Logical Positivism – Schlick

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.


Moritz Schlick (1882-1936)

Moritz Schlick was born on April 14, 1882 in Berlin. After studying in both Heidelberg and Lausanne, he returned to Berlin to complete his doctorate in physics, which remained his speciality even as he became recognised as a philosopher.

From his arrival at the University of Vienna in 1922, Schlick assumed the prestigious chair of Naturphilosophie, and as such was brought into contact with many other great scientifically minded thinkers and philosophers. In advance of the creation of the Vienna Circle (which occurred later in the 1920s) he and many others discussed logic and the foundations of mathematics, and in particular Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It was in fact the arrival of Wittgenstein in Vienna, and the subsequent philosophical discussion between him and Schlick, that led to the gathering of many like minded academics, and subsequently to the creation of the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivists, a group which Schlick chaired until his death in 1936. Schlick’s eagerness to create the group was largely down to his scepticism towards metaphysics, and a desire to replace its dominance of philosophy with empiricism.

On a personal level, Schlick was interested in creating a theory of knowledge based on empirical evidence and symbolic logic, and helped advance ideas in the logic of science and ethics, as well as the philosophy of life and culture. Schlick believed that the only way to verify factual knowledge was through direct observation, renouncing priori knowledge. In order to put across his views, Schlick was a prolific essayist and contributed largely to the output of the Vienna Circle. He utilised his position as a visiting professor to Stanford University to open up logical positivism within the USA, expanding its relatively narrow base in Vienna and Berlin.


Schlick’s untimely death in 1936, when he was shot by a mentally insane student of his, signalled the end of the Vienna Circle. He can be credited, though, with creating ‘one of the most influential and lasting schools of thought in the 20th century’.