Discipline: Philosophy

A movement in the general tradition of empiricism and pioneered specifically by the French writer Auguste Comte (1798-1857), though under the influence of the social reformer Claude Henri, Compte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), whom he served as secretary.

The main features of positivism were an insistence on a scientific approach to the human, as well as the natural, world; and a tendency to organize and classify, in particular the developmental stages of the sciences and of human thought in general.

The sciences formed a hierarchy, which was also reflected in their historical development from mathematics through physics and biology to sociology (whose name, like that of positivism, Comte invented). Human thought itself developed through three stages: religious, metaphysical, and scientific. (Comte did not, however, entirely reject the value of the first two of these stages.)

Positivism later developed into empiriocriticism, and then logical positivism (often loosely called just 'positivism').

Legal positivism is only partly connected to this development.

Positivism has had a profound influence on psychology, especially on behaviorism, operationalism and ideas about valid theory construction.

Positivism, although judged useful by psychology, places many restrictions on its subject matter by disparaging METAPHYSICS and MENTALISM.

E Brunswick, 'The Conceptual Focus of Some Psychological Terms', Journal of Unified Science (1929), 36-49;
L Kolakowski, Positivist Philosophy (1966, trans. 1968)


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