Logical Positivism – Frege

In a series of articles I will be forming a bite size guide to the philosophical composition known as Logical Positivism.


Logical positivism was a school of thought that appeared in Vienna in the 1920’s. It was centred around the discussions of a group of philosophers known as the Vienna Circle. They discussed logic, mathematics, language and had a great distaste of metaphysics. They claimed that true knowledge was gained through sense experience and reason alone. Influenced by advances in modern science, logical positivists sought to apply the scientific paradigm to philosophy and show metaphysics to be meaningless.


Gottlob Frege (1848 - 1925)

Prior to the time of the Vienna Circle meetings, one of the major figures of logical thought was producing ground breaking work that influenced logical positivists. Gottlob Frege was a mathematician working at the end of the nineteenth century whereby the majority of his time was dedicated to putting forward the view that mathematics can be reducible to logic.

As well as mathematics and logic, important theories on the philosophy of language were also authored by Frege that are still seen as insightful by many philosophers today.


Frege himself influenced one of the most well known and insightful philosophers in Wittgenstein and Russell as well as Vienna Circle member Rudolf Carnap who attended three courses taught by Frege on formal logic.

When the Circle first formed and began discussing logical positivism it was generally accepted the logicism of Frege and Russell, the Circle considered logic and mathematics to be analytic in nature.

Frege’s work in the field of mathematics was extensive as well as productive. His pioneering work in logic produced, for the first time, the logical system still used today including negation, truth tables and quantification.  From these concepts came his desire to transform the whole of mathematics into pure logic. Whilst it can be said he ultimately failed in doing so it is what he achieved during this time that secures Frege’s legacy as a prolific mathematician. 

What Frege excelled at was attributing logic to a variety of fields. He found that from normal sentences he could translate to the language of logic and then to a Mathematical equation.

When it came to Frege’s work on language, he conducted his work in an empirical style by investigating the logic behind thought and language. It would be a break through for those championing logic to see how thought depends on language and vice versa without answering through metaphysical routes. Whilst it was not language in particular that excited Frege it was the idea of relating something else to logic and therefore validity so that there can be set systems put in place for future usefulness.