Susan Stebbing on Logical Positivism and Communication

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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In this paper, I look at Susan Stebbing’s articles and reviews that critically engage logical positivism. These appeared before the publication of A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic and helped shape the early British reception of logical positivism. I highlight Stebbing’s adoption of G.E. Moore’s tripartite distinction between knowing a proposition, understanding it, and giving an analysis of it and, in light of this distinction, her focus on whether the principle of verifiability can ground a plausible account of communication. Stebbing thinks not, and I reconstruct her reasons, as well as her own account of communication. In doing this, I relate her criticisms to her rejection of methodological solipsism and her dissatisfaction with the logical positivist treatment of statements about other minds and the past. I also argue that Stebbing’s work provides a bridge to later criticisms of logical positivism from ordinary language philosophers. Foregrounding Stebbing’s engagement with logical positivism, especially her focus on communication, paints a fuller picture of how the logical positivists came to be part of analytic philosophy despite having different concerns than many of the British philosophers engaging their work.

Author's Profile

Paul L. Franco
University of Washington


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