Positivism Essay, Research Paper

Positivism is a system of philosophy based on experience and experimental knowledge of natural sensation, in which metaphysics and theology are regarded as inadequate and imperfect systems of knowledge. (www.eb.com) The 19th-century French mathematician and philosopher Auguste Comte first called the doctrine positivism, but some of the positivist concepts may be traced to the British philosopher David Hume, the French philosopher Duc de Saint-Simon, and the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Comte chose the word positivism on the ground that it indicated the “reality” and “constructive tendency” that he claimed for the theory aspect of the doctrine. He was, in the main, interested in a reorganization of social life for the good of humanity through scientific knowledge, and thus controls of natural forces. The two primary components of positivism, the philosophy and the polity (or program of individual and social conduct), were later combined by Comte into a whole under the conception of a religion, in which humanity was the object of worship. A number of Comte’s disciples refused, however, to accept this religious development of his philosophy, because it seemed to contradict the original positivist philosophy. Many of Comte’s doctrines were later adapted and developed by the British social philosophers John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer and by the Austrian philosopher and physicist Ernst Mach.(www.encyclopedia.com)

During the early 20th century a group of philosophers who were concerned with developments in modern science rejected the traditional positivist ideas that held personal experience to be the basis of true knowledge and emphasized the importance of scientific verification. This group came to be known as logical positivists, and it included the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein and the British Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. It was Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1921; German-English parallel text, 1922) that proved to be of decisive influence in the rejection of metaphysical doctrines for their meaninglessness and the acceptance of empiricism as a matter of logical necessity.(www.eb.com)

The positivists today, who have rejected this so-called Vienna school of philosophy, prefer to call themselves logical empiricists in order to separate themselves from the stress of the earlier thinkers on scientific verification. They maintain that the verification principle itself is philosophically unverifiable.(World Book Encyclopedia)

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