Sociology Index

POSITIVISM

Verstehen, Positive School

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.

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.

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 Comte makes are now rejected by postmodernists. 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.