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What is Positivism?

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WHAT IS POSITIVISM? Positivism is a scientific approach to sociology (the science of society As Keat and Urry ('social theory as science', 1975) note: 'Positivism is concerned only with observable phenomena. It involves establishing law-like relations between them through the careful accumulation of factual knowledge. This occurs by means of observation, experimentation, comparison and prediction.' The terms' sociology' and 'positive philosophy' (positivism) were both coined by Auguste Comte (the founder of Sociology), an educated philosopher, born on January 19th 1798 in Montpellier, France. He grew up and studied after a great period of change. There had been the French revolution, the Industrial revolution, an economic upheaval as the outdated feudal system had been replaced by the beginnings of a capitalism, the belief in Christianity was dwindling and scientific discoveries were advancing rapidly. Comte fancied himself as a scientist and thought as the natural sciences have laws which govern them (e.g. Newton's law of gravity) sociology would too, and his aim was to find these general laws. He categorized these laws in two ways; statics and dynamics. ...read more.


* Mathematics * Astronomy * Physics (Galileo1600) * Chemistry (Lavoisier 1790) * Biology (Lammarck 1815, Darwin 1859) * Sociology (Comte 1918) the incomplete science, (had not yet reached positivist stage) The same research methods were applied for all the above: observation, experimentation, comparison. A new phenomenon was discovered it would be observed and then an attempt would be made to recreate it for experimentation to eliminate the variables. It would be compared to other phenomena, a hypothesis would be made and tested and a conclusion reached. As positivism relies on observable factors to explain phenomena it limits the research methods that can be used for example: structured surveys and questionnaires, official records, birth and death certificates, experiments and statistics can be used as they are objective. Statistics were used by Durkheim in his study of suicide rates. He was another positivist that shared a lot of Comte's ideas. Durkheim conducted a study of suicide statistics of a number of different societies. He discovered that although the difference in number of suicides varied over the different societies, the number of suicides over the years in the same societies were remarkably stable. ...read more.


research even though that was what his whole subject was based on. Fourthly Philosophers Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyeraband are critical of positivist thinking and agree that through the history of science there have been many paradigms (worldviews) and each was accepted as gospel but they're only interpretations not objective explanations. Newton's mechanical universe paradigm was accepted until Einstein's realistic universe replaced it. In conclusion positivism is the belief that only knowledge derived from observable phenomena using scientific methods is real and valid, that anything which is not quantifiable (e.g. emotions or motivations) is unusable, 'to posit' means to test. Auguste Comte's theories provided the basis for the social sciences. These included the laws of progress, statics and dynamics and the hierarchy of sciences. Comte's aim was to create a society in which individuals and societies would live in harmony, a Utopia. He wanted positivism to be like a religion (without the superstitions and gods) but ruled by the scientific elite, who would be able to best advise people in their daily lives e.g. deciding their jobs for them. Positivism is flawed in many ways as mentioned above but it was the first approach of the new social science 'sociology' and still influences it today. ...read more.

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