal of the Vienna Circle
  • Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap and Hans Hahn, “The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle”, in Otto Neurath, Empiricism and Sociology, (The Vienna Circle Collection, Vol.1), ed. and trans. by M. Neurath and R. Cohen, Dordrecht and Boston: Reidel Publishing  Company, 1971, pp. 301-318.
  • Moritz Schlick, “The Turning-Point in Philosophy”, in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925-1936) (Vienna Circle Collection Vol. 11), Eds. by Henk L. Mulder and Barbara F. B. Van de Velde-Schlick, Trans. by Peter Heath, Wilfred Sellars, Herbert Fiegl and May Brodbeck, Dordrecht, Boston and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979, pp. 154- 160.
4
  • 10th meeting: presenting drafts and essay-sections
  • 11th meeting: Positivism I (Schlick)
  • 12th meeting: Positivism II. (Neurath)
  • Moritz Schlick: “Positivism and Realism” in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925-1936) (Vienna Circle Collection Vol. 11), Eds. by Henk L. Mulder and Barbara F. B. Van de Velde-Schlick, Trans. by Peter Heath, Wilfred Sellars, Herbert Fiegl and May Brodbeck, Dordrecht, Boston and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979, pp. 259-284.
  • Otto Neurath, “Protocol Sentences” (transl. by George Schick), in Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 199-208.
5
  • 13th meeting: presenting drafts and essay-sections
  • 14th meeting: Verification, Experience, Meaning I
  • 15th meeting Verification, Experience, Meaning II.
 
  • Moritz Schlick, “Meaning and Verification” (written in English, 1936) in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925-1936) (Vienna Circle Collection Vol. 11), Eds. by Henk L. Mulder and Barbara F. B. Van de Velde-Schlick, Trans. by Peter Heath, Wilfred Sellars, Herbert Fiegl and May Brodbeck, Dordrecht, Boston and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979, pp. 456-481.
  • A. J. Ayer, “Verification and Experience” in Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 228-243.
6
  • 16th meeting: presenting drafts (“Midterms”)
  • 17th meting: discussion of readings
  • 18th meeting: discussion of readings
  • Martin Heidegger, “What is Metaphysics?” (1929) In: Heidegger, Martin: Pathmarks. William McNeill, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 82-96.
  • Rudolf Carnap, “The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language” (trans. by Arthur Pap, 1932), In: Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 60-81.
7
  • 19th meeting: presenting and discussing second drafts
  • 20th  meeting: Ethics
  • 21st meeting: the challenge: Willard van Orman Quine
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, “A Lecture on Ethics” (1929, in English)) In: Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, Klagge, James and Alfred Nordmann eds., Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993, pp. 36-44.
  • W. O. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” In: American Philosophy. A Historical Anthology, ed. Barbara MacKinnon, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985, pp. 557-569.
8
  • 22nd meeting: presenting and discussing second drafts
  • 23rd meeting : The Vienna Circle and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus
  • 24th meeting: The Tractatus
  • Marie McGinn, “The Single Great Problem” Chapter 1 in Marie McGinn, Elucidating the Tractatus, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006, pp. 1-27.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, (1921, 1961), 1989, paragraphs 1-3
  • Marie McGinn, “The Opening of the Tractatus” Chapter 6 in Marie McGinn, Elucidating the Tractatus, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006, pp. 134-161.
9
  • 25th meeting: presenting and discussing second drafts
  • 26th meeting: towards a new understanding of the Tractatus
  • 27th meeting: discussion of readings
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, (1921, 1961), 1989, paragraphs 4-4.25;  4.46-4.5; 5.552-5.641; 6.124-7
  • Cora Diamond, “Ethics, Imagination and the Method of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus” in The New Wittgenstein, eds. by Alice Crary and Rupert Read, London and New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 149-173.
10
  • 28th meeting: end-of-the-semester discussion of results, submission of final versions of essays
  • 29th meeting: The Tractatus: mysticism and the problem of nonsense
  • 30th meeting: Summary and Conclusion
  • Michael Morris and Julian Dodd, “Mysticism and Nonsense in the Tractatus”, European Journal of Philosophy (ISSN 0966-8373), 2007, pp. 1–30 (Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford).

 

 

Required readings: 
  • Ayer, A. J., “The Nature of Philosophical Analysis”, Chapter Three In: Ayer, A. J., Language, Truth and Logic, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin  (1936, 1946), 1972, pp. 80-115.
  • Ayer, A. J., “The Function of Philosophy” Chapter Two In: Ayer, A. J., Language, Truth and Logic, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin  (1936, 1946), 1972, pp. 62-79.
  • Ayer, A. J.,  “The A Priori” Chapter four In: Ayer, A. J., Language, Truth and Logic, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin  (1936, 1946), 1972, pp. 96-115.
  • Ayer, A. J., ed., Logical Positivism,  Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1959
  • Ayer, A. J., Language, Truth and Logic, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin  (1936, 1946), 1972
  • Barett, William and Henry D. Aiken. Philosophy in the Twentieth Century. An Anthology. Vol. Three,  New York: Random House, 1962
  • Carnap, Rudolf, “The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language” (trans. by Arthur Pap, 1932), In: Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 60-81.
  • Crary, Alice and Rupert Read, eds., The New Wittgenstein, London and New York: Routledge, 2000
  • Diamond, Cora, “Ethics, Imagination and the Method of Wittgenstein’s  Tractatus” In: The New Wittgenstein, eds. by  Alice Crary and Rupert Read, London and New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 149-173.
  • Heidegger, Martin, “What is Metaphysics?” (1929) In: Heidegger, Martin: Pathmarks. William McNeill, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 82-96.
  • Heidegger, Martin: Pathmarks. ed. by William McNeill, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Kraft, Victor, “The History of the Vienna Circle”, In: Kraft, Viktor, The Vienna Circle. The Origin of Neo-Positivism. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press Publishers, (1953), 1969, pp. 3-15;
  • Kraft, Viktor, The Vienna Circle. The Origin of Neo-Positivism. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press Publishers, (1953), 1969.
  • MacKinnon, Barbara, ed.,  American Philosophy. A Historical Anthology, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.
  • McGinn, Marie, “Wittgenstein’s Critique of Augustine” In: Marie McGinn: Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations, London and New York: Routledge, 1997, pp. 33-72.
  • McGinn, Marie, Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations, London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Parrini, Paolo, Wesley C. Salmon and Merrilee H. Salmon, eds., Logical Empiricism. Historical and Contemporary Perspective, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003.
  • Quine, W. O., “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” In: American Philosophy. A Historical Anthology, ed. Barbara MacKinnon, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985, pp. 557-569.
  • Russell,  Bertrand, The Problems of Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.
  • Russell, Bertrand “Appearance and Reality” In: Russell,  Bertrand, The Problems of Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965, pp. 1-18.
  • Schlick, Moritz “Positivism and Realism” (trans. by David Rynin, 1932/33) In: Logical Positivism,  ed. by Ayer, A. J., Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1959, pp. 82-107.
  • Schlick, Moritz,  “Meaning and Verification” (1938) In: Philosophy in the Twentieth Century. An Anthology. Vol. Three,  eds. by William Barett and Henry D. Aiken. New York: Random House, 1962, pp. 28-51.
  • Schlick, ­Moritz, “The Foundation of Knowledge” (trans. by David Rynin, 1934)  In: Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 209-227.
  • Schlick, Moritz, “The Turning Point in Philosophy” (1930/31), In: Logical Positivism, ed. by A. J. Ayer; Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1959, pp. 53-59.
  • Schlick, Moritz, “What is the Aim of Ethics?” (trans. by David Rynin, 1930) In: Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 247-263.
  • Stern, David G., “The Methods of the Tractatus Beyond Positivism and Metaphysics” In: Logical Empiricism. Historical and Contemporary Perspective, eds. by Paolo Parrini, Wesley C. Salmon and Merrilee H. Salmon, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003, pp, 125-156.
  • Stevenson, C. L.,  “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms” (1937) In: Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 264-281.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig, “A Lecture on Ethics” (1929) In: Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, Klagge, James and Alfred Nordmann eds., Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993, pp. 36-44.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, (1954, 1958), 1984, §§ 1-38
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,  (1921, 1961), 1989, paragraphs 1-3; 4-4.25;  4.46-4.5; 5.552-5.641; 6.124-7.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, eds. by Klagge, James and Alfred Nordmann, Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.