The Verification Principle

Throughout the years, science has been a very productive practice. From explaining why and how things happen to sending people to the moon. Not only do we see its benefits every day, but also new discoveries are being made constantly. Science has proven its success. By using the scientific method and critical thinking, a wide range of things have been discovered. One cannot say the same for philosophy. Many of the questions that were asked by the very first philosophers are still being contemplated and debated over today.

Some philosophers thought that in order to make philosophy as successful as science that they would need to adopt a method such as the scientific method. Thus, the Verification Principle came to be. The philosophers with this idea that philosophy needs to be successful, like science, were the logical positivists. These philosophers had a “scientific envy,” wanting to make philosophy more scientific. Their method to become more “scientific” was to create the Verification Principle.

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It states that “A statement is cognitively meaningful if and only if it is either analytic or in principle empirically verified.

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They thought that if something cannot be verified analytically or by experiment, then there is no need to debate about it. To understand this principle, one must understand some of the key terms and concepts in it. Something can be described as cognitively meaningful if it can be found to be true or false. Therefore, a statement must have a truth-value. According to the Verification Principle, in order to find if something is true or false, it must be analytic or in principle empirically verified. Something is analytic if it can be found by mathematical means or by using logic.

Twenty divided by two equals twenty-two is an example of an analytical statement. Whether the statement that twenty divided by two equals twenty-two is correct, or not, by using mathematical reasoning, the answer can be found to be true or false. Another example of an analytical statement would be as follows: “A guitar is a musical instrument, and musical instruments sound beautiful. Thus, a guitar sounds beautiful. ” Since the argument flows in a logical pattern, the statement is said to be analytic, and therefore, also cognitively meaningful.

The last part of the Verification Principle states that a cognitively meaningful statement must be in principle empirically verified. For something to be in principle empirically verified, it must be able to be, in theory, proven experimentally. For instance, the statement, “Hell is located in the core of Earth,” can be empirically verified. Although it has not yet been proven or disproven, theoretically it could be. Although challenging, I am sure, but eventually we could somehow get a person, or group of people, to dig deep enough and then see if our core is in fact “Hell.

A new and revised Verification Principle would be as follows: A statement can be found to be true or false if and only if it can be found using mathematical reasoning, logic, or if it can be found in principle experimentally. If a statement is not found to have a truth-value using any of these methods, then it is said to be cognitively meaningless, and consequently, does not need to be discussed. The statement that “God exists” would be considered cognitively meaningless. It cannot be proven mathematically, or logically, that God exists. Nor can it be proven with any type of experiment.

Since it is cognitively meaningless, there is no need to debate God’s existence. According to the Verification Principle, many philosophical concepts and questions no longer need to be discussed. One relevant subject, that would be deemed cognitively meaningless, is Ethics. Many if not all statements, or questions, in Ethics cannot be determined analytically or empirically verified. As such, Ethics should no longer be discussed. Whether a person murdering in the name of patriotism or defending one’s own life is ethical, is pointless to debate because it has no truth-value.

A mathematician cannot figure out using a formula whether these acts of murder are ethical. Neither can a person use logic to find the answer. It would be absurd to think that a person could determine the answer to the question using an experimental method. Ethics in general, becomes pointless to discuss. Many have objected to the Verification Principle since many things, are considered cognitively meaningless, but do require attention and discussion. Axiology, which asks the question “What are values,” is completely “cognitively meaningless” under the principle. Some would say that this could not be correct since values are imperative.

Values create a sense of character, personality, and meaning. Surely, we should not just throw out the whole study of what our values are because the answer to the questions cannot be found analytically or by experiment. David Hume brings up a valid point that contradicts the Verification Principle, stating that the principle itself is self-contradicting. Hume points out that science relies on principles that cannot pass the Verification Principle. By the logical positivists trying to mirror the success of science, they created a principle that even the principles of science do not pass.

One such principle is the Principle of Induction. This principle, in crude terms, states that the future will resemble the past. According to the Verification Principle, this statement is cognitively meaningless. Once again, neither mathematics nor logic can be used to determine a truth-value to this statement. It also cannot be proven in principle by experiment. Since we are always in the present or looking back into the past, we cannot say that the future will resemble the past, but science bases its rules, theories, and discoveries on this principle.

Another scientific principle that does not pass the Verification Principle is the Principle of Universal Causation. It states, also crudely, that every event has a cause. Since there is no way to experimentally determine that every event that has ever happened, or will happen, has a cause, it is cognitively meaningless. Hence, if the Verification Principle is correct, then science itself is cognitively meaningless and does not need to be debated nor discussed. In my opinion, the Verification Principle is not a valid basis on which to determine whether a subject should be discussed or not.

Many things, such as ethics, need to be discussed. If we chose to follow the guidelines of the principle, there would be no need to discuss ethics. This would in turn eventually cause people to forget what ethics or an ethical judgment is. There would be no sense of what is good or bad; only who has the bigger gun. Society would be reduced to animals, though we are already close to that point. By people discussing ethics, and ethical judgments, though we may never reach a conclusion or agreement on some aspects of the subject, we choose to not forget about what is just and that there is a difference between right and wrong.

Though philosophy may not have all too much to show for all of its work, at least if compared to science, then at the very least it causes people to think for themselves and to not forget about things which are important to human nature. Such things as religion, ethics, values, and creativity are all important to us as humans. If using the Verification Principle, all such things would be “cognitively meaningless. ” In a way, it is the things that are “cognitively meaningless” that are more important than the “cognitively meaningful. They are what define us and not only set us apart from all other species, but also from each other. In conclusion, the Verification Principle was a way for some philosophers to make philosophy successful much like science. The principle states that “A statement is cognitively meaningful if and only if it is either analytical or in principle empirically verified. ”

Many things in philosophy, such as Ethics, in this sense are “cognitively meaningless” and should not be discussed. David Hume pointed out that science is based on principles that do not pass the Verification Principle and is therefore “cognitively meaningless. To be fair, the Verification Principle was a poor attempt to try to put a value on the success of philosophy. The greatness of philosophy though, is that it is not based solely on numbers, logic, and experiments, but also on critical thinking. It is that aspect of philosophy that sets humankind apart from the rest of the animals on Earth. Although some of the questions of philosophy may never be solved, the true success of philosophy is that it causes people to think and to search for answers instead of accepting what they have always “known” as truth.

Updated: Dec 23, 2020
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The Verification Principle. (2017, Jan 22). Retrieved from

The Verification Principle essay
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