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positivism

ANDREW BELSEY

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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


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A philosophical theory or doctrine which combines a number of theses about the nature of knowledge and reality. As with all philosophical theories there is much debate about its own nature although the following indicate its major theses: (i) What really exists is what can be experienced by the senses or what is susceptible to experimental manipulation. (ii) This reality is the subject matter of science. (iii) Only scientific knowledge is genuine knowledge. (iv) Nonscientific cognitive claims, such as those of myth, religion, and metaphysics, are idle and spurious. Although these theses have older origins, it is Auguste Comte (1798–1857) who is regarded as the founder of positivism as a doctrine. He put forward a historical theory, according to which human thought evolves through theological and metaphysical stages until it reaches the positive or scientific stage, in which science consists of descriptive laws of phenomena able to be experienced, rejecting “explanations” in terms of “causes” or any other hidden essences or mysterious entities. Positivism took a somewhat different direction in the twentieth century, when L ogical positivism became the official outlook of the philosophers and scientists of the Vienna Circle, who were able to benefit from the much more sophisticated methods of philosophical and logical analysis supplied by F rege , Russell, and W ittgenstein . The ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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