Logical Positivism as a Scientific Model
The positivist model of science predicates itself on the supposition that symbols of mathematical logic are accurate descriptors of cause and effect in the real world. It is a technique which attempted to provide a rational ground for the scientific method and to allow differentiation between science and pseudoscience.
We must remember that mathematical logic as we understand it today was developed only within the last two centuries, from 1870 to 1915, by Frege and Russel. Logical positivism, which originated in a sociological context with Auguste Comte, reigned for a time as a philosophy of science when the formal definitions of the newly-established discipline of mathematical logic was made to serve as a way to provide an intelligible foundation for the scientific method, to grant an authentic and provable reality to scientific truths found through experiment. Because mathematical logic is, like the number itself, essentially a context-free language of pure abstractions, it was perceived at the time as somewhat of a universal panacea.
The attractiveness of formal logic was itself only a step of scientific progress. Expressed in vague intuitions since Heraclitus and the earliest Pre-socratic philosophers of nature known to recorded history, taking form through Renaissance thought, and formalized in Newtonian physics and universal gravitation through mathematics and calculus, the idea of eternal laws of nature, eternal verities of existence, has existed. Indeed, we might consider logical positivism as simply another phase in Western thought's war of mind versus nature, a war towards which even Einstein, bringing us plasticity of space and time, refused to concede his hand to the stupid and blind Gnostic demiourgos - to indeterminacy and unpredictability.
Because it was an atheistic movement, positivism could not take refuge in a transcendent power of deity, so it instead was forced to conceive of the laws of causality as it functioned in the "real" world as simply one application of mathematical logic's symbol set - treating the laws of nature as material conditionals of universal scope ( (∀ x)(Px → Qx) ).
The "material conditional" can be thought of as a statement expressible in terms of an 'if...then' construction. A set of premises phrased as material conditionals is the positivist description of a scientific hypothesis.
The scientific body of knowledge is now to be conceived of as a set of "c-rules". These are expressed as material biconditionals ( (∀ x)(Px ≡ Qx) ). If the set of material conditionals was expressable in terms of the c-rules, the system of premises constuting the hypothesis was science. Otherwise it could be rejected as psuedoscience.
The flaws at this point should be rather obvious. First, what are the "c-rules" but previous Quine-Duhem Thesis which is now accepted as an absolute? This raises an additional question: where do we draw the line between experimentally-derived rules and experimental assumptions? When does experimental result suddenly absolutize itself into scientific law? Doesn't this imply that we can falsify our conclusions if our "c-rules" are not in fact absolutes, but arbitrary constructions which we assume to be true for pragmatic reasons, because we can experimentally duplicate the results?
Perhaps the most philosophically interesting aspect of the logical positivist model of scientific theory is the fact that we are assuming all causality as it occurs in the real world is explicable as a simple deterministic relationship of cause and effect.
The laws of Quantum physics or most any probabilistic model, are quite simply "magic" to positivism's very assumptions! Another problem is the nature of a material biconditional - to fulfill the logical definition in a causal sense means that the relationship must be reversible.
But thermodynamics does not imply for a closed system that a state of greater entropy tends toward a state of less entropy in nature -- in fact, its laws imply quite the opposite. In short, it tells us that there exists a definite linear continuity of time such that the natural tendency of the environment is to gain in entropy and the breaking of structure is non-reversible without artificial intervention -- the shattered glass will not tend to re-form itself!
Are thermodynamics or quantum physics thus to be rejected as spurious pseudosciences?
It would seem that the machinery of the universe is broken...
Or perhaps there is an inherent flaw in any model of reality based on making pragmatic truths into absolutes?!
Remarkably enough, these thoughts have occured to other people, too. Historical answers to these problems of classical positivism are beyond the intended scope of this introductory writeup and form the substance of formal coursework in the Philosophy of Science.
a few courses and 15 minutes glancing through old lecture notes. glad to see my Philosophy minor getting some use!