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Logical Positivism (Phil 407.03)

Official, printable outlines can be found at the end of this page.


Course Description

A discussion of the development of the philosophy of logical positivism, in particular, the Vienna Circle, including its origins and influences. We will begin by studying developments in science, mathematics, and philosophy around the turn of the century which were of particular importance to the philosophers in the Vienna Circle, such as Poincaré and Hilbert on geometry and Russell's logical atomism. In our discussion of the Vienna Circle, we will focus on the work of Rudolf Carnap. The last weeks of the semester will be concerned with the debate between Carnap and Quine in the 1940s.


Two previous courses in Philosophy, at least one of which is at the 300-level or higher, and the other of which must be PHIL 279 or 377; or consent of the Department.

Required Texts

J. Alberto Coffa, The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap: To the Vienna Station (Cambridge University Press, 1991)

Rudolf Carnap, The Logical Structure of the World and Pseudoproblems in Philosophy (Open Court)

All available at the University of Calgary Bookstore. Selected additional texts will be made available in hardcopy or electronically.

Requirements and Evaluation

Writing Assignments

There will be 3 short writing assignments (5% each, or 15% of the final grade; 250 words max), one mid-term paper (1,600 words max; 25%), and one final paper (2,500 words max; 35%). There will be no exams. You will be given a choice of topics for the mid-term paper. The final paper will be a project on a topic of your choice, and will require independent research. You will give a short presentation on the content of your final paper in the last week of class, the presentation will count %5 towards your final grade. You may collaborate with one other student on the
final project.

All assignments should be typed/printed, double-spaced, on white (recycled is ok) letter-size paper with 3 cm margins all around, preferably in 12 point Times or a similar serif font.


Class participation counts for 20% of your final grade. Your participation will be assessed on the basis of your contribution to discussion in class and on the course website. (If you are shy and don't want to speak in class, 5 posts with substantive philosophical content in the online discussion forum will earn you an A for this part of the final grade.) However, if all of your posts occur within one 7-day period, at most 3 of them will be counted toward your participation mark. Only posts before the due date of the final paper count.

Evaluation and Grades

On each assignment you will receive a letter grade reflecting the level of comprehension of the readings and your ability to assess philosophical arguments shown by the work you submit. There will be no +/? grades, but “slash” grades (e.g., A/B) are possible. The meanings of letter grades are defined in the Calendar; for written work, they amount roughly to the following criteria:

A Excellent—superior performance, showing comprehensive understanding of subject matter. (Your writing is clear and concise; your assignments make obvious that your understanding of the issues and arguments is correct and complete; you show superior ability in representing and assessing others’ philosophical arguments; you show ability for original philosophical thinking).

B Good—clearly above average performance with knowledge of subject matter generally complete. (You show a good grasp of the assigned reading; but either your writing is not perfectly clear or your assignments are largely only expository and don’t show the critical ability required for an A).

C Satisfactory—basic understanding of the subject matter. (Your work shows that you’ve worked through the reading and attended class, but your assignments misrepresent the arguments we’re discussing, or your criticisms are off the mark.)

D Minimal pass—marginal performance. (Your work is unclear or confused; or you grossly misrepresent the arguments we’re discussing.)

F Fail—Unsatisfactory performance. (Your work fails to show that you’ve made a serious attempt at coming to grips with the material; or your writing borders on the incomprehensible.)

Note the emphasis in the above on the fact that it is not enough that you understand the issues we discuss, your written work must show this. Thus, the quality of your writing will be a major factor in which grade you’ll get. If your sentences miss subjects or verbs, your cross-references are unclear, or you use terminology ambiguously, you will receive a lower mark than if you had composed and proof-read your paper more carefully.

In computing your final grade, your marks will be converted to grade points and averaged according to the weights given above. The correspondence of letter grades with grade points is defined in the Calendar (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, F = 0). “Slash” grades receive 0.5 below the value of the higher grade (e.g., A/B = 3.5). The final grade will be the letter grade corresponding to the weighted average of your assignments, paper, presenation, and participation plus a margin of 0.1. For the final grade, +’s and ?’s are possible, too; as defined in the Calendar, +/? adds/subtracts 0.3 grade points. In other words, a course average of 3.9 or higher receives an A; between 3.6 and 3.9, an A?; between 3.2 and 3.6, a B+; between 2.9 and 3.2, a B; and so on. There is no D? grade; to earn a D you require a course average of at least 0.9. The A+ grade is reserved for “truly outstanding” performance.

Assignments and Policies

Late work and extensions

Assignments handed in late will be penalized by the equivalent of one grade point per calendar day, unless you can document a medical or other valid reason for why your assignment is late. If you turn an assignment in late, you must give it to the instructor in person or put it in the department dropbox (it will then be date-stamped by department staff).

Note that the dropboxes are cleared at 4 pm, the department closes at 4:30 pm on weekdays and is closed Saturdays and Sundays.


You will find the University policy on plagiarism at the end of the printed version of this outline. Plagiarism is a very serious academic offense. It is \emph{not limited} to copying papers wholesale from the Internet; copying and close paraphrase of the texts, of the lectures, or of anyone (other than you) without clear attribution constitutes plagiarism.

Your assignments should only contain your own formulations. You should use direct quotes from the texts sparingly, and clearly mark them as such by using quotation marks and giving a source reference. When in doubt, consult with the instructor. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade on the assignment or in the course and a report to the Dean's office.


Checking your grades and reappraisals of work

University policies for reappraisal of term work and final grades apply (see the Calendar section ``Reappraisal of Grades and Academic Appeals''). In particular, term work will only be reappraised within 15 days of the date you are advised of your marks. Please keep track of your assignments (make sure to pick them up in lecture or in office hours) and your marks (check them on the website) and compare them with the graded work returned to you.

Course Website

A course website on U of C's BlackBoard server has been set up. You will be automatically registered if you're registered in the class. To access the BlackBoard site, you can either go directly to and log in with your UCIT account name and password, or you can access it through the myUofC portal (; log in with your eID). If you don't have an eID or UCIT account, see

Official Outlines