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   Course Title    Empiricism in the 20th Century
Lecturer    Tamar Tskhadadze
Institution    Iv. Javakhishvili State University of Tbilisi
Country    Georgia


Academic aims

The course is intended as an introduction to the philosophical developments of the twentieth century, which proved to have special import for the image of scientific enterprise, and for philosophical understanding of learning from experience in general. It incorporates results of the most influential "post-positivist" and "post-analytic" philosophers of science, language and mind. The major tendencies of reconstructing the empiricist viewpoint will be discussed, together with their bearing -

-on understanding truth, rationality and progress of scientific knowledge, as well as
-on traditional dichotomies like "discovery/invention", "analytic-synthetic", "a priori-empirical", "observation-theorizing", "subjective-objective", "perceptual/conceptual", "given/projected", "fact/convention", etc.

Widely echoed controversies between physicalism and phenomenalism, holism and reductionism, as well as those concerning the idea of conceptual scheme and incommensurability thesis will be the focus of the course. The following authors will be considered: Wittgenstein, Schlick, Neurath, Carnap, Hempel, Popper, Quine, Goodman, Davidson, Putnam, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend. The course aims at combining together two aims: providing students with as comprehensive as possible account of views of considered thinkers, and giving them some coherent insight of tendencies in recent Anglo-American philosophy.


Study and discussion of the major results of neo- and post-positivist philosophers of science and those of late analytic philosophers. Close examination of certain developments in the philosophy of the middle decades of the 20th century. Immediate study and analysis of some influential, already classical texts of contemporary analytic philosophers. Acquaintance with techniques and the style of argument of analytic philosophy. Locating philosophers and problems historically and according to their viewpoint affinities. Tracing certain suggestive developments in recent variations of empirical viewpoint. Relating recent developments in Anglo-American philosophy with those in the continental tradition, thus gaining insight of general tendencies of 20th century philosophy and of possible dialogue between the two.

Learning outcomes

Acquaintance with principal philosophers, movements, etc., of the past century, and with some central issues in contemporary analytic philosophy. Developing skills in critical thinking and argumentation. Skills in reading analytically. Skills in writing argumentative essays. Ability to design and present papers to an audience, to articulate and defend a thesis. Ability of juxtaposing, relating and comparing to each other different philosophers’ arguments and positions on the same problem. Ability of locating a philosopher’s position historically and conceptually. Ability of using different philosopher’s arguments and points for developing one’s own position. Ability of doing justice to arguments and rationales for different philosophical positions.



The course is designed as an elective component of the curriculum for an MA in philosophy. The courses that make up the curricula in philosophy at TSU belong to one of the following chairs: systematic philosophy (ontology and epistemology), history of philosophy, logic, social philosophy, aesthetics, ethics, sociology, and religion studies. The presented course belongs to history of philosophy. Courses in the history of philosophy include the four-year general course, supposed to cover the whole history of philosophy from ancient through contemporary times, and special courses that focus on a particular text, author, or period (Plato, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Russian philosophy, Heidegger). However, neither the general course, nor any of the special courses discusses most of the philosophers included in the presented course. Therefore the latter is an essential supplement to the general course in history of philosophy, which is a compulsory component of the curriculum for BA in philosophy. On the other hand, since the presented course may overlap in content with the courses offered by other chairs (courses in philosophy of science, philosophy of language, logic...), and since MA programs are oriented on narrow specialization of students according to their specific interests, it is made elective.

Student’s prerequisite knowledge basis for course participation:

The students are expected to have successfully taken general courses in history of philosophy, philosophy (ontology and epistemology), logic, philosophy of language, and the special course "Critique of Pure Reason", all of which are compulsory elements of the undergraduate curriculum in philosophy and aesthetics at TSU. Out of the material covered by these courses, a substantial knowledge of history of modern philosophy (from Bacon and including Kant), at least a general orientation in the history of Western philosophy, and basic knowledge of logic are prerequisite. Students should also be able to operate freely with basic philosophical notions and to understand and recast philosophical arguments; to have some experience in reading philosophical texts of moderate complexity, of writing essays and course works, and of preparing and orally presenting papers.



The course is designed as a seminar, not as a lecture class. The major part of the classes will be devoted to presentation and discussion by students their assigned readings and papers. To assist students both in verbal discussion and written argument, to develop their critical skills and to ensure students’ well-prepared participation, the following methods will be used:

Discussions: the lecture, or monologue part of classes will be comparatively short. After outlining key concepts and problems, necessarily using prepared handouts, any in-depth examination of points will take place as a part of discussions.

Choice: students will have options for choosing among possible assignments. Mutual evaluation: every student will be assigned with another as an opponent, who will read in advance his or her essay and comment on it after the author’s presentation. Formative and timely assessment: each performance (oral or written) of a student will be assessed and will contribute to his or her final grade.



1. Introduction: historical perspective (weeks 1-2)

Week 1:

Outline of historical roots of 20th century empiricism: British empiricism within the broader frame of Descartes-Baconian foundationalism. Understanding of scientific objectivity, scientific truth and scientific progress, implicit or explicit in it. Bacon on observation-theory relation. Sensationalism of Hobbes, Locke and Hume: foundations vs. constructions, problem of the right way of construction from foundations (sense data). Locke and Leibniz - initiators of analytic/synthetic distinction.

Week 2:

Hume and Kant: distinction of "de jure/de facto" questions. Hume’s distinction between belief and knowledge, and Kant’s distinction between reasoning and knowing, as questions of epistemic (scientific) respectability. Notion of "empirical decidability". Hume’s skeptical argument; his anticipation of naturalized epistemology.

Kant’s answer to Hume. His notion of objectivity as inter-subjectivity. Mill: uniformity of

nature; Russel: atomism, neutral monism.

2. Logical Empiricism (weeks 3-5)

Week 3:

Wittgenstein of the Tractatus: what can be said about the world; facts and propositions; the status of logical propositions; the general form of a proposition; status of objects, viz. of terms; the world: facts or objects? - ultimate reduction: to propositions or to terms? Limits of meaningful language: philosophy, the unsayable.

Week 4:

Problems of experiential basis for knowledge (Schlick, Carnap’s Aufbau, Neurath): distinctions: discovery/justification, logical/factual, meaningless/meaningful; the verifiability principle; logical construction; phenomenalism: protocol statements, problems of purely phenomenal foundation; physicalism: shift towards holism and the coherent theory of truth, the problem of the ultimate basis; the problem of the status of scientific generalizations.

Week 5:

Problems of Confirmation theory (Hempel and Carnap): probability theories; Hempel’s paradox; Carnap on internal and external questions of a theoretical system.

3. Popper (weeks 6-7)

Week 6:

Popper: criticism of positivist version of empiricism: phenomenalism and physicalism; facts versus sense data; ‘apriorism’ implicit in this move; theory and observation; induction as a pseudo-problem; falsification and its problems; criticism versus justification through reduction.

Week 7:

Popper: fallibilism and understanding of progress; problems of the conception of falsification and verisimilitude, and of rejection of induction; explicit or implicit blurring of demarcation between science and metaphysics; Critical Rationalists on the place of commitments in science.

4. Goodman and Quine (weeks 8-11)

Week 8:

Nelson Goodman: status of qualia; counter-factuals, dispositions and possible; the new problem of induction; the theory of projection; "entrenchment" as the maxim of conservatism; the role of the record of linguistic and cognitive experience for the theory of knowledge; contingency of conceptualization of experience; making worlds.

Week 9:

Quine, "On What There Is": status of ontology; options: phenomenal, physical and Platonist Languages; relativity of fundamental language; ontological pluralism; maxim of simplicity; relationship between ontological and theoretical.

Week 10:

Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism": attack on the notion of analyticity; critique of reductionism; facts of language and facts of theory: blurring the difference; under-determination of a theory by evidence; ‘Duhem-Quine thesis’; the web of belief.

Week 11:

Quine, "Ontological Relativity": language and truth; radical translation; inscrutability of reference; ontological relativity and indeterminacy of translation; naturalized epistemology, status of truth- and rationality-judgments in it; acquisition of language; status of physicalism.

5. Davidson and Putnam (weeks 12-13)

Week 12:

Davidson: truth and meaning; radical interpretation and the inscrutability of reference; the idea of a conceptual scheme; the semantic method of truth; anomalous monism.

Week 13:

Putnam: scientific realism and internal realism; functionalism and its later criticism; causal theory of meaning; division of linguistic labor; stereotypes and communication; analyticity without unrevisability: logic and empirical revision; rationality of science.

6. Kuhn and Lakatos (weeks 14-16)

Week 14:

Kuhn: under-determination and incommensurability; paradigms: necessity of commitments and their contingency; objectivity, rationality and progress of science; the role for history. Feuerabend on problems of empiricism; his radical conclusions. ‘Relativistic danger’ of ‘incommensurability’ and ‘Duhem-Quine’ theses.

Week 15:

Kuhn and Lakatos on retrospection. Lakatos’ responses to ‘incommensurability’ and ‘Duhem-Quine’ theses: his modification of falsificationism; research programs versus isolated hypotheses – historical dimension; conceptions of ‘rational reconstruction’ and progress of knowledge; status of metaphysics.

Week 16:

Revision and conclusions: contingency and evolutionism; commitments and criticism; empiricism in mathematics and logic: Putnam and Lakatos.




  1. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (available in Russian translation, Moscow, 1958). (weeks 1-3)
  2. Otto Neurath, "Protocol Sentences" or Moritz Schlick, "The Foundation of Knowledge". Both in: A. J. Ayer (ed.), Logical Positivism (Free Press, NY, 1959). (week 4)
  3. Rudolf Carnap, "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology" / Meaning and Necessity (available in Russian translation, Moscow, 1959). (week 5)
  4. Karl Popper, "Science: Conjectures and Refutations", in: Conjectures and Refutations, chap. 1 (available in Georgian translation, Tbilisi, 2000). (week 6)
  5. Karl Popper, "Truth, Rationality, and the Growth of Scientific Knowledge", in: Conjectures and Refutations, chap. 10. (week 7)
  6. Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast, chapters III and IV (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. and London, England, 1983). (week 8)
  7. W. V. O. Quine, "On What There Is", in: From a Logical Point of View (available in Georgian translation, Matsne, 1-2, 2001). (week 9)
  8. W. V. O. Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", in: From a Logical Point of View (available in Georgian translation, Matsne, 1-2, 2002). (week 10)
  9. W. V. O. Quine, "Ontological Relativity", in: Ontological Relativity and Other Essays
    (N. Y., 1969) (available in Russian translation, Moscow, 1996) or Quine, Word and
    Object, chap. II (The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1960). (week 11)
  10. Donald Davidson, "The Method of Truth in Metaphysics" or "On the Very Idea of Conceptual Scheme". Both in: Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001). (week 12)
  11. Hilary Putnam, "Meaning of Meaning", in: Mind, Language and Reality (Cambridge University Press, 1975). (week 13)
  12. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, chapters XII and XIII (Georgian translation forthcoming). (week 14)
  13. Imre Lakatos, "Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific-Research Programmes", chapters I and II (available in Russian translation, Moscow, 2001).(week 15)


A. J. Ayer, The Revolution in Philosophy (London, 1956)

Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge, London and NY, 1980),

Popper, Objective Knowledge (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1979)

J. Agassi, "Sensationalism" / Mind, vol. 75, N297, 1966.

Quine, The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1997)

Quine, Pursuit of Truth (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1992)

R. Gibson, The Philosophy of W. V. Quine (Tampa, 1982)

P. Leonardi, M. Santambrogio (ed.-s), On Quine (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Goodman, Structure of Appearance

Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980).

E. LePore (ed.), Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson (Blackwell, 1986)

Putnam, Realism and Reason (Cambridge University Press, 1983)

Putnam, The Threefold Cord Mind, Body, and World (Columbia University Press, NY, 1999)

Kuhn, The Essential Tension (Chicago, 1977)

Lakatos, History of Science and Its Rational Reconstructions (Moscow, 2001)

P. Feyerabend, Against Method. Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (London, 1975)

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