Logical Atomism: A Contemporary Philosophical Trend.

Omowumi Afolabi 52 PAGES (15242 WORDS) Project
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This research work “Logical Atomism: A Contemporary Philosophical Trend” will present an analysis of philosophical trend of logical atomism down to logical positivism. This research work will therefore examine what the movement entails and depicts, challenges, flaws, achievement, the gap in knowledge and critique levelled against them. Hence logical atomism and logical positivism will be critically analyzed to see whether it accomplished the aim set out to achieve and how it affect our contemporary society and change the misuse of language and if it fails to accomplish its set goals then this long essay will also spell out its shortcomings and proffer some recommendations.

 Language and what it depicts have been an essential inevitable part of humanity. Conventionally language has been a means of communicating ideas from one person to another but it is beyond just been a means of communicating ideas, it expresses world view through the convention of words and ideas and helps in formulating theories and even philosophizing. According to S.A. Olaleye in “Introduction to Philosophy and Logic” language showcase the interrelationship between the subjectiveness and the objectiveness of what constitutes reality in a community.1 which means language is of utmost importance in knowing reality but If there is no means of communication or if language is ambiguous, what will the world looks like? People will live in frustration which is a feelings of disappointment and anger and society will be in jeopardy leaving it in anarchic state which is why some scholars believed that language must be analyzed in other for us to know what reality entails and to live peacefully.

Some philosophers and scholars are of the view that analysis of language is of paramount importance when it comes to knowledge acquisition. Philosophy which connote love of wisdom started as a result of inquisition about the world with the three Milesians starting from Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes and so far so good, questions about knowledge dominated philosophy, questions like what can we know, how can we know and what do we know hence the development of many theories as well as the methods in which they could use to ascertain knowledge in order to prove to the skeptics that acquisition of knowledge is possible and plausible. It started with the traditional epistemologist who are of the view that for ones belief to become knowledge, it must have a tripartite nature, that is, one’s belief must be true  and justifiable (JTB) with people like Plato and the rest.2

But Gettier came asking for the fourth condition to add to justified true belief for it to become knowledge saying that the three conditions postulated by the traditional epistemologist are not enough for acquisition of knowledge which brought to the limelight post Gettier analysis and also saw to the waking of theories of epistemic justification like foundationalism, coherentism, contexualism, perception, idealism, realism, sense datum theory phenomenalism, reliabilism etcetera  and in the mist of proving and asserting the possibility of knowledge, came the most dominant and recognized tradition in the 20th century, the movement of Analytic Philosophy which encompass both logical atomism and logical positivism and laid much emphasis on philosophical analysis.3     

Philosophical analysis is a term of art which has been used by different scholars and philosophers to express different views. The germane question strenuously discussed since the waking of analysis as a philosophical approach are “What is to be analyzed (e.g. words, sentence, concepts and proposition), what can be called a successful analysis and what is the outcome of the philosophical analysis. Philosophical analysis is involved with the analysis of complexes into their constituent, for some, reality is to be analyzed in order to gain absolute knowledge while some believed it is fact, to Russell, analysis was thought to disclose the ultimate constituents of the world and the most general facts of which it consist. While for Moore, it is to reveal the composition of mind independent concepts and proposition which constitute objectives reality. Wittgenstein on the other hand believed that human thought and language was the matter of analysis but for Carnap it was language, etcetera as pointed out by Matar and Biletzki in their book titled “The Story of Analytic Philosophy”4 but what they all held in common was the analysis of language because they believed that anything that involves communication requires a medium for communication and all medium for communication involves language thus language pervades all aspect of human life and if language is properly analyzed, all philosophical issues and problems will be solved starting from Aristotle who was of the view that before anything can be proved, we must have a clear starting point and the starting point is the point of language analysis because according to him, language is the instrument for formulating scientific thought and logic is the analysis of language, the process of reasoning and the way language and reasoning are related to reality.

Logical Atomism is the metaphysical system which is mainly attributed to Russell and Wittgenstein. Its two major parts are the picture theory of language and the verification theory of meaning. Its method is reductive analysis by means of an ideal language. The concern of this research is focused on the analysis of the contemporary philosophical trend of logical atomism down to logical positivist to show whether they have really analyze language as they claim even if they have, did they succeed and if they do, has it changed the misuse of language in our society?

Logical atomism as championed by Russell believed that if language is coined and used properly, philosophers can render genuine service by carefully unpacking complex problems whose origins rest in the imprecise use of language which has been a syndrome in the philosophical society and the world over the century.6 They sought to show that traditional philosophical problems can be avoided entirely if language is used and conveyed properly by the application of an appropriate methodology.7

Logical as define by Russell and quoted by G. O. Ozumba means arising out of analysis of proposition while atom is seen as the smallest constituent of realty8. The main concern of this school of thought is the analysis of facts, the clarification of structure and the interrelationship of facts and thus of the world and clarifying of notion through an analysis of language.9 Analytic philosophers which encompass logical atomist and logical positivist believed that rigorous linguistic analysis could prevent the use and abuse of language in a way that would cause us to draw false inference, ask spurious questions like metaphysical questions or make nonsensical assumptions10 as opined by A. J. Ayer. Though according to Russell, “logical atomism has to be seen as not being against metaphysics but as a superior metaphysics that has come to take place of inferior ones”11

He was more concerned with providing an alternative metaphysics that will replace what he regarded as the decadent metaphysics of Hegelianism according to Ozumba  and in so doing Russell adopts the skeleton of the “principia”  to fashion a new language which will correspond to fact, enabling him to eliminate all errors arising from the inexact nature of ordinary language12 so also the logical positivist that grew out of logical atomism, also formulating their own criterion of meaning which led to the development of science and eradication of metaphysics.13 however they met with their downfall in their own criterion of meaning and principle of verification because it is glaring that metaphysical concepts cannot be eradicated since its part of nature and there is more to nature than it meets the eyes and if the physical aspect of reality is only admitted and ascertain then how can we account for the corporeal and spiritual aspect of nature besides there are still some phenomena that science cannot explain which shows that in a way this philosophical trend has tried to draw our attention to the problems inherent in our day to day expression of ideas through our language but has failed in its proposed criterion of solving the problems in language. The only thing they were able to create were more problems by creating an ideal language because natural language itself is problematic and has not adequately express all of our feelings let alone ideal language which is even private and not public.

The issue which will be considered in this research work is that of language analysis. The contemporary logical atomism trend believed that for language to be free of ambiguity it must first be analyzed. Thus we will show what the view or opinion of the philosophers in this school of thought is, concerning language analysis, most especially Bertrand Russell, what language means according to them and what led them into analyzing it, how they have analyzed language, their achievement and criticism which I called overview and to show if it has truly helped the misuse of language in the society or not. Also to show the gap in knowledge and to proffer solution. All these will be briefly analyzed then it will be narrowed down back to Bertrand Russell’s logical atomism because we can say the tradition started from him since Moore was only concerned with analysis of ordinary language. Also the philosophical exercise of some figures in trend will be analysed.

The tradition begins with G.E. Moore (1873 - 1958) and Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970). Moore whose attention was drawn to and baffled by the indifferent disposition towards common sense adopted by some of his philosophical mentors was particular and direct his attack on the absolute idealist maxim which says “to be is to be perceived”, he rejected the notion of object existing dependently of the mind and also believes that analysis is for concepts and not for expression and also analyzed ordinary usage of language14.

Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970) who is the main exponent of logical atomism question the extravagance of language of metaphysics been used by the idealist because Hegelian concept of the absolute seems to him loose and obscure and also believe that objects exist independent of the perceiving mind15. His aim is to have a language that constitute simple symbols that will correspond directly to facts they picture thus it will be a superior metaphysics that will replace the Hegelian metaphysics. A perfect language according to him will show at once the logical structure of the fact that is asserted as shown by A.D. Irvine in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”16.

He hoped that we will be in the right position after analysis to declare those propositions that pretend to have meaning when in the real sense of it they picture no fact in the world however he was not successful because he has only been able to create an ideal language and there are some words which correspond to no atomic fact like “all horse” and also Russell was not able to explain his theory of fact very well, he was only able to show by example the relationship between fact and words.17

Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951) whose version of logical atomism was clearly spelt out in his book “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” was influenced by Bertrand Russell and extended a view of philosophical analysis which is a more distinct version of Russell’s. Like Russell he was of the view that the world is made up of facts, complex facts which are made up of simple facts, each of which is composed of simple objects in some definite arrangement and that the only function of language is to picture reality.18 He was of the view that object exist with their names and that these objects are directly named and names do not need any greater definition because they are simples and comes under what he calls atomic facts and any statement in its atomic form will picture reality directly but he later turn from the analysis of Russell and adopted that of Moore who analyzed ordinary usage of language because he now believed that language has many function and not just giving names to things. The work of Wittgenstein greatly influenced the Vienna circle also called the logical positivists.19

Logical positivism (also known as logical empiricism or logical neo-positivism) was a philosophical movement raised in Austria and Germany in 1920s, they were concerned with the logical analysis of scientific knowledge, which ascertain that statements about metaphysics, religion, and ethics are completely without meaning and only portrays our expression of feelings or desires. They only approved of statements about mathematics, logic and natural sciences which have a definite meaning and these gives rise to the development of science and eradication of metaphysics as published in encyclopedia of unbelief.20 Its members included Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970), considered the leading figure of logical positivism, Herbert Feigl (1902-88), Philipp Frank (1884-1966), Kurt Grelling (1886-1942), Hans Hahn (1879-1934), Carl Gustav Hempel (1905-97), Victor Kraft (1880-1975), Otto Neurath (1882-1945), Hans Reichenbach (1891 1953), Moritz Schlick (1882-1936), Friedrich Waismann (1896-1959).

According to logical positivism, all meaningful statements can be divided in two classes, one containing the statements that are true or false based on their logical forms or their meaning (analytic) e.g. “all bachelors are unmarried men”, the other containing the statements whose truth or falsity can be ascertained only by means of the experience (synthetic) e.g. “the sun will rise tomorrow”. Logic and mathematics belong to the class of analytic statements, since they are true based on the meaning ascribed to the logical constants. The class of empirically verifiable statements includes all statement which can be verified through perception. A statement is meaningful if and only if it can be proved true or false, at least in principle, by means of the experience or in virtue of its meaning and these is what is called verification principle according to the positivist as shown in “Socrates to Sartre and beyond”.21

Thus statements about metaphysics, religion and ethics are meaningless and must be rejected as nonsensical. Many philosophical problems according to them, like the controversy between empiricist and rationalist so also realists and instrumentalists, are indeed pseudo problems, the outcome of a misuse of language. Thus the logical analysis of language was regarded by logical atomism and positivism as a major instrument in resolving philosophical problems.22

Philosophical movements rise and fall, not to think of those that set out to end all movements or even philosophy itself. Having fulfill its purpose a movement is either found wanting or judged to have made a contribution and the same goes to both logical positivism and logical atomism as a trend. They both have the positive and negative side which has made philosopher to commend and criticize them.

The aims and purpose of this long essay is to analyze the philosophical trend of logical atomism, to show that they have created more problems for language by creating an ideal language because natural language itself is problematic and has not been adequate enough to express all of our feelings not to mention ideal language which is not public but private.

To achieve this set goal, this research work will adopted the method critical conceptual analysis and the scope of the study will be limited only to the exponent of logical atomism and logical positivism and it will also be a compendium that can be traced to metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of language.

This research work will be divided in to three chapters and a conclusion. Chapter one will present to us the background to logical atomism, what led and motivated Russell into formulating his ideal language known as logical atomism.

While chapter two will examine the logical atomism of Bertrand Russell, the philosophers he influenced, what their contribution is pertaining to analysis of language to solve philosophical problem and how it leads to the formulation of their principle, elimination of metaphysics and development of science.

Chapter three will give us the critique of logical atomism trend, from Russell to his successors. Showing their shortcomings.

While the conclusion will show the summary of the work, conclusion and recommendation.

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Omowumi, A (2019). Logical Atomism: A Contemporary Philosophical Trend.. Afribary.com: Retrieved September 18, 2019, from https://afribary.com/works/logical-atomism-a-contemporary-philosophical-trend

MLA 8th

Afolabi, Omowumi. "Logical Atomism: A Contemporary Philosophical Trend." Afribary.com. Afribary.com, 19 Aug. 2019, https://afribary.com/works/logical-atomism-a-contemporary-philosophical-trend . Accessed 18 Sep. 2019.


Afolabi, Omowumi. "Logical Atomism: A Contemporary Philosophical Trend.". Afribary.com, Afribary.com, 19 Aug. 2019. Web. 18 Sep. 2019. < https://afribary.com/works/logical-atomism-a-contemporary-philosophical-trend >.


Afolabi, Omowumi. "Logical Atomism: A Contemporary Philosophical Trend." Afribary.com (2019). Accessed September 18, 2019. https://afribary.com/works/logical-atomism-a-contemporary-philosophical-trend