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Positivism is a
philosophical theory A philosophical theory or philosophical position''Dictionary of Theories'', Jennifer Bothamley is a view that attempts to explain or account for a particular problem in philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundament ...
that holds that all genuine knowledge is either positive— ''a posteriori'' and exclusively derived from
experience Experience refers to conscious , an English Paracelsian physician Consciousness, at its simplest, is " sentience or awareness of internal and external existence". Despite millennia of analyses, definitions, explanations and debates by philosoph ...

experience
of
natural phenomena Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, material world or universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and ...
and their properties and relations—or true by definition, that is, analytic and tautological. Thus, information derived from
sensory experience The theory of sense data is a view in the philosophy of perception The philosophy of perception is concerned with the nature of perceptual experience and the status of perceptual data, in particular how they relate to beliefs about, or knowledg ...
, as interpreted through
reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek ...
and
logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning. Informal logic seeks to characterize Validity (logic), valid arguments informally, for instance by listing varieties of fallacies. Formal logic represents statements and ar ...

logic
, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Verified data (positive facts) received from the senses are known as
empirical evidence Empirical evidence for a proposition In logic and linguistics, a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence (linguistics), sentence. In philosophy, "Meaning (philosophy), meaning" is understood to be a non-linguistic entity which is s ...
; thus positivism is based on
empiricism In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, l ...
.John J. Macionis, Linda M. Gerber, ''Sociology'', Seventh Canadian Edition,
Pearson Canada Pearson Education is a British-owned education publishing and assessment service to schools and corporations, as well for students directly. Pearson owns educational media brands including Addison–Wesley, Peachpit, Prentice Hall Prenti ...
Sociological positivism holds that
society A society is a group A group is a number A number is a mathematical object used to counting, count, measurement, measure, and nominal number, label. The original examples are the natural numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth. Numbers can be ...

society
, like the physical world, operates according to general
laws Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its bounda ...
. Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected, as are
metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between ...

metaphysics
and
theology Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the divine Divinity or the divine are things that are either related to, devoted to, or proceeding from a deity A deity or god is a supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed ...
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 Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (; 19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) was a French philosophy, French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is often regarded as the first Philosophy of science, phil ...

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.


Etymology

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 (Latin ''positīvus'') has been used in a similar sense to discuss law (
positive law Positive laws ( la, links=no, ius positum) are human-made laws that oblige or specify an action. Positive law also describes the establishment of specific rights for an individual or group. Etymologically, the name derives from the verb ''to posit ...
compared to
natural law Natural law ( la, ius naturale, ''lex naturalis'') is a system of law based on a close observation of human nature Human nature is a concept that denotes the fundamental disposition A disposition is a quality of character, a habit A habit (or ...
) since the time of
Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer (; – 25 October 1400) was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the 5th ...

Chaucer
.''


Overview


Antecedents

Positivism is part of a more general ancient quarrel between
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, language. Such questio ...

philosophy
and
poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its popula ...

poetry
, notably laid out by
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Classical Athens, Athenian philosopher during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought and the Platoni ...

Plato
and later reformulated as a quarrel between the sciences and the
humanities Humanities are academic disciplines An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. ...

humanities
. Plato elaborates a critique of poetry from the point of view of philosophy in his dialogues '' Phaedrus'' 245a, ''
Symposium In ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a civilization belonging to a period of History of Greece, Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of Classical Antiquity, antiquity ( ...
'' 209a, ''
Republic A republic () is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a month ...
'' 398a, ''
Laws Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its bounda ...
'' 817 b–d and ''
Ion An ion () is an atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ...
''.
Wilhelm Dilthey Wilhelm Dilthey (; ; 19 November 1833 – 1 October 1911) was a German historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studie ...

Wilhelm Dilthey
(1833–1911) popularized the distinction between
Geisteswissenschaft ''Geisteswissenschaften'' (, "sciences of mind") is a set of human science Human science (or human sciences in the plural) studies the philosophical, biological, social, and cultural aspects of human life. Human science aims to expand our under ...
(humanities) and Naturwissenschaften (
natural science Natural science is a branch A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist, plant scientist or ph ...

natural science
s).Wallace and Gach (2008
p. 27
The consideration that laws in physics may not be absolute but relative, and, if so, this might be more true of social sciences,Wallace, Edwin R. and Gach, John (2008) ''History of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology: With an Epilogue on Psychiatry and the Mind-Body Relation.'
p. 14
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.Morera, Esteve (1990
p. 13 ''Gramsci's Historicism: A Realist Interpretation''


Positivists

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 Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon (; 17 October 1760 – 19 May 1825), was a French political, economic and socialist Socialism is a Political philosophy, political, Social philosophy, so ...
(1760–1825),
Pierre-Simon Laplace Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace (; ; 23 March 1749 – 5 March 1827) was a French scholar A scholar is a person who pursues academic and intellectual activities, particularly those that develop expertise in an area of Studying, study. A ...

Pierre-Simon Laplace
(1749–1827) and
Auguste Comte Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (; 19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) was a French philosophy, French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is often regarded as the first Philosophy of science, phil ...

Auguste Comte
(1798–1857) believed the
scientific method The scientific method is an empirical Empirical evidence for a proposition is evidence, i.e. what supports or counters this proposition, that is constituted by or accessible to sense experience or experimental procedure. Empirical evidence ...

scientific method
, the circular dependence of theory and observation, must replace
metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between ...

metaphysics
in the
history History (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxima ...

history
of thought.
Émile Durkheim David Émile Durkheim ( or ; 15 April 1858 – 15 November 1917) was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and, with Max Weber Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (; ; 21 April 186414 June 1920) was a Ge ...

Émile Durkheim
(1858–1917) reformulated sociological positivism as a foundation of
social research Social research is a research Research is "creativity, creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge". It involves the collection, organization and analysis of information to increase understanding of a topi ...

social research
.
Wilhelm Dilthey Wilhelm Dilthey (; ; 19 November 1833 – 1 October 1911) was a German historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studie ...

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 Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is something that is truth, true. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to e ...
that gives us insight into thoughts, feelings and desires. Dilthey was in part influenced by the
historicism Historicism is the idea of attributing significance to elements of space and time, such as historical period, geographical place, and local culture, in order to contextualize theories, narratives and other interpretative instruments. The term "his ...
of
Leopold von Ranke Leopold von Ranke (; 21 December 1795 – 23 May 1886) was a German historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studies and ...

Leopold von Ranke
(1795–1886).


Antipositivism

At the turn of the 20th century the first wave of German sociologists, including
Max Weber Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (; ; 21 April 186414 June 1920) was a German Sociology, sociologist, historian, jurist, and political economy, political economist regarded as among the most important theorists of the development of Modernity, modern ...

Max Weber
and
Georg Simmel Georg Simmel (; ; 1 March 1858 – 26 September 1918) was a German sociologist, philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those abo ...

Georg Simmel
, rejected positivism, thus founding the antipositivist tradition in sociology. Later antipositivists and critical theorists have associated positivism with
scientismScientism is the promotion of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and Taxonomy (general), organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable exp ...
, science ''as
ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology) In psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of ...
''. Later in his career, German theoretical physicist
Werner Heisenberg Werner Karl Heisenberg (; ; 5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) was a German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics Quantum mechanics is a fundamental Scientific theory, theory in physics that provides a de ...
, Nobel laureate for pioneering work in
quantum mechanics Quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory A theory is a reason, rational type of abstraction, abstract thinking about a phenomenon, or the results of such thinking. The process of contemplative and rational thinking is often associated with ...
, distanced himself from positivism:
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.


Logical positivism and postpositivism

In the early 20th century, logical positivism—a descendant of Comte's basic thesis but an independent movement—sprang up in
Vienna Vienna ( ; german: Wien ; bar, Wean, label=Bavarian language, Austro-Bavarian ) is the Capital city, national capital, largest city, and one of States of Austria, nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's List of cities and towns in Austria, mos ...
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 Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning. Informal logic seeks to characterize Validity (logic), valid arguments informally, for instance by listing varieties of fallacies. Formal logic represents statements and ar ...

logic
. Strong critiques of this approach by philosophers such as
Karl Popper Sir Karl Raimund Popper (28 July 1902 – 17 September 1994) was an Austrian-British philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as tho ...

Karl Popper
,
Willard Van Orman Quine Willard Van Orman Quine (; known to his friends as "Van"; June 25, 1908 – December 25, 2000) was an American philosopher and logician Logic (from Greek: grc, λογική, label=none, lit=possessed of reason Reason is the capacity of ...
and
Thomas Kuhn Thomas Samuel Kuhn (; July 18, 1922 – June 17, 1996) was an American whose 1962 book ' was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term ', which has since become an English-language idiom. Kuhn made several cla ...
have been highly influential, and led to the development of
postpositivism 150px, Karl Popper Postpositivism or postempiricism is a metatheoretical stance that critiques and amends positivism Positivism is a philosophical theory that states that "genuine" knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, o ...
.


In historiography

In
historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians hav ...

historiography
the debate on positivism has been characterized by the quarrel between positivism and
historicism Historicism is the idea of attributing significance to elements of space and time, such as historical period, geographical place, and local culture, in order to contextualize theories, narratives and other interpretative instruments. The term "his ...
. (Historicism is also sometimes termed ''
historism Historism (Italian: storicismo) is a philosophical and historiographical theory, founded in 19th-century Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , lang ...
'' in the German tradition.) Arguments against positivist approaches in historiography include that
history History (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxima ...

history
differs from sciences like
physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical scie ...

physics
and
ethology Ethology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable explanations and predictions about the universe."... modern science is ...
in and
method Method ( grc, μέθοδος, methodos) literally means a pursuit of knowledge, investigation, mode of prosecuting such inquiry, or system. In recent centuries it more often means a prescribed process for completing a task. It may refer to: *Scien ...
. 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.Wallace and Gach (2008
p. 28


In other fields

Positivism in the social sciences is usually characterized by quantitative approaches and the proposition of quasi-absolute laws. In
psychology Psychology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. ...

psychology
the positivist movement was influential in the development of
operationalism In research design, especially in psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of consciousness, conscious and Unconscious mind, unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. It is an ac ...
. The 1927 philosophy of science book ''
The Logic of Modern Physics ''The Logic of Modern Physics'' is a 1927 philosophy of science Philosophy of science is a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methodology, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern Demar ...
'' in particular, which was originally intended for physicists, coined the term
operational definition An operational definition specifies concrete, replicable procedures designed to represent a construct. In the words of American psychologist S.S. Stevens (1935), "An operation is the performance which we execute in order to make known a concept." ...
, which went on to dominate psychological method for the whole century.Koch, Sigmund (1992) ''Psychology's Bridgman vs. Bridgman's Bridgman: An Essay in Reconstruction.'', in ''Theory and Psychology'' vol. 2 no. 3 (1992) p. 275 In
economics Economics () is a social science that studies the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics), consumption of goods and services. Economics focuses on the behaviour and interact ...

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 Friedrich August von Hayek ( , ; 8 May 189923 March 1992), often referred to by his initials F. A. Hayek, was an Austrian-British economist, and philosopher who is best known for his defence of classical liberalism. Hayek shared the 1974 Nob ...
(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 Jurisprudence, or legal theory, is the theoretical study of the propriety of law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whol ...
, "
legal positivism Legal positivism is a school of thought of analytical jurisprudence Analytical jurisprudence is a philosophical approach to law that draws on the resources of modern analytical philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosop ...
" essentially refers to the rejection of
natural law Natural law ( la, ius naturale, ''lex naturalis'') is a system of law based on a close observation of human nature Human nature is a concept that denotes the fundamental disposition A disposition is a quality of character, a habit A habit (or ...
; 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 David W. Harvey (born 31 October 1935) is a British-born Marxist Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development, better known as historical materialism, to understand Social ...
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.Portugali, Juval and Han Meyer, Egbert Stolk (2012) ''Complexity Theories of Cities Have Come of Age'
p. 51


In 20th-century sociology

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 biasIn research, the observer bias is a form of detection bias Statistical bias is a feature of a statistical Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data Data are ...
and structural limitations. Modern positivists generally eschew metaphysical concerns in favour of methodological debates concerning clarity,
replicabilityReproducibility is a major principle of the scientific method The scientific method is an Empirical evidence, empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. It involves ...
,
reliability Reliability, reliable, or unreliable may refer to: Science, technology, and mathematics Computing * Data reliability (disambiguation), Data reliability, a property of some disk arrays in computer storage * High availability * Reliability (computer ...
and
validity Validity or Valid may refer to: Science/mathematics/statistics: * Validity (logic), a property of a logical argument * Scientific: ** Internal validity, the validity of causal inferences within scientific studies, usually based on experiments ** ...
.Gartell, David, and Gartell, John. 1996. "Positivism in sociological practice: 1967–1990". ''Canadian Review of Sociology'', Vol. 33 No. 2. This positivism is generally equated with "
quantitative research Quantitative research is a research strategy that focuses on quantifying the collection and analysis of data. It is formed from a Deductive reasoning, deductive approach where emphasis is placed on the testing of theory, shaped by Empiricism, e ...

quantitative research
" and thus carries no explicit theoretical or philosophical commitments. The institutionalization of this kind of sociology is often credited to
Paul Lazarsfeld Paul Felix Lazarsfeld (February 13, 1901August 30, 1976) was an Austrian-American sociologist. The founder of Columbia University Columbia University (also known as Columbia, and officially as Columbia University in the City of New York) is ...
, who pioneered large-scale survey studies and developed statistical techniques for analyzing them. This approach lends itself to what
Robert K. Merton Robert King Merton (born Meyer Robert Schkolnick; 4 July 1910 – 23 February 2003) was an American sociologist who is considered a founding father of modern sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns o ...
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.Boudon, Raymond. 1991. "Review: What Middle-Range Theories are". Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 20 Num. 4 pp. 519–522.


In 21st-century sociology

Other new movements, such as critical realism, have emerged in opposition to positivism. Critical realism seeks to reconcile the overarching aims of social science with postmodern critiques.


Sociological positivism


Comte's positivism

Auguste Comte Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (; 19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) was a French philosophy, French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is often regarded as the first Philosophy of science, phil ...

Auguste Comte
(1798–1857) first described the epistemological perspective of positivism in ''
The Course in Positive Philosophy The ''Course of Positive Philosophy'' (''Cours de Philosophie Positive'') was a series of texts written by the French philosopher of science and founding sociologist, Auguste Comte Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (; 19 January 179 ...
'', a series of texts published between 1830 and 1842. These texts were followed by the 1844 work, ''
A General View of Positivism ''A General View of Positivism'' (''Discours sur l'ensemble du positivisme'') was an 1844 book by a French philosopher Auguste Comte Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (; 19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) was a French philosophy, F ...
'' (published in French 1848, English in 1865). The first three volumes of the ''Course'' dealt chiefly with the physical sciences already in existence (
mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and their changes (cal ...
,
astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and celestial event, phenomena. It uses mathematics, phys ...
,
physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical scie ...

physics
,
chemistry Chemistry is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. T ...

chemistry
,
biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological mechanisms, Development ...

biology
), whereas the latter two emphasized the inevitable coming of
social science Social science is the branch A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist, plant scientist o ...

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 A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, ...
in the modern sense of the term.Auguste Comte
in Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
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. 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 law of three stages is an idea developed by Auguste Comte Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (; 19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) was a French philosophy, French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. ...
". The idea bears some similarity to
Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Marx
's belief that human society would progress toward a
communist Communism (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Repu ...

communist
peak (see
dialectical materialism Dialectical materialism is a philosophy of science, philosophy of history, history, and Nature (philosophy), nature developed in Europe and based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Dialectic#Marxist dialectic, Marxist dialectics, ...
). This is perhaps unsurprising as both were profoundly influenced by the early
Utopian socialist Utopian socialism is the term often used to describe the first current of modern socialism Socialism is a Political philosophy, political, Social philosophy, social, and economic philosophy encompassing a range of Economic systems, economic ...
Henri de Saint-Simon Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon (; 17 October 1760 – 19 May 1825), was a French political, economic and socialist Socialism is a Political philosophy, political, Social philosophy, so ...
, who was at one time Comte's mentor. Comte intended to develop a secular-scientific ideology in the wake of European
secularisation In sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that surrounds everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of Empirical method, empi ...
. Comte's stages were (1) the ''
theological Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity ...
'', (2) the ''
metaphysical Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between ...

metaphysical
'', and (3) the ''positive''. The theological phase of man was based on whole-hearted belief in all things with reference to
God In monotheism, monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, creator, and principal object of Faith#Religious views, faith.Richard Swinburne, Swinburne, R.G. "God" in Ted Honderich, Honderich, Ted. (ed)''The Oxfo ...

God
. God, Comte says, had reigned supreme over human existence pre-
Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * Age of Enlightenment, period in Western intellectual history from the late 17th to late 18th century, centered in France but also encompassing: ** Midlands 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 Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * Age of Enlightenment, period in Western intellectual history from the late 17th to late 18th century, centered in France but also encompassing: ** Midlands Enlightenment ...
, a time steeped in logical
rationalism In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, la ...
, to the time right after the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a spanning and in the and the , and s. Its ...

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.Giddens, ''Positivism and Sociology'', 9 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 Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens (born 18 January 1938) is an English sociologist who is known for his theory of structuration and his holistic Holism (from Ancient Greek, Greek ''holos'' "all, whole, entire") is the idea that various systems ( ...
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 (British political party), 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 Positivism in Poland, 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 Charles Darwin, Darwin's ''On the Origin of Species'' to influence the proliferation of various Secular Humanist, 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 social Darwinism, socially Darwinistic terms.


Proletarian positivism

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. He wrote: "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."


Durkheim's positivism

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).Gianfranco Poggi (2000). ''Durkheim.'' Oxford: Oxford University Press. 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, Emile. 1895. ''The Rules of the Sociological Method''. Cited in Wacquant (1992). Durkheim's seminal monograph, ''Suicide (Durkheim book), Suicide'' (1897), a case study of suicide rates amongst Catholic and Protestant populations, distinguished sociological analysis from
psychology Psychology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. ...

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". David Ashley and David M. Orenstein have 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 Social research is a research Research is "creativity, creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge". It involves the collection, organization and analysis of information to increase understanding of a topi ...

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.


Antipositivism and critical theory

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 Norm (sociology), norms, Value (personal and cultural), values, symbols, and social processes viewed from a Subject (philosophy), subjective perspective.
Max Weber Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (; ; 21 April 186414 June 1920) was a German Sociology, sociologist, historian, jurist, and political economy, political economist regarded as among the most important theorists of the development of Modernity, modern ...

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 Georg Simmel (; ; 1 March 1858 – 26 September 1918) was a German sociologist, philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those abo ...

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 (philosophy), phenomenology facilitated the movement in general. Karl Marx, Karl Marx's theory of historical materialism and critical analysis drew upon positivism, according to some writers, a tradition which would continue in the development of critical theory. However, following in the tradition of both Max Weber, Weber and
Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Marx
, the critical theorist Jürgen Habermas has critiqued pure instrumental rationality (in its relation to the cultural rationalisation (sociology), "rationalisation" of the modern West) as meaning that scientific thinking becomes something akin to
ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology) In psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of ...
itself. Positivism may be espoused by "Technocracy, 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 'Postmodernism, postmodern' perspectives on the social acquisition of knowledge.


Contemporary positivism

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 in God but instead on 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.Wacquant, Loic. 1992. "Positivism." In Bottomore, Tom and William Outhwaite, ed., ''The Blackwell Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Social Thought'' There are no fewer than twelve distinct epistemologies that are referred to as positivism.Halfpenny, Peter. ''Positivism and Sociology: Explaining Social Life.'' London:Allen and Unwin, 1982. 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 In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, l ...
. 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 research, quantitative rather than qualitative research, qualitative).Brett, Paul. 1994. "A genre analysis of the results section of sociology articles". ''English For Specific Purposes''. Vol 13, Num 1:47–59. 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 role of science in social change

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.


Logical positivism

Logical positivism (later and more accurately called logical empiricism) is a school of philosophy that combines
empiricism In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, l ...
, the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge of the world, with a version of
rationalism In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, la ...
, 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 (mathematician), 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 (philosophy), 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 Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between ...

metaphysics
, especially ontology and synthetic a priori, 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 positivist movement is now considered dead, it has continued to influence philosophical development.


Historical positivism

In
historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians hav ...

historiography
, historical or documentary positivism is the belief that historians should pursue the objectivity (philosophy), objective truth of the past by allowing historical sources to "speak for themselves", without additional interpretation. In the words of the French historian Fustel de Coulanges, as a positivist, "It is not I who am speaking, but history itself". The heavy emphasis placed by historical positivists on documentary sources led to the development of methods of source criticism, which seek to expunge bias and uncover original sources in their pristine state. The origin of the historical positivist school is particularly associated with the 19th-century German historian
Leopold von Ranke Leopold von Ranke (; 21 December 1795 – 23 May 1886) was a German historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studies and ...

Leopold von Ranke
, who argued that the historian should seek to describe historical truth "wie es eigentlich gewesen ist" ("as it actually was")—though subsequent historians of the concept, such as Georg Iggers, have argued that its development owed more to Ranke's followers than Ranke himself. Historical positivism was critiqued in the 20th century by historians and philosophers of history from various schools of thought, including Ernst Kantorowicz in Weimar Republic, Weimar Germany—who argued that "positivism ... faces the danger of becoming romanticism, Romantic when it maintains that it is possible to find the Blue Flower of truth without preconceptions"—and Raymond Aron and Michel Foucault in postwar France, who both posited that interpretations are always ultimately multiple and there is no final objective truth to recover. In his posthumously published 1946 ''The Idea of History'', the English historian R. G. Collingwood criticized historical positivism for conflating scientific facts with historical facts, which are always inferred and cannot be confirmed by repetition, and argued that its focus on the "collection of facts" had given historians "unprecedented mastery over small-scale problems", but "unprecedented weakness in dealing with large-scale problems".


Further thinkers

Within years of the publication of Auguste Comte, 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 (literature), 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 Philology, 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. Stephen Hawking was a recent high-profile advocate of positivism, at least in the physical sciences. In ''The Universe in a Nutshell'' (p. 31) he wrote:
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 Sir Karl Raimund Popper (28 July 1902 – 17 September 1994) was an Austrian-British philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as tho ...

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 philosophy, 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''.


In science today

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 shown to be false by the empirical observation of reality. Statements that would, by their nature, be regarded as untestable included the teleology, teleological; thus positivism rejects much of classical metaphysics. # The belief that science is markedly cumulative; # The belief that science is predominantly Trans-cultural diffusion, 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. # The belief that science is nature and nature is science; and out of this duality, all theories and postulates are created, interpreted, evolve, and are applied. Positivism is elsewhere defined as the belief that all true knowledge is scientific,Alan Bullock and Stephen Trombley, [Eds] ''The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought'', London: Harper-Collins, 1999, pp. 669–737 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.Holmes, Richard. 1997. "Genre analysis, and the social sciences: An investigation of the structure of research article discussion sections in three disciplines". ''English For Specific Purposes'', vol. 16, num. 4:321–337. 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".


Criticisms

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 Reification (fallacy), 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 150px, Karl Popper Postpositivism or postempiricism is a metatheoretical stance that critiques and amends positivism Positivism is a philosophical theory that states that "genuine" knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, o ...
. 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.Tittle, Charles. 2004. "The Arrogance of Public Sociology". ''Social Forces'', June 2004, 82(4) Positivism has also come under fire on religious and philosophical grounds, whose proponents state that truth begins in empirical evidence, 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 Platonism, Platonic or Christianity, 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. Experientialism, which arose with second generation cognitive science, asserts that knowledge begins and ends with experience itself.Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). ''Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought''. Basic books. 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.Hanson, Barbara. 2008. "Wither Qualitative/Quantitative?: Grounds for Methodological Convergence." ''Quality and Quantity'' 42:97–111. To complicate the issues further, few practising 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.Bryman, Alan. 1984. "The Debate about Quantitative and Qualitative Research: A Question of Method or Epistemology?." ''The British Journal of Sociology'' 35:75–92. 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
scientismScientism is the promotion of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and Taxonomy (general), organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable exp ...
, and "positivist" development of a scientific research methodology for sociology with accompanying critiques of the
reliability Reliability, reliable, or unreliable may refer to: Science, technology, and mathematics Computing * Data reliability (disambiguation), Data reliability, a property of some disk arrays in computer storage * High availability * Reliability (computer ...
and
validity Validity or Valid may refer to: Science/mathematics/statistics: * Validity (logic), a property of a logical argument * Scientific: ** Internal validity, the validity of causal inferences within scientific studies, usually based on experiments ** ...
of work that they see as violating such standards.


See also

* Cliodynamics * Charvaka * Determinism * Gödel's incompleteness theorems * London Positivist Society * Nature versus nurture * Scientific politics * Sociological naturalism * ''The New Paul and Virginia'' * Vladimir Solovyov (philosopher), Vladimir Solovyov


Notes


References

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External links

* The full text of the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, 1911 ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' article "s:1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Positivism, Positivism" at Wikisource
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{{Use dmy dates, date=August 2016 Positivism, Philosophy of science Philosophy of social science Epistemological theories 20th-century philosophy 19th-century philosophy History of philosophy Philosophy of law Sociological theories