The Philosophical DictionaryPositivism
- . Belief that natural science, based on observation, comprises the whole of human knowledge. Positivists like Auguste Comte, then, reject as meaningless the claims of theology and metaphysics. The most influential twentieth-century version is logical positivism.
- . Twentieth-century philosophical movement that used a strict principle of verifiability to reject as meaningless the non-empirical statements of metaphysics, theology, and ethics. Under the influence of Hume, Russell, and the early Wittgenstein, the logical positivists regarded as meaningful only statements reporting empirical observations, taken together with the tautologies of logic and mathematics. Prominent logical positivists included members of the Vienna Circle and Ayer.
- . Positivism is a philosophy developed by Auguste Comte (widely regarded as the first true sociologist) in the middle of the 19th century that stated that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge, and that such knowledge can only come from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific method. This view is sometimes referred to as a scientist ideology, and is often shared by technocrats who believe in the necessary progress through scientific progress. As an approach to the philosophy of science deriving from Enlightenment thinkers like Pierre-Simon Laplace (and many others), positivism was first systematically theorized by Comte, who saw the scientific method as replacing metaphysics in the history of thought, and who observed the circular dependence of theory and observation in science. Comte was thus one of the leading thinkers of the social evolutionism thought. Brazil's national motto, Ordem e Progresso ("Order and Progress") was taken from Comte's positivism, also influential in Poland. Positivism is the most evolved stage of society in anthropological Evolutionism, the point where science and rational explanation for scientific phenomena develops. Marxism and predictive dialectics is a highly positivist system of theory. However Marxism rejects positivism and views it as subjective idealism, because it limits itself only to facts and does not examine the underlying causes of things.
- . The key features of positivism as of the 1950s, as defined in the "received view", are:
- A focus on science as a product, a linguistic or numerical set of statements;
- A concern with axiomatization, that is, with demonstrating the logical structure and coherence of these statements;
- An insistence on at least some of these statements being testable, that is amenable to being verified, confirmed, or falsified by the empirical observation of reality; statements that would, by their nature, be regarded as untestable included the teleological; (Thus positivism rejects much of classical metaphysics.)
- The belief that science is markedly cumulative;
- The belief that science is predominantly transcultural;
- The belief that science rests on specific results that are dissociated from the personality and social position of the investigator;
- The belief that science contains theories or research traditions that are largely commensurable;
- The belief that science sometimes incorporates new ideas that are discontinuous from old ones;
- The belief that science involves the idea of the unity of science, that there is, underlying the various scientific disciplines, basically one science about one real world.
- Positivism is also depicted as "the view that all true knowledge is scientific," and that all things are ultimately measurable. Because of its "close association with reductionism," positivism and reductionism involve the view that "entities of one kind... are reducible to entities of another," such as societies to numbers, or mental events to chemical events. 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.
- . In philosophy, reductionism is a theory that asserts that the nature of complex things is reduced to the nature of sums of simpler or more fundamental things. This can be said of objects, phenomena, explanations, theories, and meanings.
- Reductionism is often understood to imply the unity of science. For example, fundamental chemistry is based on physics, fundamental biology is based on chemistry, psychology is based on biology, sociology is based on psychology, and political science and anthropology are both based on sociology. The first two of these reductions are commonly accepted but the last three or four--psychology to biology and so on--are controversial. For example, aspects of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are rejected by those who claim that complex systems are inherently irreducible or holistic. Some strong reductionists believe that the behavioral sciences should become "genuine" scientific disciplines by being based on genetic biology, and on the systematic study of culture (cf. Dawkins's concept of memes).
- Perhaps no term evokes stronger opinions from sociologists than
- . In its most basic form, positivism means reliance upon empirical observations to build and test theories rather than depending upon other epistemologies such as theology, metaphysics, cosmology, and so forth. Logical positivism and reductionism, as extreme extensions of positivism, are impossible to achieve in practice (see:
- Some adherents of phenomenology, ethnomethodology, "feminist" methodology, and qualitative methods strongly criticize survey research methodology, deductive theories, and the social facts paradigm (i.e., roughly meaning functionalism and conflict theory) as examples of logical positivism. In my opinion, they lay siege to an empty castle. I would be surprised, indeed horrified, to find any scientist (life, physical, or social) who believed it possible to
- a theory or conduct science in a totally unbiased, objective, and value-free manner. Yet it is quite common for advocates of constructivist epistemologies to argue that some persons do believe in logical positivism. I believe they waste their time to make a point already accepted.
- On the other hand, too often one encounters persons who think that the results of survey research or quantitative data analysis somehow are more scientific than interpretive data collected using qualitative methods. Therefore, it is necessary to remind those who adhere too closely to numbers that numbers are constructions. But one need not throw out the baby with the bath water. All of science relies upon positivism in the sense of building and testing theories based upon analysis of empirical observations, whether these observations appear as numbers or as nonnumerical interpretations of events.