The Myth of Logical Behaviourism and the Origins of the Identity Theory

In Michael Beaney (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Analytic Philosophy. Oxford University Press (2013)
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The identity theory’s rise to prominence in analytic philosophy of mind during the late 1950s and early 1960s is widely seen as a watershed in the development of physicalism, in the sense that whereas logical behaviourism proposed analytic and a priori ascertainable identities between the meanings of mental and physical-behavioural concepts, the identity theory proposed synthetic and a posteriori knowable identities between mental and physical properties. While this watershed does exist, the standard account of it is misleading, as it is founded in erroneous intensional misreadings of the logical positivists’—especially Carnap’s—extensional notions of translation and meaning, as well as misinterpretations of the positivists’ shift from the strong thesis of translation-physicalism to the weaker and more liberal notion of reduction-physicalism that occurred in the Unity of Science programme. After setting the historical record straight, the essay traces the first truly modern identity theory to Schlick’s pre-positivist views circa 1920 and goes on to explore its further development in Feigl, arguing that the fundamental difference between the Schlick-Feigl identity theory and the more familiar and influential Place-Smart-Armstrong identity theory has resurfaced in the deep and seemingly unbridgeable gulf in contemporary philosophy of consciousness between inflationary mentalism and deflationary physicalism.

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Sean Crawford
University of Manchester


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