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Positivism is historically associated with the nineteenth century French

philosopher, Auguste Comte, who was the first thinker to use the word for a
philosophical position (Beck 1979). His
positivism turns to observation and reason as means of understanding
behaviour; explanation proceeds by way of scientific description.
According to the doctrine of August comet all genuine knowledge is based
on sense experience and can be advanced only by means of observation and
experiment. Following in the empiricist tradition, it limited inquiry and
belief to what can be firmly established and in thus abandoning metaphysical
and speculative attempts to gain knowledge by reason alone, the movement
developed what has been described as a tough-minded or ientation to facts
and natural phenomena (Beck 1979).
According to Duncan (1968) it the paradigm of human knowledge (Duncan
First, the methodological procedures of natural science may be directly
applied to the social sciences Positivism here implies a particular stance
concerning the social scientist as an observer of social reality. Second, the
end-product of investigations by social scientists can be formulated in terms
parallel to those of natural science. This means that their analyses must be
expressed in laws or law-like generalizations of the same kind that have been
established in relation to natural phenomena.
Positivism here involves a definite view of social scientists as analysts or
interpreters of their subject matter. Positivism claims that science provides
us with the clearest possible ideal of knowledge.
The assumptions and nature of science
First, there is the assumption of determinism.
The second assumption is that of empiricism
Mouly (1978) identifies five steps in the process of empirical science:
1 experience: the starting point of scientific endeavour at the most
elementary level
2 classification: the formal systematization ofotherwise incomprehensible
masses of data
3 quantification: a more sophisticated stage where precision of measurement
allows more adequate analysis of phenomena by athematical means
4 discovery of relationships: the identification and classification of functional
relationshipsamong phenomena
5 approximation to the truth: science proceeds by gradual approximation to
the truth.

The third assumption underlying the work of the scientist is the principle of
The final assumption, that of generality
A word representing an idea: more accurately, a concept is the relationship
between the word (or symbol) and an idea or conception. Whoever we are
and whatever we do, we all make use of concepts. Concepts enable us to
impose some sort of meaning on the world; through them reality is given
sense, order and coherence. They are the means by which we are able to
come to terms with our experience. How we perceive the world, then, is
highly dependent on the repertoire of concepts we can command. The more
we have, the more sense data we can pick up and the surer will be our
perceptual (and cognitive) grasp of whatever is out there. If our perceptions
of the world are determined by the concepts available to us, it follows that
people with differing sets of concepts will tend to view the same objective
reality differently a doctor diagnosing an illness will draw upon a vastly
different range of concepts from, say, the restricted and simplistic notions of
the layperson in that context.
So, you may ask, where is all this leading? Simply to this: that social
scientists have likewise developed, or appropriated by giving precise
meaning to, a set of concepts which enable them to shape their perceptions
of the world in a particular way, to represent that slice of reality which is
their special study. And collectively, these concepts form part of their wider
meaning system which permits them to give accounts of that reality,
accounts which are rooted and validated in the direct experience of everyday
life. These
points may be exemplified by the concept of social
class. Hughes (1976) says that it offers
a rule, a grid, even though vague at times, to use in talking about certain
sorts of experience that have to do with economic position, life-style, lifechances, and so on. It serves to identify aspects of experience, and by
relating the concept to other concepts we are able to construct theories
about experience in a particular order or sphere. (Hughes 1976: 34)
There are two important points to stress when considering scientific
concepts. The first is that they do not exist independently of us: they are
indeed our inventions enabling us to acquire some understanding at least of
the apparent chaos of nature. The second is that they are limited in number
and in this way contrast with the infinite number of phenomena they are
required to explain.
A second tool of great importance to the scientist is the hypothesis. It is from
this that much research proceeds, especially where cause and- effect or
concomitant relationships are being investigated. The hypothesis has been

defined by Kerlinger (1970) as a conjectural statement of the relations

between two or more variables, or an educated guess, though it is unlike an
educated guess in that it is often the result of considerable study, reflective
thinking and observation. Medawar (1972) writes of the hypothesis and its
function thus:
All advances of scientific understanding, at every
level, begin with a speculative adventure, an
imaginative preconception of what might be true a
preconception which always, and necessarily, goes a
little way (sometimes a long way) beyond anything
which we have logical or factual authority to believe
in. It is the invention of a possible world, or of
a tiny fraction of that world. The conjecture is
then exposed to criticism to find out whether or
not that imagined world is anything like the real
one. Scientific reasoning is therefore at all levels
an interaction between two episodes of thought a
dialogue between two voices, the one imaginative
and the other critical; a dialogue, if you like, between
the possible and the actual, between proposal and
disposal, conjecture and criticism, between what
might be true and what is in fact the case.
(Medawar 1972)
Positivist Approach
This approach has been explicitly recognized, and advocated, as the
"natural-science model" of social-science research, and has found
widespread application in social science in general, and in organiza-tional
research in particular (see Schutz 1973, p. 48; Behling 1980, p. 483; Schon,
Drake and Miller 1984, p. 9; Burrell and Morgan 1979, p. 4; Daft 1983, p. 539;
Lee 1989a, b).
Only by applying the methods of natural science, according to the positivist
school of thought, will social science (including organizational research) ever
be able to match the achievements of natural science in explanation,
prediction, and control.
the positivist approach involves the manipulation of theoretical propositions
using the rules of formal logic and the rules of hypothetico-deductive logic,
so that the theoretical propositions satisfy the four requirements of

falsifiability, logical consistency, relative explanatory power, and survival.

Immediately following are the details to this outline.
The Rules of Formal Logic
In the positivist approach, a scientific explanation is expressed in formal
proposi-tions, so that the rules of formal logic may be applied. This is
important because the rules of formal logic provide a powerful means by
which to relate propositions to one another, and to deduce new ones. The
axiomatic systems of mathematics, like Euclid's system of geometry, provide
the ideal for how this system of logic is supposed to work (Feigl 1970,
Hanson 1969, Nagel and Newman 1960). For this reason, it is preferred, and
sometimes even required, that scientific explanations be stated mathematically, since this would allow the scientist to use a well established subset
of the rules of formal logic-a subset widely known as the rules of algebra.
Whether or not mathematical, the rules of formal logic have two important
consequences for the development of a scientific explanation. First, the
process of logical deduction is able to extract consequences that are
contained only implicitly in the explanation's opening premises, thereby
leading to unanticipated discoveries (Barker 1969, p. 238, citing Hempel).
Second, any proposition that cannot be shown to be logically connected to,
or logically deducible from, the remaining propositions would be "exposed"
as groundless (Hanson 1969, p. 61). In this way, the scientist can use the
rules of formal logic to eliminate propositions that originate from the
scientist's own "subjective" opinions, values, and biases. In the positivist
approach, the origin of all deduced propositions must be found in the
explanation's own 'objective" foundational premises. (2) The Rules of
"Hypothetico-Deductive Logic" The rules of formal logic in general, and the
rules of mathematics in particular, pertain to the task of how to relate
propositions to one another. As such, these rules meet the needs of the
formal logician or pure mathematician, who restricts his or her attention to
the world of ideal relations-the strictly artificial world of formal propositions
and the relationships between them. The scientist, however, works not only
in the artificial world of propositions-propositions that are of his or her own
invention-but also in the "real world" that he or she is observing. The
scientist, therefore, faces not only the task of how to relate these
propositions to one another (so that they are logical), but also the additional
task of how to relate these propositions to the empirical reality of interest (so
that the propositions are true). Therefore, in addition to the rules of formal
logic (which include the rules of mathematics), the scientist needs a distinct
set of procedural rules with which to relate his or her propositions to the
empirical reality being investigated. A major obstacle confronting such a
procedure is that scientific propositions are resistant to testing by direct
observation. The reason is that scientific propositions typically posit the
existence of entities, phenomena, or relationships that are not directly
observable, for whatever reason. The researcher can only theorize that they
exist, like protons, electrons, and photons in physics, black holes in

astronomy, evolution in biology, elasticities in economics, social structures in

sociology, and so forth. None of these things can be seen directly. By what
procedure, then, may the scientist relate his or her propositions to empirical
referents that are not directly observable? Researchers who take the
positivist approach address this concern by using what is called
"hypothetico-deductive logic." The main idea behind hypo-thetico-deductive
logic is that theorized entities have consequences that are observ-able, even
if the entities themselves are not. Hypothetico-deductive logic is a particular
way of applying the logic of the syllogism. The standard syllogism (see Figure
1) involves applying a major premise,
Major premise: All man are mortal
Minor Premise : Socrates is a man
such as "All men are mortal," to a minor premise, such as "Socrates is a
man," in order to reach a conclusion, which, in this case, would be "Socrates
is mortal." In syllogistic reasoning, the conclusion can be true only if the
major premise is true and, conversely, the major premise can be true only if
the conclusion is true. In other words, each serves as an indicator of the truth
or falsity of the other.
In hypothetico-deductive logic (see Figure 1), the major premise is a general
theory, the minor premise is a set of facts (the "initial conditions") describing
a situation, and the conclusion is what the theory predicts or hypothesizes to
be observed in that specific situation. This means that, even if a theory is not
directly verifiable because it refers to unobservable entities, it can still be
tested indirectly, through the observable consequences (equivalently called
"predictions" or "hypothe-ses") that are logically deducible from it. For
example, the theory that "All men are mortal" can be tested through its
prediction that "Socrates is mortal" by observing whether or not Socrates
dies. This also means that no theory can be conclusively verified as true,
since a new situation and a new prediction ("Plato is mortal") would re-open
the possibility for its being disproven. A theory that is said to be "confirmed"
or "corroborated" is one that has survived such a test, but remains open to
being disproven in future tests. (See Copi 1986 and Popper 1968a.)
Of course, the testing of hypotheses and predictions calls for rigorous
controls. This means that when the scientist tests what the theory predicts to
happen, against what he or she actually observes to happen, the scientist
must be able to attribute the phenomenon or relationship being observed to
the factor of interest being tested, where the potentially confounding effects
of the remaining factors are somehow removed or "controlled for." The
controls of laboratory experiments and the controls of inferential statistics
exist for this purpose.

Four Requirements for the Theoretical Propositions to Satisfy When the rules
of formal logic and the rules of hypothetico-deductive logic are used to
manage theoretical propositions, there are four "checks" or requirements
that the propositions must satisfy, so that the researcher knows that he or
she is managing the propositions properly (Popper 1968a, pp. 32-33). The
first requirement is falsifiability. The presence of inaccuracies in the empirical
content of theoretical propositions can be detected only through
contradictory observations-observations that disconfirm a prediction and
thereby falsify the theory from which the prediction follows. In this regard,
Popper (1968, p. 37) takes the position that the Marxist theory of history, "in
spite of the serious efforts of some of its founders and followers," eventually
adopted the practice of making predictions so vague that the predictions
could hardly be disconfirmed. The lack of falsifiability in the Marxist theory of
history therefore had the effect of concealing any inaccuracies in it; "by this
strategem they destroyed [their theory's] much advertised claim to scientific
status." The now common characterization of scientific theories as falsifiable, refutable, testable, and disconfirmable is an indication of the
widespread extent to which the rules of hypothetico-deductive logic have
been put into practice. The significance of the requirement of falsifiability is
magnified in the situation where the scientist must evaluate competing
theories. In general, it is possible for the same observation to be consistent
with several theories simultaneously. This means that the accumulation of
more and more observations consistent with a particular theory does not
prove that it is the true one, or, if considered alone, that it is true at all. The
key, therefore, is not to accumulate observations that are consistent with a
theory, but to seek observations that disconfirm or falsify a theory; the result
would be a reduction in the number of theories considered viable, with the
surviving one(s) thus earning the status of "confirmed" or "corroborated."
Unlike the Marxist theory of history, at least in the way that Popper
characterizes it (above), such theories must be formulated in a way that
allows their disconfirmation or falsification. The second requirement is logical
consistency. One test for logical consistency, already mentioned, is that all of
a theory's propositions must be shown to be related to one another by the
rules of formal logic, or be logically deducible from the same set of premises.
Another test-one that the hypothetico-deductive framework empha-sizes-is
that the different predictions which follow from a theory must be compatible
with one another. In other words, a theory that allows predictions of contrary
or mutually exclusive events is said to lack logical consistency. For instance,
consider a set of theoretical propositions that explain race-based and genderbased employment discrimination in terms of the dynamics of psychological
and group processes. Suppose further that the theoretical propositions, when
applied to the facts and figures describing a certain organization, lead to the
following three predictions about the actual salaries in the organization
(where all factors but race and gender are held constant): on average, the
white women earn more than the black men, the black men earn more than

the black women, and the black women earn more than the white women.
Clearly, the situations posed by any two of the predictions logically preclude
the situation posed by the third. The methodological
result, in which all three predictions are deducible from the same theory,
would be a sign that the theoretical propositions, from which the predictions
follow, lack consis-tency and must be "tightened up" before they are ready
for empirical testing. The third requirement is relative explanatory power. A
given theory must be able to explain, or predict, the subject matter as well
as any competing theory. As an example, consider two theories that purport
to explain the same phenomenon. Each theory undergoes testing in the
same five laboratory experiments, where each experi-ment poses a different
set of empirical conditions. The predictions of the first theory are confirmed
in all five laboratory experiments. The predictions of the second theory,
however, are confirmed in only three of the experiments; in the remaining
two experiments, the results are unfavorable or inconclusive. The second
theory, in not predicting as well as the first theory, is rejected for its relative
deficiency in explana-tory power. The fourth and last requirement is survival.
While falsifiable, a theory must survive the actual attempts aimed at its
disconfirmation through controlled empirical testing. Passing an empirical
test, however, can never verify conclusively that the theory of interest is
true. "It should be noted that a positive decision can only temporarily
support the theory, for subsequent negative decisions may always overthrow
it" (Popper 1968a, p. 33). The rules of hypothetico-deductive logic therefore
necessitate the on-going testing of previously confirmed theories.
An Integrated Framework for the Positivist and Interpretive
Which approach should we take to organizational
research? The positivist approach makes the claim that
its methods-the methods of natural science-are the
only truly scientific ones, while the interpretive
approach makes the counterclaim that the study of
people and their institutions calls for methods that are
altogether foreign to those of natural science.
The understanding at the first level belongs to the observed human subjects.
This understanding consists of the everyday common sense and everyday
meanings with which the human subjects see themselves, and which give
rise to the behavior that they manifest in socially constructed settings.
This explanation, which is also called scientific theory, is made up of
constructs that belong exclusively to the observing researcher (as opposed
to the observed human subjects). The explanation consists of formal
propositions that typically posit the existence of unobservable entities (like
social structure).

This such way involves the researcher's ability, based on the interpretive
understanding, to read the behavior of the observed human subjects as
rational, rather than as absurd, peculiar, pointless, irrational, surprising, or
This paper will utilize Schutz's concept of "puppets" (1973, pp. 63-65) as a
device for adapting the positivist understanding so that it may adequately
account for this additional feature which characterizes social reality. In an
important way, the theoretical propositions that positivist researcher
formulates are not about people, but "puppets." The positivist researcher
constructs the puppets to think and act likes the actual human subjects
whom he or she is observing. In the way that the theoretical propositions are
formulated, the researcher (i) endows the puppets with certain internally
held values, (ii) specifies the variety of external opportunities and constraints
that the puppets may encounter in their environment, and (iii) specifies the
actions (the publicly observable behaviors) with which the puppets, given
their internally held values, may respond to the externally encountered
opportunities and constraints. The first two of the three tests of the positivist
understanding encourage the researcher to verify that the predicted actions
are "rational" with respect to the subjective meanings attributed to the
puppets based on the interpretive understand-ing. Indeed, the construction
of a positivist understanding without the aid of a careful interpretation of the
subjective meanings would invite the methodological error that anthropology
calls "ethnocentrism" and history calls "anachronism." In this methodological error, the researcher mistakenly applies the subjective meanings
that exist in his or her own culture or organization, instead of the subjective
meanings that exist in the culture or organization of the observed human
subjects, when he or she is developing a theoretical explanation for the
behavior of these people. In order to avoid this methodological error, the first
two tests insure that the following two sets of meanings are the same: (1)
the subjective meanings that the human subjects themselves attach to their
own actions, as earlier recorded by the researcher in the interpretive
understanding, and (2) the subjective meanings that the positivist
understanding assigns, explicitly or implicitly, to the actions of its puppets.
Article favour
Few contemporary phi losophers of science defend logical positivism, yet
positivism itself remains the dominant philosophy, both in social work and in
all other scientific fields. A simple definition of positivism is found in Rubin &
Babbie (1997):
"A paradigm introduced by August Comte, which held that social behavior
could be studied and understood in a rational, scien tific mannerin contrast
to explanations based in religion or superstition" (p. G-6). Note that
positivism does not dismiss other approaches to understanding, it merely as

serts the value of one particular (e.g., scien tific) approach. We are all
positivists in this broad sense.
The positivist tools of evaluation research, such as single system and group
research designs, are indeed very good at this. One can determine, for
example, whether clients re ceiving Azrin's Job-Finding Club Program obtain
better paying and longer term employ ment more rapidly than clients
receiving tra ditional job counseling (see Azrin, Flores, & Kaplan, 1975). A
randomized controlled trial, with suitable outcome measures and a suffi
ciently long follow-up period, can do this quite well. This is an entirely
different endeavor than testing a theory, and it illustrates well the differing
approaches of applied research compared to basic scientific inquiries aimed
atevaluating a theory. Social work is much more akin to an applied discipline
like engineering (see Guild & Guild, 1936), than to a basic science like
physics. One can have a predic tion (I would not call it a theory) about
whether or not a newly constructed but untested bridge spanning a gorge
can bear the weight of a heavily laden train. Popper notwithstand ing, one
can test this prediction rather rigor ously by driving said train across the
bridge. The answer will rapidly be forthcoming. If the bridge fails, the answer
is unambiguous. If the bridge holds, the answer is equally unam biguous.
This is not Popper and the testing of metallurgical theory, this is applied
research answering practical evaluation questions on the safety of bridges.
Munro cites the positivist's supposed

reliance on "neutral" observation as a fatal

philosophical and pragmatic error, since sci

always bring some preconceptions or bias to their datagather ing endeavors. This is a straw man argument, since no one claims
that such strict neutrality or observations by humans is possible. A much
more accurate portrayal (Kendler, 1991) of the positivist perspective is as
follows: The crucial question is not whether the scientist's behavior is free of
preconcep tions, but whether his or her scientific observations can be
detached from those inferences Regardless of an observer's value
judgements, theoretical preconcep tions, social beliefs, or any other predis
position, consensual agreement will be guaranteed if a minimal commitment
to natural science methodology is main tained. (p. 140)
entists, as human beings,

And (Gorenstein, 1986), It makes no sense to reject the potential scientific

import of a construct simply because social values may have played some
role in its formation. The question of whether a construct has any scientific
import is an empirical one. It has to do with whether the construct exhibits
law ful properties, (p. 589)
In several places Munro (2002) raises the bogeyman of behaviorism:
"Whereas extreme behaviourists have claimed that a scientific social science
cannot study the mind..." (p. 466) and "Whereas there seemed an absolute
schism between social workers' intuitive prac tice wisdom and the strict
version of behav iorism that avoided all reference to mental processes..." (p.

469). Although I am a strictbehaviorist in the Skinnerian tradition, I am quite

at a loss as to whom Munro is referring. I know of no behavioral social worker
in the past 40 years who fits her description. Skin ner wrote extensively
about the mind, and explaining so-called mental phenomena has been a
major and productive area of concep tual and experimental behaviorist
inquiry for many decades (see Thyer, 1992). Where be haviorists diverge
from many theoreticians is in trying to explain so-called mental mecha nisms
in terms of a person's history of past and contemporary environmental
transac tions and one's biological endowment, with out invoking nonmaterialistic causal agents. Indeed, for the Skinnerian behaviorist, every
thing the body does is behavior-overt actions, feelings, and thoughts,
regardless of their publicly observable nature. We do not believe that
invoking the "mind" explains anything at all (after all, one must then account
for the mind itself, which inevitably leads back to biology and person-inenvironment transac tions!), but the private products of our brains (and the
rest of our bodies)
such as thoughts, dreams, etc., have long been a focus of behav iorist study.
The pervasive confusion between Watsonian behaviorism (which did attempt
to limit psychology to the study of overt ac tions) and Skinner's radical (in
the sense of "complete") behaviorism, which does study the "mind," other
private events, and virtu ally all other human phenomena, is no excuse for
perpetuating this error in our professional journals and books. As Mary
MacDonald pointed out in her chapter appearing in what has been called the
first social work research textbook ever published, "Social work research
begins This content downloaded from on Thu, 11 Sep 2014
03:52:23 AM All use such as thoughts, dreams, etc., have long been a focus
of behav iorist study. The pervasive confusion between Watsonian
behaviorism (which did attempt to limit psychology to the study of overt ac
tions) and Skinner's radical (in the sense of "complete") behaviorism, which
does study the "mind," other private events, and virtu ally all other human
phenomena, is no excuse for perpetuating this error in our professional
journals and books. As Mary MacDonald pointed out in her chapter appearing
in what has been called the first social work research textbook ever
published, "Social work research begins
with practical problems, and its objective is to produce knowledge that can
be put to use in planning and carrying out social work programs"
(MacDonald, 1960, p. 3). For too long the applied profession of social work
has followed the academic Pied Piper of preferring theory-testing research
over an swering applied questions. This has been a destructive influence in
terms of our building a strong evidence-based foun dation for the myriad
social work services we are already providing.
Article favr
Antipositivism in Contemporary Philosophy of Social Science and Humanities

Antipositivists against Whether dead or alive, their enemy is difficult to identify on

the basis of anti-positivist accounts which vary considerably one from another.
Antipositivists do not have an identity either, they are a motley group with different
interests, motives and backgrounds.
Empiricist use scientific methods to test what is observable, if you cant see it cant
be tested and doesn't exist - Cartesian mind/body dualism emerges. Positivists use
empirical methods but in addition to testing what is observable they use logic and
reason to verify or falsify the real world out there. Logical positivists argue that
science is the only true form of knowledge and that moral and value judgments cant
be varified or falsified.
*** 'empiricism is a theory of knowledge which asserts that knowledge arises from
experience. Empiricism is one of several competing views about how we know
things, part of the branch of philosophy called epistemology, or "theory of
knowledge". Empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence, especially
sensory perception, in the formation of ideas, while discounting the notion of innate
*** "Positivism is the philosophy that the only authentic knowledge is knowledge
that is based on actual sense experience. Such knowledge can come only from
affirmation of theories through strict scientific method. Metaphysical speculation is
(1st says that knowledge comes from experience that we get from life and the other
suggests that we are born with a sense of intuitive wisdom)

Article Quanti
Explaining the Social World: Historicism versus Positivism

Is Positivism Only Quantitative?

One standard critique of positivism is its presumed advocacy for
quantification of socio- logical inquiry, a charge repeated by York and Clark.
The implication here is that positiv- ists want to translate all concepts into
variables and numbers, and in so doing, positivism strips the subtlety and
complexity from key concepts while ignoring their place in histor- ical
context. There is often a further charge that positivists have physics envy
(much like their Freudian counterparts), an envy that is not only pathological
but also delusional.

For antipositivists, the social world simply does not lend itself to
quantification in many instances. York and Clark do not go quite this far, but
they certainly push the buttons that start this tired critique rolling. I have
always found this criticism rather strange, especially because I have been
one of the strongest critics of what I have called "quantamania" in sociology.
In the early decades of the last century, Franklin Giddings (1920) did indeed
want to quantify everything, but most positivists I know do not quantify the
variables in their theories. The concepts in their theories are, to be sure,
variables, and it is perhaps possible to quantify them, but this kind of
exercise is secondary to the theory itself, which states the relationships
among concepts that denote key properties and processes of the social
A few positivists use mathematics in their formulation of theoretical
principles, but this is not the same as quantifying variables. The more
important point is that, at times, quantification is possi- ble, and if possible, it
is probably desirable, but quantification for its own sake violates the basic
tenets of positivism. The most important tenet for positivists is to denote
universal and generic properties of the social world and to formulate laws
about their dynamic properties; whether these laws are stated in words or
mathematics makes much less dif- ference than formulating abstract laws
about the operative dynamics of some domain of the social universe. Many
of the most important concepts in science have never been pre- cisely
quantified-natural selection, for example-and there is every reason to
suppose that such will also be the case in sociology. Indeed, the worst thing
that can happen- from this positivist's perspective-is to have premature
quantification (again, much like positivism's Freudian counterpart) of key
Is Positivism Simply Statistical Analysis?
When Auguste Comte (1830-1842) made his forceful advocacy for the
scientific study of social organization, he wanted to call the new discipline
social physics-as we all have been taught. What is often left out of this tale is
the reason that he adopted the Latin- Greek hybrid: sociology. The Belgian,
Adolphe Quetelet, had already applied the label "social physics" to his
particular brand of statistical analysis, thus making it unavailable to Comte
([1830-1842] 1896) in his advocacy of positivism, a situation that troubled
Comte greatly because he detested the label "sociology." There is a certain
irony that pos- itivism is now associated with descriptive statistics-an
association that would make Comte turn over in his grave for, at the time
that Comte was writing, the term "physics" had not been usurped by the
current discipline of this name and, instead, meant "to study the nature of"
things. Thus, Comte wanted sociology to be a science that studied the nature

of the social. His ideal for sociology was Newton's law of gravity rather than
Quete- let's and subsequent statisticians' works. For Comte, as for all
positivists, the goal is not to describe empirical reality with statisticsalthough there is nothing wrong with such work-but to formulate laws about
the underlying dynamics of, and fundamental rela- tionships among, forces
driving the social universe. Statistics is not likely to be very useful in
formulating such laws.
Since positivism means to formulate abstract laws and then make deductions
to empirical cases. And so, nothing could be farther from the interests of a
positivist than empirical descriptions of social processes that are not guided
by highly abstract theoretical principles.
Is Positivism Inductive?
A related critique-repeated by York and Clark-asserts that positivism is
essentially inductive, seeking to make generalizations from descriptions
(mostly statistical) of empir- ical regularities. Nothing could be farther from
what positivists actually advocate and, more important, what they do. For
example, take these words from Comte's ( [ 1830-1842, vol. 2:242] 1986)
Positive Philosophy: "No real observation of any kind of phenomena is
possible, except in so far as it is first connected, and finally interpreted, by
some theory:" On the next page, Comte goes on to assert: "Hence, it is clear
that, scientifically speaking, all isolated, empirical observation is idle, and
even radically uncertain; that science can use only those observations which
are connected, at least hypothetically, with some law." York and Clark
introduce Mills' (1961) critique of "abstracted empiricism" and then paint
positivists with this brush.
There is a legitimate concern that when laws are derived from empirical
regularities at particular points in time and place, they do not address
generic and universe processes but, instead, make time-bound events sound
more univer- sal and generic than they actually are. Again, positivists would
agree with Mills that abstracted empiricism is not the way to develop theory,
because the goal of positivism is to formulate and then to test laws that
apply to all societies in all places and at all times.

In fact, I would argue that York and Clark's advocacy for a historically
informed theory- that is, generalizations about processes in particular
epochs-is far more guilty of abstracted empiricism than positivism, which
seeks to do just the opposite: to move away from particular cases in
particular times and places, and, in so doing, to develop laws for all times
and places.

Theories are often developed from a process of "abduction" (induction combined with
deduction) in which the theorist moves between the abstract and generic, on the one side,
and the empirical and historical, on the other. And, from this interplay of data with abstract
concepts and principles, testable theories emerge. Some theories, such as Charles Darwin's
formulation of the law of natural selection, emerge from an inductive process of assessing
the data (whereas Alfred Wallace's similar formulation was mostly deductive, coming as a
blinding insight during a nighttime fever attack from malaria); other theories are more
purely deductive (as in physics, where the calculus of mathematics often points to key
properties of the physical universe), and still others move back and forth, using empirical
knowledge to assess abstract concepts, and vice versa. In most sciences, theories are
developed by scholars who have a considerable store of knowledge of relevant empir- ical
regularities but who, at the same time, are also willing to develop abstract concepts and
laws that can explain these regularities. Theorizing is, therefore, never a lock-step process of
induction. It always involves a creative leap from empirical cases to the more general,
analytical, and abstract

Is Positivism Reductionist?
One of the frequent assaults aimed at scientists in sociology is the charge of
reductionism. Sociologists appear to live in great fear that some sociological
laws can be reduced to those of psychology or (gasp!) biology. These fears
only underscore sociology's collective inse- curity, because all science is
reductionist in this sense: the properties of the universe
studied by one science are typically built from more elemental properties
studied by another science. Chemists do not become collectively paranoid
that some of the elements of their universe can be explained by physics;
biologists are not worried about what bio- chemistry does to their
explanations (indeed, they embrace chemistry); and even psy- chologists do
not fall apart when biology is introduced. For most scientists, there is a clear
recognition that phenomena emerge as a result of the relations among more
elemental units (whether chemical elements, biological beings, or quarks)
and that, for practical purposes, it is not all devastating to have a few laws
that are deducible from laws about the elements that make up these
emergent phenomena. Some phenomena lend themselves to reduction; in
other cases, phenomena are not so easily explained by the forces operating
on their constituent elements. Thus, sociologists should not become
hysterical and pre- judge the issue. Instead, the laws governing the operation
of the parts of society and those explaining its emergent properties should
be compared and assessed in terms of what more they add to an explanation
of both parts and the wholes built from these parts. This is all that a positivist
would argue, and sociologists often stake out an extreme position about the
sanctity of emergent phenomena that goes against practices in other
sciences. Even if a certain amount of reduction was possible, the laws on
emergent properties would be the ones that most sociologists would use
because reduction is often simply a process demonstrating the unity of
phenomena rather than an effort to destroy a disci- pline-as sociologists
often seem to assume. If sociologists were more secure, they would not
panic every time ideas from other disciplines are used to supplement or

expand socio- logical explanations. And the charge that positivists are
reductionists would not be the equivalent to shouting "fire" in a movie
theater. In sum, then, I see these four critiques leveled by York and Clark as
"straw men" that deflect our energies away from more important issues that
need to be discussed. York and Clark's critiques are overstated, and they do
not help us understand the real epistemolog- ical differences between
positivists and what I will label, for lack of a better term, histori- cists. There
is, I believe, a real difference between those who seek to develop laws that
explain universal forces in all times and places, and those who attempt to
explain social events in their empirical and historical contexts. I am not
claiming that one approach is superior to the other, only that they are
different enterprises. And we should recognize this difference and avoid
mudslinging contests over the difference

The strong points of York and Clark's essay revolve around several related
arguments. One important argument is that many of the forces that drive
empirical and historical processes are, for long periods of time, essentially
constants-like gravity on earth-with the result that they will be ignored by
those engaging in statistical analysis, for whom things must vary if they are
ever to get on the radar screen. The conclusion is that, since positivism is
about statistical analysis, it cannot explain "social gravity"-a contention that
is simply wrong.
Another important argument is that empirical or historical events at any
given time are typically outcomes of the unique confluence and intersection
of many forces at a particular point in time. This contention is obviously true,
just as the weather each day is an intersection of forces. However, this does
not make positivism or science irrelevant to understanding the flow of
empirical events.
Another significant con- tention, one that others have made in a somewhat
different manner (e.g., Giddens 1984), is that the constitution of reality at
one point in time transforms the very nature of reality at a later point in time,
thus invalidating laws that were presumed to be about the univer- sal and
timeless properties of the social universe. In making this observation and
then using it to mount a critique of positivism, York and Clark confuse
empirical descriptions with theoretical explanations-one is time bound,
whereas the other is not.
Finally, the authors make the point that phenomena can suddenly shift to a
new set of values or valences, often creating entirely new types of
phenomena. These sudden changes may be the result of a unique
confluence of events or perhaps a consequence of slowly accumu- lating
(and unrecognized) changes to some tipping point. Like the biotic universe

(e.g., punctuated equilibrium, mass extinctions) or the physical world (e.g.,

volcanic erup- tions), the social is filled with sudden and transformative
events (e.g., revolution, indus- trialization). Since other sciences seem to do
just fine in explaining other realms of the universe where changes are
sudden and transformative, why is this critique supposedly devastating for
positivists? Now, let me backtrack and address each of these useful points of
debate in more detail.

Does "Social Gravity" Obviate Science?

It is true that some of the most powerful forces driving human behavior, interaction, and
organization are not easily measured in short time frames, nor are they amenable to statistical analyses. They simply are too embedded in the background or do not vary significantly over long historical periods. I think that this is probably the most important point in
York and Clark's article, and it represents a real challenge to short-term or cross- sectional
empirical analyses of social processes. However, York and Clark take an extra step by, first,
portraying positivists as overly inductive, descriptive, quantitative, and sta- tistical; then,
using this inaccurate portrayal of positivism, they assert that-look here!- positivism is not
capable of discovering these really important social forces that do not vary for long periods
of time. This conclusion is only possible with gross misrepresenta- tions of positivism.
There are subsidiary points to this general critique. Any empirical analysis of events at a
particular time and place will often miss the effects of forces that constitute "social gravity." Therefore, it is necessary to do the equivalent of what astrophysics did-get out into
space and explore the gravitational pull of bodies that vary by size and distance from each
other and that, as a result, exert varying degrees of gravitational pull. Indeed, concern with
gravity led to Newton's famous law and, later, to more general sets of laws formulated by
Einstein. What strikes me as strange is that York and Clark appear to conclude that sociology cannot do the same thing: get out of our immediate universe-that is, societies of the
present-and look at diverse societies at different times and places where the social
equivalent of forces like gravity vary. Well, to be fair, they do suggest that sociology must be
more historical and must examine events over longer periods of time to ferret out the effects
of social gravity. Their portrayal of positivism, however, as not being able to do this is clearly
wrong, since this is exactly what positivist theory seeks to do.
In fact, by examining the structure of societies in other times and places, early positiv- ists
reasoned that it would be possible to observe the forces of the social universe and to track
variations in these forces and their effects on patterns of social organization. This is why
early positivists like Comte ([1830-1842] 1896), Spencer ([1874-1896] 2002), and Durkheim
([ 1893] 1947) were evolutionists; they wanted to see the full range of variation in human
societies so that they could do just the thing that York and Clark think impor- tant: discover
variations in social forces that, like gravity, drive the formation of patterns in social
organizations. If, however, you portray positivists as number-crunching, induc- tive grunts, it
is easy to argue that positivism is not up to the task of analyzing social grav- ity
For a positivist, the goal is to generate nomothetic explanations in which general laws are
used to explain par- ticular empirical and historical events, whereas for a historicist, the
intent is to describe the sets and sequences of events causing a particular outcome. As to
which explanation is more satisfying, this is really a matter of preferences and purposes. As
a positivist, I find more satisfying to see a particular revolution, for example, as one
empirical manifestation of conflict processes in general that can be explained by a few

general laws on the dynam- ics of conflict as a social force. In contrast, historicists would be
more satisfied with the scenario of historical events and would see the nomothetic
explanation as taking the life- blood out of these events. One type of explanation is not
superior to the other; they are simply two different ways to understand the social universe.
There are, however, ways in which the two modes of thinking can supplement each other.
Positivistic theory thus provides clues about what classes of empirical events are the best
candidates for an explanatory description of the causes of some historical outcome. A
historian or ethnographer will, of course, add all the interesting empirical details that a
nomothetic explanation takes out or ignores. Thus, my big point here is that we need to
recognize the difference between historical and nomothetic explanations. They are different
enterprises, and it does no good to crit- icize one from the perspective of the other. I could
complicate this distinction by empha- sizing that there are also modeling practices among
positivists that emphasize causality and historical sequences, but only among generic forces
(not actual empirical cases). I call these analytical models because they are highly abstract,
but they trace sequences of causal effects (including direct, indirect, and reverse causal
effects) among forces that are oper- ative in all times and places. What I have previously
said about abstract laws also applies to these analytical models; these models are not
historical but abstract representations of causal connections among generic and universal
social processes in visual space. Still, they rely upon data to get a sense of the key forces
and their range of variation, and they can perhaps be useful to historians trying to sort out
potential causal connections among empirical events. Do Intersections of Historical and
Empirical Events Obviate

Do Intersections of Historical and Empirical Events Obviate Science?

Any time a scientist enters a naturally occurring empirical system, the buzz
and flow of empirical (historical) events appears complex, and for a good
reason: events intersect each other, generating many potential outcomes.
Moreover, it is often difficult to measure the values of the variables in play,
and particularly so when these values are conflated by interaction effects
among them. For example, the weather is a complex intersection each day of
many forces that often cannot be measured accurately, and indeed, the
inter- sections are so complex sometimes that it is difficult to model them.
Geologists cannot easily predict earthquakes because, although they know
the forces involved, they are not able to accurately measure or model their
intersections in specific empirical cases. Ecolo- gists in biology have the
same problem; it is often difficult to map an ecosystem because there are so
many forces in play that interact with each other in complex ways. Yet, none
of these disciplines throws up its hands and proclaims that it cannot be a
science. It is only sociologists who seem to do so.
Since sociologists cannot perform controls (for moral and practical reasons)
on many phenomena of interest, we will have to live with the fact that we
seek to understand empir- ical/historical events in their most robust and
embedded form: naturally occurring social systems. The respective goals of
historical/causal analysis and nomothetic theorizing are to explain this
complexity, but in different ways. Despite differences in their respective
approaches, however, positivists and histori- cists use each other's
explanations for their respective purposes. A positivist would find the

empirical descriptions of the intersections among empirical events most

interesting because these data would allow the positivist to load the values
for the variables in abstract laws or analytical models. Reciprocally, a
historicist might use the laws and ana- lytical models of positivists as
guidelines for isolating the important from less important empirical events
causing a historical outcome
Positivism, Empiricism, and Metaphysics
BY positivism in its most general sense I mean the theory that if you want to know
anything about anything you must either make an appointment with one of the
sciences or else be content to be cheated. Outside the sciences there is no
information. The poets may beguile you or exalt you but they cannot tell you
anything. Theologians may bewilder you, philosphers may rack you, and
rhetoricians may soothe you. But none of them can tell you anything. Wayfaring
men, though they have no academic degrees, may sometimes tell you something;
but that is because they are untutored scientists. They are the scientists in the
street, and they can tell you something, not because they are in the street, but
because they possess the smatter-ings of a middling science. It may be well to
make a brief pause, and consider some of the things that this theory may convey.
In the first place we may ask " What is a science ? "
Is history a " science"? Is ethics ? Is aesthetics? In some cases, for example,
regarding history and sociology, positivists may have to walk warily. In general,
however, they have made up their minds. If your " science," so called, abjures every
mood except the indicative, and makes the renunciation without reserves and with
persistent determination, it is the sort of " science " that positivists call by that
name. Any other sort of" science " is an impostor.
The positivistic specialist in wide generalities, one may say, might be a very good
positivist. He would be a bad positivist only if he mixed his proper business with the
dreams of ghost-seeing metaphysics, mistaking necromancy for philosophy. Mutato
nomine he may even have sympathy and a certain admiration for some few of the
philosophers of the past regarding some few of their too unguarded pursuits. He will
only be more circumspect. That, in general, is what I take positivism to be and to
mean. I must now attempt to examine its relations to empirlcism.
Empiricism, as I understand that theory, says something more than that
EL7ELrEyL'aor " experience " is the key, and indeed, the master key, that
opens all the doors that any philosopher can ever open. opens all the doors
that any philosopher can ever open. That in itself would be rather an ambitious
assertion, but most empiricists, as I apprehend, are more ambitious still. In their
view ,7TrEtpL' actually contains and indeed actually is all that is known, and
human uLrEtpL'0a isall that human beings ever will or ever can know. Being

more familiar with English than with Greek I shall, for the future, speak of
" experience " and only very seldom of efiLrEtLa. In the English way of speaking
I take the empiricist's assertion to be that all our knowledge is some sort of "
experience " and that all that we know is also some sort of " experience ", if the
word " also" has here any meaning. When I speak of " know-ledge in this connexion
I am using the term in the wide and, perhaps, in the loose way in which it is often
used, and not in the narrow way in which it is sometimes used. I do not mean simply
" knowing for certain with invincible clarity "-supposing that there is such
knowledge. I mean to include confident surmises and tenacious opinions and
uncertified if stubborn beliefs. I am referring generally to cognition. In this wide
sense of " knowledge " I understand empiricists to be asserting that no nonexperience is strictly so much as imaginable and that there is no knowledgeable
process that is not " experience ".
If any philosophers and, indeed, if any other people main-tain the contrary of either
of these propositions, the reason, according to all good empiricists, is that certain
features of the situation may sometimes be rather obscure, and that the obscurities
have seduced some negligent if intelligent people into making assertions that may
seem to be but are not intelligible.
Accordingly, the fundamental question would seem to be "What is experience ? ". If
that is left vague, empiricism is vague. If that be taken for granted, empiricism is
something unanalysed, something that might be true but is put forward in a happygo-lucky spirit. I do not think we need be interested in the swashbuckling type of
empiricism. Therefore we have to address ourselves seriously the problem of what "
experience " means.
In the ordinary usage of the English language the voice of experience is the voice of
memory although, since we talk about " the experience of the race " we may add
record to memory and also, perhaps, the sort of ancestral quasi-memory that may
be thought to be involved in the lessons of pre-history. In the main, however, the
exper-ienced man is the man, who, to use the vernacular, has been through the mill
and can use his experience because he has relevant memories to draw upon. He is
thus contrasted with the novice, and is credited with memory either in the sense of
possessing a clear recollection or of having acquired a serviceable habit for dealing
with certain types of circumstance.
Memory, however, in any of the stricter senses in which the word may be used, is
always a personal affair. It is not simply retro-cognition. It is each man's retro-cognition of his own past. Hence, very naturally we have a strong and, I think, a
justifiable inclination to say two things about " experience " strictly understood. The
first is that it must be first-hand personal experience, and the second is that, in so
far as it is rememberedfir st-hand experience, the gravamen of the enquiry shifts
towards the original fact, towards that which is remembered, towards that in our
past that we can recall but, on its original occurrence, was not a past but a present
The most usual and the most robust form of empiricism asserts that the c'Eirutpta
on which the theory is based must be sense-experience. Indeed a robust empiricism
of this type is what is often meant by the term. It is plain, however, that there are
difficulties here since we do have imaginative, noetic, and other forms of experience

that appear not to be sense-experience and yet to be thoroughly authentic types of

" experience."
The answer usually given is that all these other types of experience,
whether they are near-sensory or, in appearance, downright non-sensory,
turn out, on a sufficiently careful analysis, to be species of debilitated
sensations. Even if that were true, however, it might be doubted whether
the theory itself could be very robust when it is forced to support so many
decrepit dependents. For die they will not. There really are such
Let us suppose, however, that the strong do all the work, supporting all
the children, and hospital patients and old-age pensioners, just as will
have to be done in civilized countries if the birth-rate continues to decline.
In that case it is surely of the utmost moment to be able to tell by some
plain independent mark who the workers are and how they are distinct
from the drones. It is here that I find robust empiricism most unsatisfying.
I am told that whatever else may be doubtful, sense-data at least are
indubitable and so that a philosophy built upon them is built upon a rock. I
am assured that verification in terms of them is honest-to-goodness
verification. That is good news; but can it be confirmed ?
I allow that if I sense a pain I really do sense it, but I do not see that any important
consequence follows. For if I imagine a pain I really do imagine it. The interminable
popular disputes on the question whether " imaginary" pains are or are not " real "
pains do not help me to make up my mind on this question and if I begin to consider
the state of dreaming I am not less perplexed. A bull in a night-mare may be not
less affrighting than a bull in a china shop. The fright exists in both cases. What
about the bull ? Robust empiricists tell me that a real bull is a sensed bull, and that
a sensed bull is a name for certain sense-data striking upon me with force and
vivacity and surrounded by a specific kind of associative penumbra of causal and
other indications of real presence. I still want to know how I am to distinguish the "
real " bull from the dream-bull that looks so very like his " real " brother, and why I
should attend so very carefully to the first and iorget the second as promptly as I
To be brief, I believe that the robust empiricist is asking me to make a huge
assumption, and, at the same time, very unkindly, is forbidding me to investigate
the assumption. He believes, like the rest of the learned world, that the only way to
acquire much sound natural knowledge is to observe first and theorize later. This
means, not that every sensum is to be accepted tel quel, but that certain selected
observed events are the best foundation for natural theory. Negligent perceptions,
fuddled perceptions, hallucinatory perceptions are either partially or wholly
discredited. A long critical process is presupposed in discriminating between such
perceptions. The result is held to be, if not wholly satis-factory, at any rate as nearly
satisfactory as a man can legitimately hope for. Let it be so. What robust empiricists appear to me to do is to forget all these preparations, to forget the fineness of
the boundaries between the best and the inferior in this kind, and (thinking only of
the best) to applaud all sense data as if they belonged to the highly superior class
of scientifically reputable observations. That is what I think is so very questionable.

The case of dreams is here peculiarly interesting. Ask a robust empiricist whether he
does not mean that the workers, according to his theory, must be waking sensedata and indeed must be very wide awake ? Ask him further why it should be so,
and how he distinguishes the workers from the blacklegs I do not believe that he
has an answer, and therefore I am skeptical about the principal premiss of his
theory, not to mention any minor perplexities.
I think Ward said, that experience is the process of becoming expert by experiment.
We tend to think of the experienced man as the man who has handled the stuff. On
these lines, however, we should probably have to conclude that the sensory
experiences of manipulation were what was central, and although there might be
some reason for according a privileged position to this spccial class of sensations,
the costs of the enterprise might well be prohibitive.
Let us now abandon our preamble, and simply make use of it for the purpose of
examining the relations between empiricism and positivism
We have here, I think, two questions. The first is whether a consistent philosopher,
being an empiricist, would have to say " I am therefore a positivist ". The second is
whether a consistent philosopher, being a positivist, would have to say " I am, by
inference, an empiricist ".
Suppose, however, that this was the simple truth. In that case, I think it might be
reasonable to say that all sense experience is simply descriptive of sense data and
abjures every mood except the indicative.
as any science tells us anything about the world it is empirical, and that this
assertion is the positivistic part
Positivists accept the sciences in the belief that they and they alone
describe facts and tell us " about the world ". Empiricists believe that "
fact " or " the world " (at any rate quoad nos) consists of senseexperiences. If a science in pursuit of " facts " or of the " world " could
dispense with everything except sense-experience it would be a purely
empirical positivism. So positivism and empiricism would coincide.
The pathetic feature of this situation is that positivists are torn between faith and
sight. By faith they discern that sense-observation is the only begetter of positive
science. By sight they learn that no actual science is anywhere near being an
instance of pure empiricism. Hence they have either to blink or to hope.
Is positivism also a metaphysics ?
I think it might be. If anyone says " I am a positivist because I believe, after what
seems to me to be an adequate investigation of all serious opposing views, that
descriptive statements in the indicative mood are all the genuine truth that there is,
and because I believe that the positive sciences are the repositories of all such
statements where they are at all precise " his positivism, I submit is a kind of

Analytic Positivism
Roger Bishop Jones
16 August 2011
Analytic Positivism
Positivism is generally skeptical, but some- times dogmatic and
Analytic positivism aims to be a more thoroughgoing but a constructive and graduated
skepticism. It purpose is to propose, analyse
and evaluate certain proposals of a linguistic
and methodological nature, and in the context
of these proposals to identify for further investigations philosophical problems which may
be of interest to those of positivist inclination,
or possibly of some utility outside philosophy.
Analytic positivism is, rather than a body of
doctrine presented and argued for, more in the
character of a conceptual framework for analytic philosophy, to be considered on its pragmatic merits and adopted or rejected, or to be
subjected itself to philosophical analysis. The
enterprise we are engaged in is similar to that
which Carnap envisaged for the adoption of
a language, though the conceptual framework
falls short of constituting a language, and is
presented informally.
1.3.1 Graduated Skepticism
Postivist philosophies typically provide constructive skepticism. Doubts are expressed
about prior standards for the establishment
of knowledge, scienti_c and philosophical, and
new standards are enunciated. Often entire
disciplines are swept aside as meaningless, unsound, or without application. Inevitably, the
higher the standards proposed, the larger the
part of existing philosophy and science which
fails to meet them.
1.3.2 Choice
An important element of analytic positivism
is its emphasis on our freedom to chose. It

is characteristic of positivistic philosophy to

identify classes of questions which have no definite answer, typically metaphysical questions,
considered meaningless. Questions may lack
a su_ciently de_nite sense to be answerable
without being metaphysical. In many such
cases an answer is contingent on clari_cation,
or on the setting of appropriate context. To
arrive at a question which has a de_nite answer choices must be made. It is a tenet of
analytic positivism that the general character
and detailed content of philosophy is, or shold
be, determined by such choices. Evidently,
philosophical (and other) disagreements are
often apparent rather than real, the parties
not speaking the same language.
In political, economic, and ethical matters,
the emphasis is upon our freedom, within limits, to chose how society shall be. In order to exercise that choice it is desirable to
know what those limits are, to understand
how things are, how they might be.
Knowledge is a means towards such ends.
Rigour in determining truth serves those ends.
Philosophy may help to determine and underpin rigorous methods, it may help to identify
and eliminate unsound method or false doctrine.
Choice is exercised not only in determining
these higher ends, but in the pursuit of science
and technology to facilitate their realisation.
Choice percolates down to the most fundamental philosophical foundations through the
medium of language. We do not chose what
is true, but our choice of language determines
what truths we can come to know.
1.3.3 Language
To exercise choice in other things we must
_rst exercise choice of language. It is proposed that the languages of science be made
precise by their being given a formal abstract
semantics. An abstract semantics is a semantics couched in terms of abstract entities, and
su_ces to settle the relationship of semantic entailment and hence supports deductive
reasoning. Where a language is intended to

speak of the real world, an abstract semantics is couched in terms of abstract models of
possible worlds, and a full semantics for the
language depends upon supplementing the abstract semantics with some account of the correspondence between the abstract model and
the real world.
1.3.4 Ontology
All things which exist are either abstract or
concrete. A concrete entity is one whose existence is contingent, a constituent of the world,
whose existence can only be known by observation. An abstract entity is one whose existence is not contingent, and can be known only
by supposition. What we know of such entities is just what is derivable from their de_ning characteristics. Empirical observation is
immaterial to knowledge of abstract entities.
This choice of terminology does not however
constitute a _nal word on ontology. Analytic
positivism eschew ontological parsimony and
rejects Occam's razor. Occam's razor is a
pragmatic principle in default of any systematic method for determining the consistency of
any proposed ontological scheme, since elaborate ontology in such a context risks incoherence.
However, set theory now provides a framework
for settling the consistency of any proposed
ontology, and we may fall back on purely pragmatic evaluation of any ontological proposal
which can be shown to be logically consistent.
Beyond pragmatics, beyond questions about
which ontologies provide the best models of
the world, analytic positivism does not venture. The question of what really exists in the
world, as opposed to what it is convenient for
us to suppose exists, is beyond our reach, so
much so that we may doubt that it can be
given any de_nite meaning. A concrete ontology is what we use in expressing our models
of the regularity of the world. Any state of
knowledge about those regularities will be expressible using various distinct ontologies, and
we have not only no way of telling which is correct (if they make the same predictions) but

its not clear what the question means.

1.3.5 Fundamental Logical Partitions
It is a desideratum to distinguish various kinds
of proposition which are logically independent.
For example, empirical propositions are not
entailed by analytic or logical propositions,
and those of ethics are not derivable from either. The truth of such principles depends
upon the semantics of the languages in question, and these theses may not be sustainable
in relation to ordinary language. These conditions are therefore considered as desiderata,
suggestions on how language should be used.
The arguments in favour of this position are
pragmatic rather than theoretical.
These are not the only logical divisions which
may be useful. Philosophers have long debated whether mind and matter are distinct
or whether one of these is reducible or should
be understood in terms of the other. To many
positivists both of these substances are illegitimate inferences from the phenomena, but to
an analytic positivist the question of whether
there is one or two kinds of substance has
no meaning. The question posed instead is
whether the use of two categories enables the
construction of better models of reality.

2 Analyticity and Semantic Foundations

In this section we attempt a de_nition of analyticity. Analyticity is to be de_ned as a relationship between sentences and languages,
where the concept of a language includes both
syntax and semantics. To give a precise de_nition of this relationship, it is therefore nec-essary to have a clear notion of
what kind of
thing a syntax and semantics are.
The de_nition will be developed in stages, the
initial stages serving to motivate the later.

Analytical Philosophy

X hough we attribute to Socrates a fair number of philo- sophical theories, he

pretended to have nothing to teach but only an art to practice - a mock modesty
which incidentally resembles that of his enemies, the Sophists, who did not
claim to possess, only to love wisdom, thereby giving a name - philosophy - to a
discipline which, etymology notwithstanding, consisted until quite recent times
in propounding and de- fending heavy theories regarding time, space, mind,
knowl- edge, the nature of the Ultimately real, and the interconnec- tions
between the True, the Good, and the Beautifule
there are no philosophical truths, only a kind of philosophical activity, so that
Philosophy does not name a set of views to be held so much as something one
can do, and "doing philosophy" in- deed is the way in which analytical
philosophers like to char- acterize themselves, leaving only the question of what
the activity consists in and what products, if any, it might have.
Deliverance from doctrinizing, which was proclaimed by Wittgenstein in the
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, came at a crux in the history of this puzzling
discipline, and at a moment when it had begun to look as though its doctrines,
rather than being the best the human mind at its best could come up with in
response to questions so deep as to try its limits, instead may have been empty
responses to no real questions at all.
The dominating answers were: structures of practice (Pragmatism); structures of
cognition best exemplified in science (Positivism); structures of consciousness
(Phenomenology); and structures of language (Analytical Philosophy). Each of
these, of course, is a kind of analysis, and each, again of course, is practiced
against a background of theory
In the hands of Empiricism, the Analytic of Concepts yielded a program for
knowledge. If X is analyzable into Y and Z, then one can know that a is X if one
knows that a is Y and Z; and one can surmise that a is X if one at least knows
that a is Y and whatever is Y is usually Z.

The Sociology of Positivism

Author(s): Frank E. HartungSource: Science & Society, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Fall,
1944), pp. 328-341Published by: Guilford PressStable URL: .Accessed: 12/09/2014 02:50
Comte says that ... the first characteristic of the Positive Philosophy is that it
regards all phenomena as subject to invariable natural Laws. Our business is- seeing
how vain are any researches into what are called Causes, whether first or final- to
pursue an accurate discovery of these Laws, with a view to reducing them to the
lowest possible number. . . . Our real business is to analyze accurately the

circumstances of phenomena, and to connect them by the natural relations of

succession and resemblance.
Contemporary positivism subscribes fully to this view. The sec- ond principle of
positivism is regarded as being as valid today as when Comte wrote: Its secondary
and general aim is this: to review what had been effec ed in the sciences, in order to
show that they are not radically separated, but all branches from the same trunk. . .
. The only necessary unity is that of Method, which is already in great part
established. As for the doctrine, it need not be one; it is enough that it should be
The third principle of positivism is its position regarding those aspects of behavior
which are often regarded as being subjective or mental. Comte says: The study of
the Positive Philosophy offers the only rational means of studying the laws of the
human mind which have hitherto been sought by unfit methods ... we have to study
simply the exercise and results of the intellectual powers of the human race, which
is neither more nor less than the general object of the Positive Philosophy . . .
metaphysicians . . . talk of external and internal facts and say their business is with
the latter. . . . The results of such a method are in pro- portion to its absurdity. This
interior observation gives birth to almost as many theories as there are observers
He then goes on to comment that if psychologists have added any- thing to human
knowledge, it is by abandoning the "internar* method, that is introspection; by
"practicing the positive method" instead
A positivistic use of the terms "subjective" and "objective" which has provoked
argument is that the subjectivity of internal facts is not an inherent property, but is
merely a way of responding to them that cannot be corroborated by others.
Objectivity, then, be- comes a way of responding that can be corroborated by
others. From this point of view, positivism comes to have its characteristic emphasis
upon form. To the contemporary positivist, for example, "social psychology is
nothing but the ecology of symbolic behavior.
There is no doubt that positivism had a definite contribution to make to nineteenth
century western society. But it also offered a scientifically-phrased rationalization for
combating the promises which the French Revolution made to society, and for
negating the cultural development implicit in the philosophy of the French Enlightenment. It accepted the commission to uproot the "dragon- seed" sown by the
Hegelian dialecticians.7 Positivistic sociology had its origin in a conservative and
reactionary mission, and this function characterizes it even today. To document this
view of positivistic sociology, let us consider how Comte came to use the term
"positive." Comte wrote to contravene what he regarded as the "negative"
philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He meant by the negative
philosophy "all those individualistic ideas which had flowered during the
Enlightenment and which were the driving force of the Revolution."8 He wrote in
part as follows:
The negative philosophy was . . . systematized about the middle of the seventeenth
century. . . . The ascendancy of the negative spirit was assisted by the good and the
bad passions of men. Negative doctrine, speculative and social, is congenial with

the worst parts of human nature. Vanity is pampered by the sovereignty given to
every man by the right of private judgment. . . . Ambition accepts with eagerness
the principle of the sovereignty of the people, which opens up a political career to
all who can achieve it. Pride and envy are gratified by the proclamation of
equality ... the negative philosophy [was] strengthened by powerful, moral
influences, tending in their combination to insurrectionary crises. . . . The negative
doctrine ... is simply a final phase of the metaphysi- cal. . . . The positive philosophy,
therefore, can acknowledge no con- nection with the negative doctrine, other than
that the negative opened a way and established a preparation for the positive. . . .
Such is the historical estimate of the intellectual character of the critical
movement.9 He then goes on to discuss moral, political, and other aspects
of the negative doctrine, for which he has only words of condemna- tion. It leads to
"disorganization, revolution and anarchy." Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and the
Encyclopedists are verbally flayed for the attempts to destroy all of society save the
individual and the state. They would lead to "the barbarous negation of society
itself" by their attacks on the institution of property. The economists under Adam
Smith contributed to this "organic imbecility." Further- more, the "negative
progression" threatened the entire destruction of industry ". . . by destroying the
subordination of the working classes to their industrial leaders, and calling the
incapable multi- tude to assist directly in the work of government
Lundberg claims that positivism meets the need of a unified scientific theory "by
means of a theory and an approach which is compatible both with life as it is
actually lived and with life as it is reflected upon in the academies." 1 Let us
see how this claim is met. Science is preeminently verbal for Lundberg, as we
gather from his discussion of the postulates of science in his first chapter in the
Foundations of Sociology. Man invents symbols to represent his sensations and
responses. These symbols are the "immediate data" of all communicable
knowledge and therefore "of all science." All propositions or postulates, he
writes, concerning the more "ulti- mate" realities must always consist of
inferences and abstractions from these symbolically-represented responses. We
find, several chapters later, that "the ultimate objective of science, as science, is
to discover predictable sequences and correlations between the phenomena of a
selected field." How is this field to be selected? With magnificent aplomb,
Lundberg assumes: Everyone agrees that the only criterion that a scientist need
be con- cerned about in the development of his theories, methods, and units is
their suitability for his purposes . . . data should be organized into whatever
categories best serve our purpose
Democracy." As Comte is read but little these days, let us look at his remarks about
these democratic principles, so that we can see how completely anti - democratic
contemporary positivism is- at least so far as Lundberg is concerned. Comte
develops his thesis concern- ing the necessary rejection of these democratic
principles, "now that we have the positive philosophy," in the first chapter of Book
Six of Positive Philosophy. Additional remarks are scattered throughout his other
writings, but our references will be confined to the former. Those who believe that
there is still vitality in democratic princi- ples, and who also believe the positivists*
view to be the most objec- tive frame of reference, will find that chapter instructive
reading. In reviewing the growth of science, Comte found that it is dear that [the]
most important principle [of the metaphysical view] is the right of free inquiry, or
the dogma of the unbounded liberty of conscience; involving the immediate

consequences of the liberty of the press, or of any other mode of expression or

communication of opinions. This is the rallying point of the revolutionary
principle. ... It is a chief characteristic of the mind of this country. this dogma . . .
constitutes an obstacle to reorganization . . .because the convergence of minds
requires the renunciation by the greater number of their right of individual inquiry.
The dogma ... of Equality ... is an immediate consequence of the liberty of
conscience. . . . When the dogma of equality had achieved the overthrow of the old
policies, it could not but become an obstacle to reorganization . . . [It] becomes
anarchical. The second result of ... liberty of conscience is the Sovereignty of the
People . . . this dogma proves its revolutionary character before our eyes . . .
condemning as it does, all the superior to an arbitrary de- pendence on the
multitude of the inferior, by a kind of transference to the people of the divine right
which had become the opprobrium of kings.20 Comte recognized that these
principles were necessary to and directly instrumental in the overthrow of the old
feudal order, but he now regarded them as being obstructive. He found it a "misfortune" that they still remained with us. He said that they were incompatible with a
positivistic system of society.
Comte expressed contempt for government by assemblies, and for parliamentary or
representative institutions in any form. In his opinion, they are merely expedient
and only suited to a state of transition; and even at that, nowhere but in England.
The attempt to have them in France, or any continental nation, he re- garded as
michievous quackery. In the positivistic reorganization of society, the complete
dominion of every nation is to be handed over to the dictatorship- Com te 's own
term- of four men: three bankers and the Pontiff. The three bankers who will take
over the foreign, home and financial departments, respectively, will be chosen in
the first instance from among the wealthy, and thereafter they will be appointed by
their predecessors. The Pontiff will have the absolute and undivided control of the
Spiritual Power, which is the means by which the poor will be kept in their proper
place.21 Women will not count, except to minister to the needs of men, and to
stand as objects of prayer. Comte wanted to base his philosophy on a system of
universally recognized principles which would draw their ultimate legitimacy from
"the voluntary assent by which the public will confirm them to be the result of
perfectly free discussion." 22 His public, like that of contemporary positivism, turned
out to be a forum of scientists who had the necessary training and knowledge. He
wrote that "The scientific and aesthetic classes will hail a philosophy which will
elevate them to the highest rank and rule." 23 In contemporary posi- tivism,
Comte's forum of scientists turns into Lundberg's "qualified observers" whose
responses are "valid." 24 We need not discuss further the rejection of democratic
prin- ciples, in order to bring out this proto - fascist aspect of positivism. Lundberg,
as if to emphasize his contempt for democracy, tells us that his "attachment for
democracy may, in fact, be of scientific significance chiefly as indicating my
unfitness to live in a changing world."
Contemporary positivism claims that science must isolate itself and be "without
patronage" from the church, political parties, or labor unions, but not, significantly,
free from support from corpo- rate enterprise. Lundberg finds that scientists, as
scientists, who take a stand on certain problems raised by fascism render "a
doubtful service to science." 2e He finds that fascist Italy and Nazi Germany are no
different from democracies because the state of Tennessee passed a bill against the

teaching of evolution, a Nobel prize for science was given to an Italian, and because
"We also hear of attacks upon Einsteinian physics in Germany." 27 This view is part
of the positivist formula by which social scien- tists may attain occupation immunity
in any type of social organiza- tion. In this formula, we see why it is necessary for
positivists to adopt the criterion of expediency in their conception of science.
Lundberg, for instance, believes that physical scientists are, as a group, less likely to
be disturbed in their function during periods of social upheaval because their work
is recognized "as of equal im- portance under any regime."28 Continuing, he says
that "The services of real social scientists would be as indispensable to Fascists as
to Communists and Democrats just as are the services of physicians and physicists."
Social scientists "had better work" to achieve a "corre- sponding status." He
believes that some social scientists have al- ready acquired a degree of immunity
from the effects of the social upheavals that so continually confront us. He
"ventures to believe" that "qualified social statisticians have not been and will not
be greatly disturbed in their function by any political party. Their skill consists in the
ability to draw relatively valid, unbiased, and demonstrable conclusions from
societal data. ... It is the possession
and exercise of such skills alone that justifies the claim of academic immunity." 29
Let us recall at this point the positivist criterion of expediency: the scientist is
concerned with the truth of his theories only insofar as they serve his purpose, and
he may take any point as his depar- ture, without prior concern, except that he
should define its validity in terms of his end. We may point out, for example, that in
this country a qualified social statistician like Leon Henderson, did not remain
undisturbed "in his function" when he drew relatively valid, unbiased, and
demonstrable conclusions and societal data. On the other hand, Alfred Rosenberg,
of the German Nazi party, granted his starting point, draws relatively valid
conclusions from societal data. He is undisturbed in his function. How can Lundberg
account for the occupational fates of these two, except on the basis that some
agency other than themselves defined "relatively valid, unbiased and demonstrable
conclusions?" But this would destroy his position. That many scientists do not agree
with the positivists in their scientific isolationism and in their claim for occupational
immunity, is to be seen from the resolutions passed at the 1938 and 1939 meetings
of various learned societies in this country and in England.80 In contrast to the
positivists' interpretation of science, we wish to emphasize that science is not only a
system of knowledge but the means by which man achieves increasing control over
his environ- ment, both physical and cultural. Science is thus concerned with the
achieving of freedom. Freedom in the modern world was given its philosophical and
scientific statement by the early positivists, the French Enlightenment and the
German critical philosophers. They provided the ideological expression to the need
for freedom on the part of the entrepeneurs of the commercial and industrial revolu-

Anne B. Ryan

Using scientific method and language to investigate and write about human
experience is supposed to keep the research free of the values, passions, politics

and ideology of the researcher. This approach to research is called positivist, or

positivist-empiricist and it is the dominant one among the general public.
Positivist researchers believe that they can reach a full understanding based on
experiment and observation. Concepts and knowledge are held to be the product of
straightforward experience, interpreted through rational deduction.

Positivism as a philosophy adheres to the view that only factual knowledge gained through
observation (the senses), including measurement, is trustworthy. In positivism studies the
role of the researcher is limited to data collection and interpretation through objective
approach and the research findings are usually observable and quantifiable.
According to the principles of positivism, it depends on quantifiable observations that lead
themselves to statistical analysis. It has been noted that as a philosophy, positivism is in
accordance with the empiricist view that knowledge stems from human experience. It has
an atomistic, ontological view of the world as comprising discrete, observable elements and
events that interact in an observable, determined and regular manner (Collins, 2010, p.38).
Moreover, in positivism studies the researcher is independent form the study and there are
no provisions for human interests within the study. Crowther and Lancaster (2008) inform
that as a general rule, positivist studies usually adopt deductive approach, whereas
inductive research approach is usually associated with a phenomenology philosophy.
Moreover, positivism relates to the viewpoint that researcher needs to concentrate on facts,
whereas phenomenology concentrates on the meaning and has provision for human
Researchers warn that if you assume a positivist approach to your study, then it is your
belief that you are independent of your research and your research can be purely objective.
Independent means that you maintain minimal interaction with your research participants
when carrying out your research (Wilson, 2010, p.10). In other words, studies with positivist
paradigm are based purely on facts and consider the world to be external and objective.
The dominance of positivist assumptions about research has at least two effects. First, it leads people
to assume that if social research is done properly it will follow the model of the natural sciences and
provide a clear, unambiguous road to the causes of certain social or psychological phenomena. Some
assume that it can predict social trends and can even be used to control events. It was at one time
assumed that positivist-empiricist modes of enquiry could produce a science of society. This
assumption was in turn made possible by the assumption that there were one-to-one correspondences
between social phenomena and their causes. Most people rightly treat assumptions about causes with
caution, recognising that it is rarely possible to show a direct cause for some aspect of the

social world. But even when people recognise the complexity of social phenomena and the difficulty of
pinning them down in a scientific way, assumptions may persist about how research should be carried
Second, the idea that the only way to do social research is to follow a scientific model can lead to the
dismissal of research as a valuable tool in understanding the rich complexity of social life. This
scientific approach which positivism espouses is rightly thought to be inadequate when it comes to
learning about how people live, how they view the world, how they cope with it, how they change it,
and so on.

The context for postivism

Each one of us lives out our lives in the context of a worldview, which influences how we think and
behave and how we organise our lives, including how we approach research. But worldviews often go
unarticulated or unnoticed, and we often fail to realise that the assumptions we carry about research
are related to a particular worldview or mental model. We need to uncover our worldviews and subject
them to scrutiny. This is especially important for those doing research. As social researchers, we work
within, not outside, broader historical, social and theoretical contexts. These contexts serve as the
scaffolding for the questions we ask and how we go about answering them. The bigger scaffolding that
supports positivism is a modernist worldview.

A modernist outlook is the cumulative outcome of four foundational movements in European thought
the Renaissance, The Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment (Spretnak, 1999:
Chapter Two). Within modernist ways of knowing the world, only certainty and empirical knowledge are
valid, and the rational is valued over other ways of knowing, such as intuition. Positivism seeks to
reduce everything to abstract and universal principles, and tends to fragment human experience
rather than treat it as a complex whole. (For further reading on modernity, see Goodman, 2003;
Spretnak, 1999; Tovey, 2001.)
Modernity led to a split between science and literature as different ways of understanding human
experience. The natural science model came to dominate in social research. This became known as
positivism or positivist-empiricism. Positivist research places faith in quantification and on the idea that
using correct techniques will provide correct answers. It is also concerned to some extent with
prediction and with control.

The foregoing review represents classical positivism and there are many variations of it. It is, therefore,
more appropriate to think of positivisms. We should not forget that a modernist worldview has played a
large part in the development of ideas concerning liberation, justice and freedom. Spaces exist within
positivism for radical practice. Many Irish and international researchers have used positivist research
approaches in the drive to create a more equal and just society. Setting up positivism and postpositivism in opposition to each other does not adequately represent the more messy on-the-ground
realities of how research proceeds. Most studies in the natural sciences do not in fact proceed in a
defined linear fashion, but are the product of web-like and cyclical thinking. The way they are written
up however often makes it seem as if they proceeded in a linear manner. Positivist visions of science
do not always reflect the actual practice of doing science (cf Mishler, 1990; Kuhn, 1962).

The ideas, assumptions and beliefs associated with positivism and modernism constitute what is called
an epistemological base.
Epistemology is a study of how people or systems of people know things and how they think they
know things (Keeney, 1983: 13, cited in Scully, 2002: 10). It is thus concerned with the nature of
knowledge, what constitutes valid knowledge, what can be known and who can be a knower.
In recent decades, increasing attention is falling on the limitations of the epistemological base of
positivism. Within positivism, knowledge has been treated as follows:

l What counts is the means (methodology) by which knowledge is arrived at. These means must be

objective, empirical and scientific;

l Only certain topics are worthy of enquiry, namely those that exist in the public world;
l The relationship between the self and knowledge has been largely denied knowledge is regarded

as separate from the person who constructs it. The political is separate from the personal;
l Maths, science and technical knowledge are given high status, because they are regarded as

objective, separate from the person and the private world;

Knowledge is construed as being something discovered, not produced by human beings.

What has prompted a move away from positivism?

Opposition to positivist epistemologies has come from feminism, post structuralism, critical
psychology, anthropology, ethnography and developments in qualitative research. Critiques of
positivism are implicit in other movements for social change, as well as in the knowledge of Eastern,
Asian and indigenous societies, who see all events and phenomena as inter-connected. This kind of
knowledge, for so long despised by the Western scientific tradition, has now been revitalised. This has
come about because the movements and peoples concerned have:
l emphasised that there is no neutral knowledge;
l shown the inadequacies of dualistic, that is, either/or, or black/white thinking;
l emphasised the ethical aspects of research.

In addition, complexity science has challenged the dominance of reductionist scientific models.

Recognition that there is no neutral knowledge

Critics of positivist epistemologies have insisted that divisions between objectivity and subjectivity, or
public and private knowledge, or scientific and emotional knowledge, are socially constructed. Just as
important, these artificial divisions, or dualistic ways of viewing the world, are used to control ideas
about what knowledge is legitimate. Knowledge cannot be divorced from ontology (being) and
personal experience.

Collapse of faith in dualistic thinking

There has been a collapse of faith in dualistic thinking. Post-positivist values in research are not about
being either subjective or objective, nor do they prefer subjectivity over objectivity. They emphasise
multiplicity and complexity as hallmarks of humanity. Post-positivist approaches are interpretive and
this has led to an emphasis on meaning, seeing the person, experience and knowledge as multiple,
relational and not bounded by reason (Henriques, Hollway, Urwin, Venn and Walkerdine, 1998: xviii).

Ethical considerations
Post-positivism has also reawakened questions about the uses and purposes of research, research
practice and research knowledge, which are at least as much ethical as they are technical (Schratz and
Walker, 1995: 125). No longer is it good enough for the researcher to see the people s/he is
researching simply as research subjects from whom information is extracted (see Chapter Five, on the
information-extraction model for collecting data). The emphasis is on good principles, adequate for
working with human participants in all their complexity. Procedures, techniques and methods, while
important, must always be subject to ethical scrutiny. (For more on ethics, see Chapter Five.)

Complexity science
This historical period is not the first in which a challenge was mounted to the reductionist approach of
positivism. In the eighteenth century, a few prophetic members (Spretnak, 1999: 21), of the western
scientific tradition, such as Goethe and von Humboldt, tried to resist the reductionism and mechanistic
outlook of the developing natural sciences. Later, systems theory, drawing on organic biology, gestalt
psychology and theoretical ecology, studied organised complexity. But interest was withdrawn from

these theories after World War Two, because their concepts could not be expressed mathematically
(Capra, 1996, cited in Spretnak, 1999: 22).
However, the natural sciences themselves have today been able to take up those ideas again,
facilitated by the development of fast computers (Capra, 1996, cited in Spretnak, 1999: 22).
Complexity science has shown that various properties of a system emerge through its dynamic
behaviour and interactions. Such properties cannot be predicted mechanistically at the outset from
knowledge of the component parts (Capra, 1996, cited in Spretnak, 1999: 23). The most challenging
themes and theoretically exciting questions are not reached by the logico-deductive scientific method.
Instead they are reached by a process that resembles artistic imagination. Einstein imagined that he
was riding on a moonbeam, looking at the earth, as part of his work.

Positivism: challenged but not gone

Much work in the natural sciences could now be said to be post-positivist. The ideas that the personal
is political, that the subjective is a valid form of knowledge (not necessarily more valid than the
objective, but of equal validity), and that all people are capable of naming their own world and
constructing knowledge, represent a shift away from modernism. Nevertheless, the modernist
worldview or paradigm is still strong. Positivism, although challenged, is still the dominant public
model for research. Researchers can still find it difficult to get funding for post-positivist projects. The
mechanistic view of the natural sciences continues to dominate the public perception of science, and
in turn it affects views of what social research should be.

Take up a testing role rather than a learning role

See themselves as inevitably solving the problems they set out to investigate.
aggregate data in order to arrive at an overall truth.
Quantification can be useful, because it can
provide a broad familiarity with cases;
examine patterns across many cases;
show that a problem is numerically significant;
often be used as the starting point for a qualitative study;
provide readily available and unambiguous information.
However, it
cannot look at individual cases in any detail;
is usually highly structured, which prevents the researcher from following up unexpected
outcomes or information.
Quantitative research has positivist features when it:
tries to link variables (features which vary from person to person);
tries to test theories or hypotheses;
tries to predict;
tries to isolate and define categories before research starts and then to determine the
relationships between them.
Qualitative research
seeks to provide an in-depth picture;
generally deals with smaller numbers than quantitative research;
tries to interpret historically or culturally significant phenomena;
can be used to flesh out quantitative data;
tries to isolate and define categories during the process of research;

is appropriate when the questions posed by the researcher are difficult for a respondent to
answer precisely;
tries to illuminate aspects of peoples everyday lives;
values participants perspectives on their worlds;
often relies on peoples words as its primary data2.