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Monday, August 15, 2011



-a theory that theology and metaphysics are earlier imperfect modes of knowledge and that positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations as verified by the empirical sciences

Positivism is a theory of knowledge according to which the only kind of sound knowledge available to humankind is that of science grounded in observation. Positivism is a unity of science thesis according to which all sciences can be integrated into a single natural system.

In a positivist view of the world, science was seen as the way to get at truth, to understand the world well enough so that we might predict and control it. The world and the universe were deterministic -- they operated by laws of cause and effect that we could discern if we applied the unique approach of the scientific method. Science was largely a mechanistic or mechanical affair. We use deductive reasoning to postulate theories that we can test. Based on the results of our studies, we may learn that our theory doesn't fit the facts well and so we need to revise our theory to better predict reality. The positivist believed in empiricism -- the idea that observation and measurement was the core of the scientific endeavor. The key approach of the scientific method is the experiment, the attempt to discern natural laws through direct manipulation and observation.

-a trend in bourgeois philosophy which declares natural (empirical) sciences to be the sole source of true knowledge and rejects the cognitive value of philosophical study.

Positivism emerged in response to the inability of speculative philosophy (e.g. Classical German Idealism) to solve philosophical problems which had arisen as a result of scientific development. Positivists went to an opposite extreme and rejected theoretical speculation as a means of obtaining knowledge.

Positivism declared false and senseless all problems, concepts and propositions of traditional philosophy on being, substances, causes., etc., that could not be solved or verified by experience due to a high degree of abstract nature.

Positivism claims to be a fundamentally new, non-metaphysical ("positive") philosophy, modelled on empirical sciences and providing them with a methodology. Positivism is essentially empiricism brought to extreme logical consequences in certain respects: inasmuch as any knowledge is empirical knowledge in one form or another, no speculation can be knowledge.

Positivism was founded by Auguste Comte-

-who introduced the term "positivism", Historically, there are three stages in the development of positivism.

The exponents of the first were Comte, E. Littré and P. Laffitte in France, J S Mill and Herbert Spencer in England. Alongside the problems of the theory of knowledge (Comte) and logic (Mill), the main place in the first Positivism was assigned to sociology (Comte's idea of transforming society on the basis of science, Spencer's organic theory of society).

The rise of the second stage in Positivism - empirio-criticism - dates back to the 1870s - 1890s and is associated with Ernst Mach and Avenarius, who renounced even formal recognition of objective real objects, which was a feature of early Positivism. In Machism, the problems of cognition were interpreted from the viewpoint of extreme psychologism, which was merging with subjectivism.

The rise and formation of the latest Positivism, or neo-positivism, is linked up with the activity of the Vienna Circle (O. Neurath, Carnap, Schlick, Frank and others) and of the Berlin Society for Scientific Philosophy (Reichenbach and others), which combined a number of trends: logical atomism, logical positivism, semantics (close to these trends are Percy Bridgman's operationalism and the pragmatism of William James et al). The main place in the third positivism is taken by the philosophical problems of language, symbolic logic, the structure of scientific investigations, and others. Having renounced psychologism, the exponents of the third positivism took the course of reconciling the logic of science with mathematics, the course of formalisation of epistemological problems.

It is very difficult to gain a clear understanding of positivism because of the number of ways in which the term has been defined and interpreted by many of its supporters and critics. It is, however, safe to say that an important goal of positivism was objectivity.

The law of three stages of Comte suggests that he used the term ‘positive’ to mean ‘scientific’. His assertion was that scientific inquiry must be empirical; it should be based on the observation of facts and not on religion which created mystery about the world, or metaphysics which was of no practical value.

The methods and laws applied to natural sciences can be equally applied to social sciences.the basis of such logic can be found in the enlightenment era.God has been replaced by reason.Comte in Positive Philosophy elaborated this idea in the study of social world.

Like the law of gravitation why apple falls down,the social world too could be understood with a cause and effect analysis.The reason why some workers get more performance in job than others.

In its broadest sense, positivism is a rejection of metaphysics. It is a position that holds that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena that we experience. The purpose of science is simply to stick to what we can observe and measure. Knowledge of anything beyond that, a positivist would hold, is impossible.

But Karl Popper deny this approach.He says to understand the high performance of workers because of job satisfaction we may observe job satisfaction linked to work performance.Repeated observation in ten,fifteen or twenty five woul d result in finding that ther are atleast one worker who is dissatisfied with job even outperforms those who are satisfied.The need to do is that instead of verifying what we already know ,let us falsify it.Popper shifts to hypothetico-deductive method.So in searching job satisfaction,we neeed to search up on pay,skill,training,democracy in work places, etc,.

To Comte,

Positivism was ‘scientific’ because knowledge had practical value and the growth of science was for the benefit of humankind.

To him, it was ‘empiricist’ as only humans could experience it.

It was ‘encyclopaedic’ because all the sciences came under a single system of natural laws.

And it was ‘progressivist’ because social stability could be restored by re-establishing a moral order, based on scientific knowledge, not on religion which made the world mysterious and prevented empirical inquiry, or metaphysical speculations which had no practical value.

In Comte’s view, there were four enemies of the positive philosophy: religion (as a dogma not as a moral force), metaphysics (in which he included psychology), individualism (which to him was the cause of social disorder) and revolutionary utopianism.

The core assumptions of positivism include these:

-that social science is identical in its logic to natural science;

-that science involves the search for general laws about empirical phenomena;

-and that discovery and explanation depend upon a rigorous empirical scrutiny of the phenomena under question.

Positivism is doubtful about the role of theory, preferring instead to make do with empirical observations, classes of empirical phenomena, and generalizations across classes of phenomena.

Finally, positivism is dubious about the reality of causal connections between empirical phenomena.

So the basic premises of positivism are-

1.we seek to identify processes of cause and effect to explain phenomena,

2.knowledege should be based on what can be tested by observation of tangible evidence

3.researchers should use scientific method which emphasis control,standardization and objectivity.

Positivism has not escaped the lot of traditional philosophy, since its own propositions (rejection of speculation, phenomenalism, etc.) turned out to be unverifiable by experience and, consequently, metaphysical.

Lecture notes prepared by Biju P R,Assistant Professor in Political Science,Govt Brennen College Thalassery

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