Rudolf Carnap’s Philosophy and Logical Syntax is the substance of three lectures that he gave at the University of London in 1934. As a result, the book is short, outlining the essentials of the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle from the viewpoint of probably the best known and perhaps the most influential member of the group.
Logical positivism had its origin in a seminar conducted in the 1920’s by Moritz Schlick at the University of Vienna. A number of the members of this group, the original Vienna Circle, were scientists reacting against those idealist philosophers who pontificated, sometimes in almost complete ignorance, about the aim and function of science. Part of positivism’s program was the explicit rejection of this kind of irresponsible philosophizing. Another characteristic concern of the group was a strong interest in logic, an interest that grew out of its members’ admiration for the work that had been done on the foundations of mathematics toward the close of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, particularly the work of Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell in their Principia Mathematica (1910-1913). These interests quite naturally led the Vienna group to deliberate regarding philosophy’s proper business. They decided that philosophy is properly the analysis and clarification of meaningful language. By meaningful language, they meant the language of empirical science together with the language of mathematics; all other language, they held, lacked cognitive meaning. The Vienna Circle philosophers gave expression to this conviction in their criterion of empirical meaning, a widely known and vigorously debated tenet of logical positivism.