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Date posted: November 30, 2011

The central theme of positivism is the employment of verifiability as the criterion of meaning. Everything should be empirically verified.

This fundamental doctrine of Positivism is not to be attributed in the full breadth of its meanings to any single thinker. It is the slow result of a vast process carried out in separate departments, which began with the first use of our intellectual powers and which is only just completed in those who exhibit those powers in their highest form. During the long period of her infancy Humanity has been preparing this the most precious of her intellectual attainments, as the basis for the only system of life which is permanently adapted to our nature.

Positivism is a philosophy that states that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge, and that such knowledge can only come from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific method. It was developed by Auguste Comte (widely regarded as the first sociologist in the middle of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, logical positivism — a stricter and more logical version of Comte’s basic thesis — sprang up in Vienna and grew to become one of the dominant movements in American and British philosophy

French Positivism – Auguste Comte (1799- 1857)
Comte, a French philosopher, was the founder of Positivism. Positivism is a philosophical system of thought maintaining that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena experienced, not to question whether it exists or not. Comte sought to apply the methods of observation and experimentation, as was beginning to be used in the hard sciences, to a field that we now know as sociology. He believed that the solution of persistent social problems might be had by the application of certain hierarchical rules; he believed in the progress of mankind toward a superior state of civilization by means of the science of sociology, itself 

The sole object of science is to discover the natural laws or constant relations existing between facts, and this can be done only by observation and experience. Knowledge thus acquired is Positive Knowledge. Only such a knowledge as is verified by positive sciences can be successfully applied in the various fields of human practice.

Positive knowledge is a result of historical evolution. Mind passes through three stages or employs three methods of philosophizing: Theological, Metaphysical and positive.

Theological: Age of childhood -age of monarchy and absolute authority.

The theological phase of man is based on whole-hearted belief in all things with reference to God. God, he says, had reigned supreme over human existence pre-Enlightenment. Humanity’s place in society was governed by his association with the divine presences and with the church. The theological phase deals with humankind accepting the doctrines of the church (or place of worship) and not questioning the world. It dealt with the restrictions put in place by the religious organization at the time and the total acceptance of any “fact” placed forth for society.

Metaphysical: Age of youth – search for the cause and effect relationship of the different phenomena, to explain the innermost essence of things, the why of the phenomena.

The metaphysical phase of humanity as the time since the Enlightenment, a time steeped in logical rationalism, to the time right after the French Revolution. This second phase states that the universal rights of humanity are most important. The central idea is that humanity is born with certain rights, that should not and cannot be taken away, which must be respected. With this in mind democracies and dictators rose and fell in attempt to maintain the innate rights of humanity. 

Positivism:
The final stage of the trilogy of Comte’s universal law is the scientific, or positive stage. The central idea of this phase is that individual rights are more important than the rule of any one person. Comte statement  the idea that humanity is able to govern itself is what makes this stage innately different from the rest. There is no higher power governing the masses and the intrigue of any one person than the idea that one can achieve anything based on one’s individual free will and authority. The third principle is most important in the positive stage.

These three phases are what Comte calls the universal rule – in relation to society and its development. Neither the second nor the third phase can be reached without the completion and understanding of the preceding stage. All stages must be completed in progress.

The irony of this series of phases is that though Comte attempted to prove that human development has to go through these three stages it seems that the positivist stage is far from becoming a realization. This is due to two truths. The positivist phase requires having complete understanding of the universe and world around us and requires that society should never know if it is in this positivist phase. One may argue that the positivist phase could not be reached unless one were God, thus reverting to the first and initial phase; or that humanity is constantly using science to discover and research new things leading one back to the second metaphysical phase. Thus, some believe Comte’s positivism to be circular.

The attempt to discover the inner essence of things is abandoned and replaced by the effort to discover the uniform relations existing between phenomena. The question asked is not ‘why’, but ‘how’. To find out the invariable relationship between facts by the method of observation. Positive knowledge means real, useful, certain, undoubtful and exact.

English Empiricism – J.S.Mill (1806- 1873)
Much common with French Positivism Both emphasizes the value of facts and scientific methods; both are in principle opposed to Metaphysics.

Recent Positivistic tendencies
Logical Positivism- Montz Schlick – 1882-1936, and other members of Vienna circle.

An empirical statement is significant or meaningful only if it is verifiable by appeal to experience. This was used in a much-restricted way. Positivism now generally accepts a wider criterion, including indirect as well as direct verifiability.

Rudolf Carnap – 1691
Neo-positivism in America
Transformed earlier restrictive logical positivism into a more flexible and philosophically tolerant logical empiricism of present day. Philosophy has the important task of investigating the structure and function of language – carried out in three disciplines- Syntax, Semantics and pragmatics

Ludwig Wittgentein – England-(1889- 1851)
Author of Tractatus  Logico- Philosophicus

The most famous of his theories in the Tractatus is the “picture theory” of meaning. According to this theory, propositions are meaningful in sofar as they picture states of affairs or matters of empirical fact. Anything normative, supernatural or metaphysical must, be nonsense

Wittgenstein’s aim seems to have been to show up as nonsense the things that philosophers (himself included) are tempted to say. Philosophical theories, he suggests, are attempts to answer questions that are not really questions at all (they are nonsense), or to solve problems that are not really problems.

“Most of the propositions and questions of philosophers arise from our failure to understand the logic of our language. And it is not surprising that the deepest problems are in fact not problems at all”.

Philosophers, then, have the task of presenting the logic of our language clearly. This will not solve important problems, but it will show that some things that we take to be important problems are really not problems at all. The gain is not wisdom,  but an absence of confusion. This is not a rejection of philosophy or logic. Wittgenstein took philosophical puzzlement very seriously indeed, but he thought that it needed dissolving by analysis rather than solving by the production of theories. The Tractatus presents itself as a key for untying a series of knots both profound and highly technical.

“Most propositions and questions that have been written about philosophical matters are not false, but non-sensical”.

Philosophy serves the valuable function of clarifying the meaning conveyed by language. the meaning of a word is its use in the language.”

Knowing the meaning of a word can involve knowing many things: to what objects the word refers (if any), whether it is slang or not, what part of speech it is, whether it carries overtones, and if so what kind they are, and so on. To know all these, or to know enough to get by, is to know the use. And generally knowing the use means knowing the meaning. Philosophical questions about consciousness, for example, then, should be responded to by looking at the various uses we make of the word “consciousness The meaning of any word is a matter of what we do with our language, not something hidden inside anyone’s mind or brain.

When a person says something,  what he or she means depends not only on what is said, but also on the context in which it is said. Importance, point, meaning are given by the surroundings. Words, gestures, expressions come alive, as it were, only within a language game, a culture, a form of life. If a picture means something, then it means so to somebody. It’s meaning is not an objective property of the picture in the way that its size and shape are. The same goes of any mental picture.

Object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts.

Wittgenstein influenced the twentieth century philosophy enormously. The Vienna Circle logical positivists were greatly impressed by what they found in the Tractatus, especially the idea that logic and mathematics are analytic, the verifiability principle and the idea that philosophy is an activity aimed at clarification, not the discovery of  facts.

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