Cosmina Craciunescu looks on Positivism

Positivism and its developments in Europe

Positivism is a philosophy of science based on the view that information derived from sensory experience, logical and mathematical treatments, being the exclusive source of all authoritative knowledge, stating that only in science there is a valid knowledge or truth.

Positivism is an older quarrel between philosophy and poetry later being described as a middle way between the humanities and the sciences. It was laid out by Plato , and it states that the only authentic knowledge is the one that allows for positive verification and assumes that valid knowledge exists only in science.

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among the most important Enlightenment thinkers, we can refer to Auguste Comte, who was a French philosopher and sociologist. He followed the creation of a positivist philosophy, and embraced the concept of the evolution of the modern society and of the people through time. The idea of progress was central to Comte’s new science, called sociology, which will eventually lead to the historical consideration of every science.

The positivist phase requires a complete understanding of the universe and the world around us and states that the society should never know if it is in this positivist phase.

As for scientific positivism, it was considered one of the most influential ideologies of progress in the early modern period and had a powerful impact in Europe during the course of 19th Century. It took form in France and had a great impact over other European movements.
The contemporary positivism actually meant the use of scientific methods to uncover the laws according to which both physical and human events occur, while sociology would tend to synthesize all knowledge in order to make a better society.
Positivism is a way of understanding based on science, (Auguste Comte) in which people do not rely on the faith in God, rather on the science behind humanity.

Moritz Schlick, the founding father of logical...

Moritz Schlick, the founding father of logical positivism and the Vienna Circle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Logical positivism, later called logical empiricism, is a school of philosophy that combines empiricism, the idea that the observational evidence is indispensable for the knowledge of the world, along with a version of rationalism, being the idea that our knowledge includes a component that is not derived from observation.
Logical positivism developed in a group of discussions called the First Vienna Circle that was organized after the end of the First World War. Some of the important names that tried to support this movement were Hans Reichenbach, Otto Neurath and Rudolph Carnap. The main idea that was supported by them was called synthetic a priori propositions – meaning that the rejection of metaphysics had no meaning, without actually being wrong. In the end, this project did not seem to last for too long.

Stephen Hawking is a recent high profile advocate of positivism, regarding the physical sciences. In his work, called The Universe in a Nutshell , –

English: NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking.

English: NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– “…a scientific theory is a mathematical model that describes and codifies the observations we make. A good theory should 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 to describe what has been found to be a very good mathematical model for time and say what predictions it makes…”

Through the Vienna Circle, the positivist movement emerged in Europe in the late 1920s. The members of the Vienna Circle had a great antipathy toward the German speculative philosophy and toward sweeping metaphysical theories that had flourished on the continent all throughout the 20th Century.
An interesting aspect of the positivist movement was that the positivists regarded women as being superior to men. Comte praised women as being the vehicles of feelings over reason, of morality over politics .

 Positivism in the Frame of International Relations

In international relations, positivism has been the dominant epistemological point of view. In the theory of the International Relations, positivism tends to create knowledge that is being supported by four foundational assumptions.
The first one is that methodologies that apply in the scientific world can be assumed to perform the same in the non-scientific world. This is referred to as the unity of science .
The second assumption would constitute the fact that there is a clear delineation between values and facts , as well as the belief that facts remain neutral between various theories.
The third assumption is that both the natural and the social environments have regularities that can be uncovered by theories, being the same kind of process that is used when a scientist approaches the natural world, also being used in the context of the social research.
Positivism has a major role to play in international relations theory. It is considered to be one of the explicit alternatives among many, but rather as the implicit Gold Standard which stands against all values that were known before this particular time, along with all of the approaches that were evaluated in the past decades.
International theory underpins and informs international practice even if there is a lengthy lag between the major theories all the way to their absorption in the social, political and economic life.
In the context of international relations, positivism is regarded by scientists in different manners. Based on the works of John Locke and David Hume , the central premise of positivism is that science must be based on a Phenomenalist Nominalism expressing the notion that only statements about a particular phenomena which can be directly experiences can count as knowledge, and that any statements that do not refer to independent atomized objects cannot be granted the status of justified knowledge.

 – Cosmina Craciunescu

  Continue reading: Social Constructivism and Positivism in the Context of International Relations


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