Positivism is a philosophical theory stating that certain ("positive") knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Positivism holds that valid knowledge (certitude or truth) is found only in this a posteriori knowledge.
Positivism also holds that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws. Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected, as are metaphysics and theology because metaphysical and theological claims cannot be verified by sense experience. Although the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought, the modern approach was formulated by the philosopher Auguste Comte in the early 19th century. Comte argued that, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other absolute laws, so does society, and further developed positivism into a Religion of Humanity.
The English noun positivism was re-imported in the 19th century from the French word positivisme, derived from positif in its philosophical sense of 'imposed on the mind by experience'. The corresponding adjective (lat. positīvus) has been used in a similar sense to discuss law (positive law compared to natural law) since the time of Chaucer.
Positivism is part of a more general ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry, notably laid out by Plato and later reformulated as a quarrel between the sciences and the humanities, Plato elaborates a critique of poetry from the point of view of philosophy in his dialogues Phaedrus 245a, Symposium 209a, Republic 398a, Laws 817 b-d and Ion. Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911) popularized the distinction between Geisteswissenschaft (humanities) and Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences).
The consideration that laws in physics may not be absolute but relative, and, if so, this might be more true of social sciences, was stated, in different terms, by G. B. Vico in 1725. Vico, in contrast to the positivist movement, asserted the superiority of the science of the human mind (the humanities, in other words), on the grounds that natural sciences tell us nothing about the inward aspects of things.
Positivism asserts that all authentic knowledge allows verification and that all authentic knowledge assumes that the only valid knowledge is scientific. Thinkers such as Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825), Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827) and Auguste Comte (1798–1857) believed the scientific method, the circular dependence of theory and observation, must replace metaphysics in the history of thought. Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) reformulated sociological positivism as a foundation of social research.
Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), in contrast, fought strenuously against the assumption that only explanations derived from science are valid. He reprised the argument, already found in Vico, that scientific explanations do not reach the inner nature of phenomena and it is humanistic knowledge that gives us insight into thoughts, feelings and desires. Dilthey was in part influenced by the historicism of Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886).
At the turn of the 20th century the first wave of German sociologists, including Max Weber and Georg Simmel, rejected the doctrine, thus founding the antipositivist tradition in sociology. Later antipositivists and critical theorists have associated positivism with "scientism"; science as ideology. Later in his career (1969), German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg, Nobel laureate for pioneering work in quantum mechanics, distanced himself from positivism by saying:
The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can any one conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies.
In the early 20th century, logical positivism—a descendant of Comte's basic thesis but an independent movement—sprang up in Vienna and grew to become one of the dominant schools in Anglo-American philosophy and the analytic tradition. Logical positivists (or 'neopositivists') rejected metaphysical speculation and attempted to reduce statements and propositions to pure logic. Strong critiques of this approach by philosophers such as Karl Popper, Willard Van Orman Quine and Thomas Kuhn have been highly influential, and led to the development of postpositivism.
Arguments against positivist approaches in historiography include that history differs from sciences like physics and ethology in subject matter and method. That much of what history studies is nonquantifiable, and therefore to quantify is to lose in precision. Experimental methods and mathematical models do not generally apply to history, and it is not possible to formulate general (quasi-absolute) laws in history.
Positivism in the social sciences is usually characterized by quantitative approaches and the proposition of quasi-absolute laws. A significant exception to this trend is represented by cultural anthropology, which tends naturally toward qualitative approaches.
In psychology the positivist movement was influential in the development of operationalism. The 1927 philosophy of science book The Logic of Modern Physics in particular, which was originally intended for physicists, coined the term operational definition, which went on to dominate psychological method for the whole century.
In economics, practising researchers tend to emulate the methodological assumptions of classical positivism, but only in a de facto fashion: the majority of economists do not explicitly concern themselves with matters of epistemology. Economic thinker Friedrich Hayek (see "Law, Legislation and Liberty") rejected positivism in the social sciences as hopelessly limited in comparison to evolved and divided knowledge. For example, much (positivist) legislation falls short in contrast to pre-literate or incompletely defined common or evolved law. In jurisprudence, "legal positivism" essentially refers to the rejection of natural law; thus its common meaning with philosophical positivism is somewhat attenuated and in recent generations generally emphasizes the authority of human political structures as opposed to a "scientific" view of law.
In the early 1970s, urbanists of the positivist-quantitative school like David Harvey started to question the positivist approach itself, saying that the arsenal of scientific theories and methods developed so far in their camp were "incapable of saying anything of depth and profundity" on the real problems of contemporary cities.
In contemporary social science, strong accounts of positivism have long since fallen out of favour. Practitioners of positivism today acknowledge in far greater detail observer bias and structural limitations. Modern positivists generally eschew metaphysical concerns in favour of methodological debates concerning clarity, replicability, reliability and validity. This positivism is generally equated with "quantitative research" and thus carries no explicit theoretical or philosophical commitments. The institutionalization of this kind of sociology is often credited to Paul Lazarsfeld, who pioneered large-scale survey studies and developed statistical techniques for analyzing them. This approach lends itself to what Robert K. Merton called middle-range theory: abstract statements that generalize from segregated hypotheses and empirical regularities rather than starting with an abstract idea of a social whole.
Other new movements, such as critical realism, have emerged to reconcile the overarching aims of social science with postmodern critiques. There are now at least twelve distinct epistemologies that are referred to as positivism.
Auguste Comte (1798–1857) first described the epistemological perspective of positivism in The Course in Positive Philosophy, a series of texts published between 1830 and 1842. These texts were followed by the 1844 work, A General View of Positivism (published in French 1848, English in 1865). The first three volumes of the Course dealt chiefly with the physical sciences already in existence (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology), whereas the latter two emphasized the inevitable coming of social science. Observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science, and classifying the sciences in this way, Comte may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. For him, the physical sciences had necessarily to arrive first, before humanity could adequately channel its efforts into the most challenging and complex "Queen science" of human society itself. His View of Positivism therefore set out to define the empirical goals of sociological method.
The most important thing to determine was the natural order in which the sciences stand—not how they can be made to stand, but how they must stand, irrespective of the wishes of any one. ... This Comte accomplished by taking as the criterion of the position of each the degree of what he called "positivity," which is simply the degree to which the phenomena can be exactly determined. This, as may be readily seen, is also a measure of their relative complexity, since the exactness of a science is in inverse proportion to its complexity. The degree of exactness or positivity is, moreover, that to which it can be subjected to mathematical demonstration, and therefore mathematics, which is not itself a concrete science, is the general gauge by which the position of every science is to be determined. Generalizing thus, Comte found that there were five great groups of phenomena of equal classificatory value but of successively decreasing positivity. To these he gave the names astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology.
Comte offered an account of social evolution, proposing that society undergoes three phases in its quest for the truth according to a general "law of three stages". The idea bears some similarity to Marx's belief that human society would progress toward a communist peak (see dialectical materialism). This is perhaps unsurprising as both were profoundly influenced by the early Utopian socialist, Henri de Saint-Simon, who was at one time Comte's mentor. Comte intended to develop a secular-scientific ideology in the wake of European secularisation.
Comte's stages were (1) the theological, (2) the metaphysical, and (3) the positive. The theological phase of man was based on whole-hearted belief in all things with reference to God. God, Comte says, had reigned supreme over human existence pre-Enlightenment. Humanity's place in society was governed by its association with the divine presences and with the church. The theological phase deals with humankind's accepting the doctrines of the church (or place of worship) rather than relying on its rational powers to explore basic questions about existence. It dealt with the restrictions put in place by the religious organization at the time and the total acceptance of any "fact" adduced for society to believe.
Comte describes the metaphysical phase of humanity as the time since the Enlightenment, a time steeped in logical rationalism, to the time right after the French Revolution. This second phase states that the universal rights of humanity are most important. The central idea is that humanity is invested with certain rights that must be respected. In this phase, democracies and dictators rose and fell in attempts to maintain the innate rights of humanity.
The final stage of the trilogy of Comte's universal law is the scientific, or positive, stage. The central idea of this phase is that individual rights are more important than the rule of any one person. Comte stated that the idea of humanity's ability to govern itself makes this stage inherently different from the rest. There is no higher power governing the masses and the intrigue of any one person can achieve anything based on that individual's free will. The third principle is most important in the positive stage. Comte calls these three phases the universal rule in relation to society and its development. Neither the second nor the third phase can be reached without the completion and understanding of the preceding stage. All stages must be completed in progress.
Comte believed that the appreciation of the past and the ability to build on it towards the future was key in transitioning from the theological and metaphysical phases. The idea of progress was central to Comte's new science, sociology. Sociology would "lead to the historical consideration of every science" because "the history of one science, including pure political history, would make no sense unless it was attached to the study of the general progress of all of humanity". As Comte would say: "from science comes prediction; from prediction comes action." It is a philosophy of human intellectual development that culminated in science. The irony of this series of phases is that though Comte attempted to prove that human development has to go through these three stages, it seems that the positivist stage is far from becoming a realization. This is due to two truths: The positivist phase requires having a complete understanding of the universe and world around us and requires that society should never know if it is in this positivist phase. Anthony Giddens argues that since humanity constantly uses science to discover and research new things, humanity never progresses beyond the second metaphysical phase.
Comte's fame today owes in part to Emile Littré, who founded The Positivist Review in 1867. As an approach to the philosophy of history, positivism was appropriated by historians such as Hippolyte Taine. Many of Comte's writings were translated into English by the Whig writer, Harriet Martineau, regarded by some as the first female sociologist. Debates continue to rage as to how much Comte appropriated from the work of his mentor, Saint-Simon. He was nevertheless influential: Brazilian thinkers turned to Comte's ideas about training a scientific elite in order to flourish in the industrialization process. Brazil's national motto, Ordem e Progresso ("Order and Progress") was taken from the positivism motto, "Love as principle, order as the basis, progress as the goal", which was also influential in Poland.
In later life, Comte developed a 'religion of humanity' for positivist societies in order to fulfil the cohesive function once held by traditional worship. In 1849, he proposed a calendar reform called the 'positivist calendar'. For close associate John Stuart Mill, it was possible to distinguish between a "good Comte" (the author of the Course in Positive Philosophy) and a "bad Comte" (the author of the secular-religious system). The system was unsuccessful but met with the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species to influence the proliferation of various Secular Humanist organizations in the 19th century, especially through the work of secularists such as George Holyoake and Richard Congreve. Although Comte's English followers, including George Eliot and Harriet Martineau, for the most part rejected the full gloomy panoply of his system, they liked the idea of a religion of humanity and his injunction to "vivre pour autrui" ("live for others", from which comes the word "altruism").
The early sociology of Herbert Spencer came about broadly as a reaction to Comte; writing after various developments in evolutionary biology, Spencer attempted (in vain) to reformulate the discipline in what we might now describe as socially Darwinistic terms.
Fabien Magnin was the first working class adherent to Comte's ideas. Comte appointed him as his successor as president of the Positive Society in the event of Comte's death. Magnin filled this role from 1857 to 1880, when he resigned. Magnin was in touch with the English positivists Richard Congreve and Edward Spencer Beesly. He established the Cercle des prolétaires positivistes in 1863 which was affiliated to the First International. Eugène Sémérie was a psychiatrist who was also involved in the Positivist movement, setting up a positivist club in Paris after the foundation of the French Third Republic in 1870. "Positivism is not only a philosophical doctrine, it is also a political party which claims to reconcile order – the necessary basis for all social activity – with Progress, which is its goal." he wrote.
The modern academic discipline of sociology began with the work of Émile Durkheim (1858–1917). While Durkheim rejected much of the details of Comte's philosophy, he retained and refined its method, maintaining that the social sciences are a logical continuation of the natural ones into the realm of human activity, and insisting that they may retain the same objectivity, rationalism, and approach to causality. Durkheim set up the first European department of sociology at the University of Bordeaux in 1895, publishing his Rules of the Sociological Method (1895). In this text he argued: "[o]ur main goal is to extend scientific rationalism to human conduct... What has been called our positivism is but a consequence of this rationalism."
Durkheim's seminal monograph, Suicide (1897), a case study of suicide rates amongst Catholic and Protestant populations, distinguished sociological analysis from psychology or philosophy. By carefully examining suicide statistics in different police districts, he attempted to demonstrate that Catholic communities have a lower suicide rate than Protestants, something he attributed to social (as opposed to individual or psychological) causes. He developed the notion of objective sui generis "social facts" to delineate a unique empirical object for the science of sociology to study. Through such studies, he posited, sociology would be able to determine whether a given society is 'healthy' or 'pathological', and seek social reform to negate organic breakdown or "social anomie". Durkheim described sociology as the "science of institutions, their genesis and their functioning".
Ashley Ornstein has alleged, in a consumer textbook published by Pearson Education, that accounts of Durkheim's positivism are possibly exaggerated and oversimplified; Comte was the only major sociological thinker to postulate that the social realm may be subject to scientific analysis in exactly the same way as natural science, whereas Durkheim saw a far greater need for a distinctly sociological scientific methodology. His lifework was fundamental in the establishment of practical social research as we know it today—techniques which continue beyond sociology and form the methodological basis of other social sciences, such as political science, as well of market research and other fields.
At the turn of the 20th century, the first wave of German sociologists formally introduced methodological antipositivism, proposing that research should concentrate on human cultural norms, values, symbols, and social processes viewed from a subjective perspective. Max Weber argued that sociology may be loosely described as a 'science' as it is able to identify causal relationships—especially among ideal types, or hypothetical simplifications of complex social phenomena. As a nonpositivist, however, one seeks relationships that are not as "ahistorical, invariant, or generalizable" as those pursued by natural scientists. Weber regarded sociology as the study of social action, using critical analysis and verstehen techniques. The sociologists Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies, George Herbert Mead, and Charles Cooley were also influential in the development of sociological antipositivism, whilst neo-Kantian philosophy, hermeneutics, and phenomenology facilitated the movement in general.
Karl Marx's theory of historical materialism and critical analysis drew upon positivism, a tradition which would continue in the development of critical theory. However, following in the tradition of both Weber and Marx, the critical theorist Jürgen Habermas has critiqued pure instrumental rationality (in its relation to the cultural "rationalisation" of the modern West) as meaning that scientific thinking becomes something akin to ideology itself. Positivism may be espoused by "technocrats" who believe in the inevitability of social progress through science and technology. New movements, such as critical realism, have emerged in order to reconcile postpositivist aims with various so-called 'postmodern' perspectives on the social acquisition of knowledge.
In the original Comtean usage, the term "positivism" roughly meant the use of scientific methods to uncover the laws according to which both physical and human events occur, while "sociology" was the overarching science that would synthesize all such knowledge for the betterment of society. "Positivism is a way of understanding based on science"; people don't rely on the faith of God but instead of the science behind humanity. "Antipositivism" formally dates back to the start of the twentieth century, and is based on the belief that natural and human sciences are ontologically and epistemologically distinct. Neither of these terms is used any longer in this sense. There are no fewer than twelve distinct epistemologies that are referred to as positivism. Many of these approaches do not self-identify as "positivist", some because they themselves arose in opposition to older forms of positivism, and some because the label has over time become a term of abuse by being mistakenly linked with a theoretical empiricism. The extent of antipositivist criticism has also become broad, with many philosophies broadly rejecting the scientifically based social epistemology and other ones only seeking to amend it to reflect 20th century developments in the philosophy of science. However, positivism (understood as the use of scientific methods for studying society) remains the dominant approach to both the research and the theory construction in contemporary sociology, especially in the United States.
The majority of articles published in leading American sociology and political science journals today are positivist (at least to the extent of being quantitative rather than qualitative). This popularity may be because research utilizing positivist quantitative methodologies holds a greater prestige in the social sciences than qualitative work; quantitative work is easier to justify, as data can be manipulated to answer any question. Such research is generally perceived as being more scientific and more trustworthy, and thus has a greater impact on policy and public opinion (though such judgments are frequently contested by scholars doing non-positivist work).
The contestation over positivism is reflected in older (see the Positivism dispute) and current debates over the proper role of science in the public sphere. Public sociology—especially as described by Michael Burawoy—argues that sociologists should use empirical evidence to display the problems of society so they might be changed. Conversely, Thibodeaux argued that critical theory—public sociology in particular—relies on a dialectical, unilineal evolutionary view of social change. If a public sociologists assumes a multi-lineal interpretation of social change, public sociology will fail to affect social change for three reasons: (1) there's no objective criteria for the assessment of different goals (2) the rejection of one goal does not necessarily lead to an adherence to some other particular goal and (3) criticizing a goal maintains its relevance at the expense of possible alternatives.
Logical positivism (later and more accurately called logical empiricism) is a school of philosophy that combines empiricism, the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge of the world, with a version of rationalism, the idea that our knowledge includes a component that is not derived from observation.
Logical positivism grew from the discussions of a group called the "First Vienna Circle" which gathered at the Café Central before World War I. After the war Hans Hahn, a member of that early group, helped bring Moritz Schlick to Vienna. Schlick's Vienna Circle, along with Hans Reichenbach's Berlin Circle, propagated the new doctrines more widely in the 1920s and early 1930s.
It was Otto Neurath's advocacy that made the movement self-conscious and more widely known. A 1929 pamphlet written by Neurath, Hahn, and Rudolf Carnap summarized the doctrines of the Vienna Circle at that time. These included: the opposition to all metaphysics, especially ontology and synthetic a priori propositions; the rejection of metaphysics not as wrong but as meaningless (i.e., not empirically verifiable); a criterion of meaning based on Ludwig Wittgenstein's early work (which he himself later set out to refute); the idea that all knowledge should be codifiable in a single standard language of science; and above all the project of "rational reconstruction," in which ordinary-language concepts were gradually to be replaced by more precise equivalents in that standard language. However, the project is widely considered to have failed.
After moving to the United States, Carnap proposed a replacement for the earlier doctrines in his Logical Syntax of Language. This change of direction, and the somewhat differing beliefs of Reichenbach and others, led to a consensus that the English name for the shared doctrinal platform, in its American exile from the late 1930s, should be "logical empiricism." While the logical positivism movement is now considered dead, it has continued to influence philosophy development.
Historical positivism is the historiographical view that historical evidence requires no interpretation, the work of the historian being to compile the primary sources, “letting them speak for themselves”. Many of its tenets were later contradicted by Postmodernism.
Within years of the publication of Comte's book A General View of Positivism (1848), other scientific and philosophical thinkers began creating their own definitions for positivism. They included Émile Zola, Emile Hennequin, Wilhelm Scherer, and Dimitri Pisarev. Émile Zola was an influential French novelist, the most important example of the literary school of naturalism, and a major figure in the political liberalization of France.
Emile Hennequin was a Parisian publisher and writer who wrote theoretical and critical pieces. He "exemplified the tension between the positivist drive to systematize literary criticism and the unfettered imagination inherent in literature." He was one of the few thinkers who disagreed with the notion that subjectivity invalidates observation, judgment and prediction. Unlike many positivist thinkers before him, he believed that subjectivity does play a role in science and society. His contribution to positivism pertains not to science and its objectivity, but rather to the subjectivity of art and the way artists, their work, and audiences interrelate. Hennequin tried to analyse positivism strictly on the predictions, and the mechanical processes, but was perplexed due to the contradictions of the reactions of patrons to artwork that showed no scientific inclinations.
Wilhelm Scherer was a German philologist, a university professor, and a popular literary historian. He was known as a positivist because he based much of his work on "hypotheses on detailed historical research, and rooted every literary phenomenon in 'objective' historical or philological facts". His positivism is different due to his involvement with his nationalist goals. His major contribution to the movement was his speculation that culture cycled in a six-hundred-year period.
Dimitri Pisarev was a Russian critic who showed the greatest contradictions with his belief in positivism. His ideas incorporated imagination and style though he did not believe in romantic ideas because they reminded him of the oppressive tsarist government under which he lived. His basic beliefs were "an extreme anti-aesthetic scientistic position." He focused his efforts on defining the relation between literature and the environment.
Any sound scientific theory, whether of time or of any other concept, should in my opinion be based on the most workable philosophy of science: the positivist approach put forward by Karl Popper and others. According to this way of thinking, a scientific theory is a mathematical model that describes and codifies the observations we make. A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions that can be tested. ... If one takes the positivist position, as I do, one cannot say what time actually is. All one can do is describe what has been found to be a very good mathematical model for time and say what predictions it makes.
However, the claim that Popper was a positivist is a common misunderstanding that Popper himself termed the "Popper legend." In fact, he developed his beliefs in stark opposition to and as a criticism of positivism and held that scientific theories talk about how the world really is, not, as positivists claim, about phenomena or observations experienced by scientists. In the same vein, continental philosophers like Theodor Adorno and Jürgen Habermas regarded Popper as a positivist because of his alleged devotion to a unified science. However, this was also part of the "Popper legend"; Popper had in fact been the foremost critic of this doctrine of the Vienna Circle, critiquing it, for instance, in his Conjectures and Refutations.
The key features of positivism as of the 1950s, as defined in the "received view", are:
Positivism is elsewhere defined as the belief that all true knowledge is scientific, and that all things are ultimately measurable. Positivism is closely related to reductionism, in that both involve the belief that "entities of one kind... are reducible to entities of another," such as societies to configurations of individuals, or mental events to neural phenomena. It also involves the contention that "processes are reducible to physiological, physical or chemical events," and even that "social processes are reducible to relationships between and actions of individuals," or that "biological organisms are reducible to physical systems."
While most social scientists today are not explicit about their epistemological commitments, articles in top American sociology and political science journals generally follow a positivist logic of argument. It can be thus argued that "natural science and social science [research articles] can therefore be regarded with a good deal of confidence as members of the same genre".
Historically, positivism has been criticized for its reductionism, i.e., for contending that all "processes are reducible to physiological, physical or chemical events," "social processes are reducible to relationships between and actions of individuals," and that "biological organisms are reducible to physical systems."
Max Horkheimer criticized the classic formulation of positivism on two grounds. First, he claimed that it falsely represented human social action. The first criticism argued that positivism systematically failed to appreciate the extent to which the so-called social facts it yielded did not exist 'out there', in the objective world, but were themselves a product of socially and historically mediated human consciousness. Positivism ignored the role of the 'observer' in the constitution of social reality and thereby failed to consider the historical and social conditions affecting the representation of social ideas. Positivism falsely represented the object of study by reifying social reality as existing objectively and independently of the labour that actually produced those conditions. Secondly, he argued, representation of social reality produced by positivism was inherently and artificially conservative, helping to support the status quo, rather than challenging it. This character may also explain the popularity of positivism in certain political circles. Horkheimer argued, in contrast, that critical theory possessed a reflexive element lacking in the positivistic traditional theory.
Some scholars today hold the beliefs critiqued in Horkheimer's work, but since the time of his writing critiques of positivism, especially from philosophy of science, have led to the development of postpositivism. This philosophy greatly relaxes the epistemological commitments of logical positivism and no longer claims a separation between the knower and the known. Rather than dismissing the scientific project outright, postpositivists seek to transform and amend it, though the exact extent of their affinity for science varies vastly. For example, some postpositivists accept the critique that observation is always value-laden, but argue that the best values to adopt for sociological observation are those of science: skepticism, rigor, and modesty. Just as some critical theorists see their position as a moral commitment to egalitarian values, these postpositivists see their methods as driven by a moral commitment to these scientific values. Such scholars may see themselves as either positivists or antipositivists.
Positivism has also come under fire on religious and philosophical grounds, whose proponents state that truth begins in sense experience, but does not end there. Positivism fails to prove that there are not abstract ideas, laws, and principles, beyond particular observable facts and relationships and necessary principles, or that we cannot know them. Nor does it prove that material and corporeal things constitute the whole order of existing beings, and that our knowledge is limited to them. According to positivism, our abstract concepts or general ideas are mere collective representations of the experimental order—for example; the idea of "man" is a kind of blended image of all the men observed in our experience. This runs contrary to a Platonic or Christian ideal, where an idea can be abstracted from any concrete determination, and may be applied identically to an indefinite number of objects of the same class From the idea's perspective, Platonism is more precise. Defining an idea as a sum of collective images is imprecise and more or less confused, and becomes more so as the collection represented increases. An idea defined explicitly always remains clear.
Echoes of the "positivist" and "antipositivist" debate persist today, though this conflict is hard to define. Authors writing in different epistemological perspectives do not phrase their disagreements in the same terms and rarely actually speak directly to each other. To complicate the issues further, few practicing scholars explicitly state their epistemological commitments, and their epistemological position thus has to be guessed from other sources such as choice of methodology or theory. However, no perfect correspondence between these categories exists, and many scholars critiqued as "positivists" are actually postpositivists. One scholar has described this debate in terms of the social construction of the "other", with each side defining the other by what it is not rather than what it is, and then proceeding to attribute far greater homogeneity to their opponents than actually exists. Thus, it is better to understand this not as a debate but as two different arguments: the "antipositivist" articulation of a social meta-theory which includes a philosophical critique of scientism, and "positivist" development of a scientific research methodology for sociology with accompanying critiques of the reliability and validity of work that they see as violating such standards.
Positivism is marked by the final recognition that science provides the only valid form of knowledge and that facts are the only possible objects of knowledge; philosophy is thus recognized as essentially no different from science [...] Ethics, politics, social interactions, and all other forms of human life about which knowledge was possible would eventually be drawn into the orbit of science [...] The positivists' program for mapping the inexorable and immutable laws of matter and society seemed to allow no greater role for the contribution of poets than had Plato. [...] What Plato represented as the quarrel between philosophy and poetry is resuscitated in the "two cultures" quarrel of more recent times between the humanities and the sciences.
one of the features of positivism is precisely its postulate that scientific knowledge is the paradigm of valid knowledge, a postulate that indeed is never proved nor intended to be proved.
To conclude, logical positivism was progressive compared with the classical positivism of Ptolemy, Hume, d'Alembert, Comte, Mill, and Mach. It was even more so by comparison with its contemporary rivals—neo-Thomisism, neo-Kantianism, intuitionism, dialectical materialism, phenomenology, and existentialism. However, neo-positivism failed dismally to give a faithful account of science, whether natural or social. It failed because it remained anchored to sense-data and to a phenomenalist metaphysics, overrated the power of induction and underrated that of hypothesis, and denounced realism and materialism as metaphysical nonsense. Although it has never been practiced consistently in the advanced natural sciences and has been criticized by many philosophers, notably Popper (1959 , 1963), logical positivism remains the tacit philosophy of many scientists. Regrettably, the anti-positivism fashionable in the metatheory of social science is often nothing but an excuse for sloppiness and wild speculation.
The upshot is that the positivists seem caught between insisting on the V.C. [Verifiability Criterion]—but for no defensible reason—or admitting that the V.C. requires a background language, etc., which opens the door to relativism, etc.
In social science, antipositivism (also interpretivism and negativism) is a theoretical stance, which proposes that the social realm cannot be studied with the scientific method of investigation applied to Nature, and that investigation of the social realm requires a different epistemology. Fundamental to that antipositivist epistemology is the belief that the concepts and language that researchers use in their researches shape their perceptions of the social world they are investigating, studying, and defining.Auguste Comte
Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (pronounced [oɡyst kɔ̃t] (listen); 19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) was a French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is sometimes regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.Influenced by the utopian socialist Henri Saint-Simon, Comte developed the positive philosophy in an attempt to remedy the social malaise of the French Revolution, calling for a new social doctrine based on the sciences. Comte was a major influence on 19th-century thought, influencing the work of social thinkers such as Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and George Eliot. His concept of sociologie and social evolutionism set the tone for early social theorists and anthropologists such as Harriet Martineau and Herbert Spencer, evolving into modern academic sociology presented by Émile Durkheim as practical and objective social research.
Comte's social theories culminated in his "Religion of Humanity", which presaged the development of non-theistic religious humanist and secular humanist organizations in the 19th century. Comte may have coined the word altruisme (altruism).Berlin Circle
The Berlin Circle (German: die Berliner Gruppe) was a group that maintained logical empiricist views about philosophy.Constructive empiricism
In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) is a form of empiricism.Critical rationalism
Critical rationalism is an epistemological philosophy advanced by Karl Popper. Popper wrote about critical rationalism in his works: The Logic of Scientific Discovery, The Open Society and its Enemies, Conjectures and Refutations, The Myth of the Framework, and Unended Quest. Ernest Gellner is another notable proponent of this approach.Critical theory
Critical theory is the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities. As a term, critical theory has two meanings with different origins and histories: the first originated in sociology and the second originated in literary criticism, whereby it is used and applied as an umbrella term that can describe a theory founded upon critique; thus, the theorist Max Horkheimer described a theory as critical insofar as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."In sociology and political philosophy, the term "Critical Theory" describes the Western Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. This use of the term requires proper noun capitalization, whereas "a critical theory" or "a critical social theory" may have similar elements of thought, but not stress its intellectual lineage specifically to the Frankfurt School. Frankfurt School critical theorists drew on the critical methods of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Critical theory maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation. Critical theory was established as a school of thought primarily by the Frankfurt School theoreticians Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Erich Fromm. Modern critical theory has additionally been influenced by György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, as well as the second generation Frankfurt School scholars, notably Jürgen Habermas. In Habermas's work, critical theory transcended its theoretical roots in German idealism and progressed closer to American pragmatism. Concern for social "base and superstructure" is one of the remaining Marxist philosophical concepts in much of contemporary critical theory.Postmodern critical theory politicizes social problems "by situating them in historical and cultural contexts, to implicate themselves in the process of collecting and analyzing data, and to relativize their findings."Epistemological idealism
Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. It is opposed to epistemological realism.John Austin (legal philosopher)
John Austin (3 March 1790 – 1 December 1859) was a noted English legal theorist, who influenced British and American law with his analytical approach to jurisprudence and his theory of legal positivism. In opposing traditional approaches of "natural law", Austin argued against any necessary connections between law and morality. Human legal systems, he claimed, can and should be studied in an empirical, value-free way.Legal positivism
Legal positivism is a school of thought of analytical jurisprudence largely developed by legal thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Jeremy Bentham and John Austin. While Bentham and Austin developed legal positivist theory, empiricism set the theoretical foundations for such developments to occur. The most prominent legal positivist writer in English has been H. L. A. Hart, who, in 1958, found common usages of "positivism" as applied to law to include the contentions that:
laws are commands of human beings
there is no necessary connection between law and morality, that is, between law as it is and as it ought to be.
analysis (or study of the meaning) of legal concepts is worthwhile and is to be distinguished from history or sociology of law, as well as from criticism or appraisal of law, for example with regard to its moral value or to its social aims or functions
a legal system is a closed, logical system in which correct decisions can be deduced from predetermined legal rules without reference to social considerations
moral judgments, unlike statements of fact, cannot be established or defended by rational argument, evidence, or proof ("noncognitivism" in ethics)Historically, legal positivism sits in opposition to natural law's theories of jurisprudence, with particular disagreement surrounding the natural lawyer's claim that there is a necessary connection between law and morality.Logical positivism
Logical positivism and logical empiricism, which together formed neopositivism, was a movement in Western philosophy whose central thesis was verificationism, a theory of knowledge which asserted that only statements verifiable through empirical observation are meaningful. The movement flourished in the 1920s and 1930s in several European centers.
Efforts to convert philosophy to this new "scientific philosophy", shared with empirical sciences' best examples, such as Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, sought to prevent confusion rooted in unclear language and unverifiable claims.The Berlin Circle and Vienna Circle—groups of philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians in Berlin and Vienna—propounded logical positivism, starting in the late 1920s.Philosophy of science
Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.
There is no consensus among philosophers about many of the central problems concerned with the philosophy of science, including whether science can reveal the truth about unobservable things and whether scientific reasoning can be justified at all. In addition to these general questions about science as a whole, philosophers of science consider problems that apply to particular sciences (such as biology or physics). Some philosophers of science also use contemporary results in science to reach conclusions about philosophy itself.
While philosophical thought pertaining to science dates back at least to the time of Aristotle, philosophy of science emerged as a distinct discipline only in the 20th century in the wake of the logical positivism movement, which aimed to formulate criteria for ensuring all philosophical statements' meaningfulness and objectively assessing them. Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was also formative, challenging the view of scientific progress as steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge based on a fixed method of systematic experimentation and instead arguing that any progress is relative to a "paradigm," the set of questions, concepts, and practices that define a scientific discipline in a particular historical period. Karl Popper and Charles Sanders Peirce moved on from positivism to establish a modern set of standards for scientific methodology.
Subsequently, the coherentist approach to science, in which a theory is validated if it makes sense of observations as part of a coherent whole, became prominent due to W.V. Quine and others. Some thinkers such as Stephen Jay Gould seek to ground science in axiomatic assumptions, such as the uniformity of nature. A vocal minority of philosophers, and Paul Feyerabend (1924–1994) in particular, argue that there is no such thing as the "scientific method", so all approaches to science should be allowed, including explicitly supernatural ones. Another approach to thinking about science involves studying how knowledge is created from a sociological perspective, an approach represented by scholars like David Bloor and Barry Barnes. Finally, a tradition in continental philosophy approaches science from the perspective of a rigorous analysis of human experience.
Philosophies of the particular sciences range from questions about the nature of time raised by Einstein's general relativity, to the implications of economics for public policy. A central theme is whether one scientific discipline can be reduced to the terms of another. That is, can chemistry be reduced to physics, or can sociology be reduced to individual psychology? The general questions of philosophy of science also arise with greater specificity in some particular sciences. For instance, the question of the validity of scientific reasoning is seen in a different guise in the foundations of statistics. The question of what counts as science and what should be excluded arises as a life-or-death matter in the philosophy of medicine. Additionally, the philosophies of biology, of psychology, and of the social sciences explore whether the scientific studies of human nature can achieve objectivity or are inevitably shaped by values and by social relations.Philosophy of social science
The philosophy of social science is the study of the logic, methods, and foundations of social sciences such as psychology, economics, and political science. Philosophers of social science are concerned with the differences and similarities between the social and the natural sciences, causal relationships between social phenomena, the possible existence of social laws, and the ontological significance of structure and agency.Positivism dispute
The positivism dispute (German: Positivismusstreit) was a political-philosophical dispute between the critical rationalists (Karl Popper, Hans Albert) and the Frankfurt School (Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas) in 1961, about the methodology of the social sciences. It grew into a broad discussion within German sociology from 1961 to 1969. The naming itself is controversial, since it was the Frankfurt School proponents who accused the critical rationalists of being positivists—while the latter considered themselves as opponents of positivism. On the political level, it was a dispute between the leftist Frankfurt School proponents supporting revolution, and the allegedly bourgeois critical rationalists supporting reform as the method to be preferred to change society.Positivism in Poland
Positivism in Poland was a socio-cultural movement that defined progressive thought in literature and social sciences of partitioned Poland, following the suppression of the 1863 January Uprising against the occupying army of Imperial Russia. The Positivist period lasted until the turn of the 20th century, and the advent of the modernist Young Poland movement.Positivist school (criminology)
In criminology, the Positivist School has attempted to find scientific objectivity for the measurement and quantification of criminal behavior. As the scientific method became the major paradigm in the search for knowledge, the Classical School's social philosophy was replaced by the quest for scientific laws that would be discovered by experts. It is divided into Biological, Psychological and Social.Postpositivism
In philosophy and models of scientific inquiry, postpositivism (also called postempiricism) is a metatheoretical stance that critiques and amends positivism. While positivists emphasize independence between the researcher and the researched person (or object), postpositivists accept that theories, background, knowledge and values of the researcher can influence what is observed. Postpositivists pursue objectivity by recognizing the possible effects of biases. While positivists emphasize quantitative methods, postpositivists consider both quantitative and qualitative methods to be valid approaches.Sex-positive movement
The sex-positive movement is a social movement and philosophical movement that promotes and embraces sexuality and sexual expression, with an emphasis on safe and consensual sex. Sex-positivity is "an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, encouraging sexual pleasure and experimentation." The sex-positive movement also advocates for comprehensive sex education and safe sex as part of its campaign." The movement generally makes no moral distinctions among types of sexual activities, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference.Sociology
Sociology is the scientific study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.The different traditional focuses of sociology include social stratification, social class, social mobility, religion, secularization, law, sexuality, gender, and deviance. As all spheres of human activity are affected by the interplay between social structure and individual agency, sociology has gradually expanded its focus to other subjects, such as health, medical, economy, military and penal institutions, the Internet, education, social capital, and the role of social activity in the development of scientific knowledge.
The range of social scientific methods has also expanded. Social researchers draw upon a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques. The linguistic and cultural turns of the mid-20th century led to increasingly interpretative, hermeneutic, and philosophic approaches towards the analysis of society. Conversely, the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s have seen the rise of new analytically, mathematically, and computationally rigorous techniques, such as agent-based modelling and social network analysis.Social research informs politicians and policy makers, educators, planners, legislators, administrators, developers, business magnates, managers, social workers, non-governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, and people interested in resolving social issues in general. There is often a great deal of crossover between social research, market research, and other statistical fields.Verificationism
Verificationism, also known as the verification idea or the verifiability criterion of meaning, is the philosophical doctrine that only statements that are empirically verifiable (i.e. verifiable through the senses) are cognitively meaningful, or else they are truths of logic (tautologies).
Verificationism thus rejects as cognitively "meaningless" statements specific to entire fields such as metaphysics, spirituality, theology, ethics and aesthetics. Such statements may be meaningful in influencing emotions or behavior, but not in terms of truth value, information or factual content. Verificationism was a central thesis of logical positivism, a movement in analytic philosophy that emerged in the 1920s by the efforts of a group of philosophers who sought to unify philosophy and science under a common naturalistic theory of knowledge.