Sociology Index


Positivism places science in a privileged position. Positivism assumes the possibility of a scientific understanding of human and social behaviour. Positivism assumes the separation of knowledge and power. Positivism assumes the possibility of objectivity and impartiality. Positivism shaped sociology for 100 years. In contemporary social science debate, however, positivism has become a term of abuse. Positivism is a philosophical system elaborated by Auguste Comte, recognizing only positive facts and observable phenomena and rejecting metaphysics and theism; a humanistic religious system founded on this philosophy. Verstehen is now seen as a concept and a method central to a rejection of positivistic social science or Positive School. Positivism is also the belief that every intelligible proposition can be scientifically verified or falsified, and that philosophy can only be concerned with the analysis of the language used to express such propositions.

'The Worlds of Positivism: A Global Intellectual History, 1770–1930' is the first to trace the origins and significance of positivism on a global scale. Taking their cues from Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill, positivists pioneered a universal, experience-based culture of scientific inquiry for studying nature and society, a new science that would enlighten all of humankind. Positivists envisaged one world united by science. Examining positivism’s impact as one of the most far-reaching intellectual movements of the modern world. Positivists reinvented science, claiming it to be distinct from and superior to the humanities. They predicated political governance on their refashioned science of society, and as political activists, they sought and often failed to reconcile their universalism with the values of multiculturalism.

Auguste Comte's positivist philosophy attempted to define the laws of social evolution and to found a genuine social science that could be used for social reconstruction. Major works include his Cours de philosophie positive (1830-42) and Systeme de politique positive (1851-4). All of the assumptions that Auguste Comte makes are now rejected by postmodernists. Auguste Comte begins by imposing meaning on history, arguing that societies evolve through three stages: the theological stage, the metaphysical stage and the positive (or scientific) stage.

Positivism is the view knowledge can only come from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific method. Positivism is opposed to the Constructivist belief that scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists. Legal Positivism is a school of thought in Philosophy of Law which holds that laws are rules made by human beings.