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The positivism is a direction in the philosophy that demands that knowledge , the character of knowledge to have, on the interpretation of a "positive", d. H. should be limited by actual, sensually perceptible and verifiable findings. This line of thought can already be found in the Greek antiquity . As a new foundation in the 19th century, it stood in opposition to the traditionally prevailing scholastic views of a transcendental philosophy . The latter, on the other hand, claimed that knowledge was generated by eternally valid - and ultimately God- created - properties of the mind, reason . This can be proven on the basis of positive findings.

In the context of inventions, discoveries and the expansion of scientific knowledge in the Renaissance , these traditional philosophical-religious attempts at explanation had long since become questionable. This historical finding may have led to the far-reaching demand of positivism that positive findings should be interpreted without theological and metaphysical explanations, in contrast to the previous practice .

As a result, a number of different positivist concepts emerged. a. connect with the following philosophers: Auguste Comte (1798–1857), Hippolyte Taine (1828–1893), Jean-Marie Guyau (1854–1888), James Mill (1773–1836), Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), Charles Darwin (1809–1882), Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), Roberto Ardigò (1828–1920), Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872), Eugen Dühring (1833–1921), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 –1900), Ernst Mach (1838–1916), Ernst Laas (1837–1885), Richard Avenarius (1843–1896), Hans Vaihinger (1852–1933), Friedrich Jodl (1849–1914), Theodor Drag (1862–1950 ).

The term positivism goes back to Auguste Comte (1798–1857). He and his successors worked out his approach to a sociological-humanistic approach. The mathematical-logical positivism of the 20th century ended the role of positivist approaches in philosophy.

Positivism in Context

The demand that sensory perceptions should be the starting point for thinking and philosophizing had been loud since ancient times. Without sensual perceptions, one would have nothing to refer to in a philosophical way, said Epicurus in the 4th / 3rd. Century BC Problems with sensory perceptions arise from differently correct statements about them and as a result of insufficient knowledge of the function of the individual senses.

Centuries later, u. a. Berkeley reiterated the indispensable role of the senses and sensory perception in thought and the sciences, saying it was foolish to despise the senses as scholastics had and still did through the centuries. For without the senses we would have neither expertise nor would we be able to think about anything at all. Like Epicurus, he attributed problems of thought and science with sensory perceptions to more or less accurate interpretations of what was perceived in connection with fundamental philosophical errors that obscured the view.

Comte, who was the first to develop a positive concept of science and later also a positive sociology, went, like other positivists, e.g. B. John Stuart Mill , based on the socio-political facts of his time, which had arisen as a result of the Reformation , the Thirty Years War , and the French Revolution . The historian Pleticha described these socio-political facts with characteristics of change, uncertainty, experimentation and reorientation.

The natural sciences had developed to a great extent in the 19th century and promoted a positive, enlightened worldview that fundamentally changed the role and meaning of Christian theology and the idealistic and idealistic-critical philosophy associated with it (including Kant, Hegel, Spruce). The more contradictions against traditional views emerged through positive research results, the greater the gap between theology and the prevailing idealistic-critical philosophy.

Comte based his concept of science on the assertion that today only observable facts, i.e. sensory perceptions, could be considered. That would correspond to the organization of thinking and observing. Before him u. a. Francis Bacon in the 16./17. And David Hume in the 18th century called for the same for their new scientific and philosophical approaches. With their philosophies, both thematized the content of the way of thinking, as it spread in the 19th century under the name of positivism .

The classic country of positivism, according to the philosopher Hans Richert around 1900, is actually England. If one designates any philosophy based on experience with positivism in the broader sense, then the greater number of modern philosophers can be attributed to it.

The positivism founded by Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte's attempt to develop positivism into a scientifically founded world culture became one of the great utopian projects of the 19th century. Comte designed a historical model according to which the philosophy he represented had to prevail with historical necessity. The development of mankind went through historically necessary stages of development from the first religious cults via monotheism to a culture determined by the sciences ("three-stage theory / théorie des trois états ": theological , metaphysical and positive epoch). The motor of historical development was not a class conflict that led to a world revolution , in which the working class took over, but the simple expansion of future society with scientific progress. Humanity itself became the focus of interest in this process. The sociology would - as Comte established science - determine all action, and organize human coexistence to the greatest benefit of mankind. That is why he called her the “Queen of Science”. Compassion and altruism , respect for human achievements would be at the center of living together in the future society.

With the construction of the religion of positivism the historical development should be helped to break through. Their organization and dogmatics were based on the structure of Catholicism . The homage to mankind in the past, the present and the future was endowed with a cult that a priesthood of its own was supposed to help achieve. The immortality was socialized as "immortality in the memory of mankind." The positivist calendar took this into account with its thirteen-month year, which symbolically spans world history. The individual 28-day months take up the Jewish and Christian traditions, as well as the history of science and the political traditions of Europe. Monthly representatives include Moses , Archimedes and Friedrich II of Prussia . The individual days are, like a calendar of saints , dedicated to the "greatest individuals who contributed to the progress of mankind". The overarching thesis that the world would develop into the future through religion and the structure of states and sciences made it possible to appreciate and integrate the religious and state forms of organization that had been overcome.

Positivist societies were founded. Sunday meetings with ceremonies - which replaced the worship service - were on the program, and aroused suspicion and ridicule. The movement was characterized by the fanaticism of order and the obsession with detail of its founder, as well as by a precarious approach to precisely the system it was supposed to replace and wanted to replace by adopting organizational forms and techniques as seamlessly as possible: the Catholic religion, which is precisely the Anglo-Saxon religion, which is science-friendly Language area was out of the question as a traditional offer. Positivism was shaped by a special admiration for women. For Comte, who ultimately found his personal ordeal in the adoration of a woman, the woman was "the more emotionally developed being", who was predestined by the more pronounced ability to compassion to perform the core task in the family.

"Ordem e Progresso" flag of Brazil

Positivism took hold throughout Latin America since the 1880s. With his help one wanted to resolve social divisions and curb the influence of feudal authorities, mysticism and religion. In 1898 the Congresos Científicos Latinoamericaños were brought into being, which should act in this sense. However, this science-friendly and anti-religious movement, which was often initiated by Freemasons , led to a devaluation of indigenous culture. Brazil turned out to be the nation that offered positivism the greatest chance of gaining a foothold in the long run. The positivist motto Ordem e Progresso (“Order and Progress”) even appears in the flag of Brazil . Positivism gained considerable influence in the political and social structure as an ideology that was close to liberalism and also called for social justice. The Positivist Community of Brazil still exists today with temples in Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba and Porto Alegre. Love, respect and appreciation for parents and ancestors, social institutions, home, and humanity in general are the core points of the cult.

Historical positivism

Positivism first developed traction in the field of science in the still young history and cultural studies. The spectrum ranges from the takeover of the positivist model of history by literary historians such as Hippolyte Taine to a historical scholarship that held back when interpreting facts and thus drew the reproach of not getting beyond collections of material - a part of German studies of the 19th century common allegation. The main representatives here were Wilhelm Scherer (1841–1886) and his students ( Richard Heinzel , Richard M. Meyer , Franz Muncker , Erich Schmidt ) with works on author biographies and the origins and impact of individual literary texts. As a guarantee of a comprehensive material base, fact-rich historical-critical text editions (namely on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , Friedrich Schiller , Johann Gottfried Herder , Heinrich von Kleist ) and extensive material and motif stories were created in the context of these works .

In the historical sciences, researchers who are more interested in overarching theories have often accused those scholars who attempted a plausible reconstruction of events and “facts” to be mere “source positivists” whose interpretations remain too superficial.

Legal positivism

Legal positivism, the plea for a right that relies exclusively on the human legitimation given by the legislature, has its own tradition that goes back far before Comte's positivism. Ius positum , the “ positive law ”, has been the term for “established” law (from the Latin ponere to set, positum set) since ancient times , that is, a right set at the discretion of the respective legislature, such as administrative law . It was not legitimized by referring back to the ius divinum , the divine right of the Bible, nor through natural rights , that is, rights that are natural and equally applicable to all human beings. In the course of the 19th century, the term experienced a revaluation as a basic option of the entire legal justification, with which the primary aim was to organize coexistence according to consensus in the state. The settlements turned out to be problematic in the legal discussion of the 20th century when, after the Second World War, judges had to answer for legal rulings from the time of National Socialism. The basic option was that of legal positivism, which does not make the judge the executor of a higher divine right, but instructs to judge according to a legal situation for which the state is responsible. Representatives of fundamental human rights saw in the blind execution of the laws of an injustice regime an intrinsic contradiction, behind which the readiness of the judiciary to allow itself to be instrumentalized becomes visible. The question remained as to whether one wanted to return to another legal norm at this point, according to which judges could judge the laws at their own discretion (with a view to a legal norm that seemed to them to be higher) and thus break laws. In the debate, advocates of legal positivism insist that no position should be more exposed to discussion and require clearer responsibility than that of legal positivism - albeit the responsibility of society as a whole for its rights.

Scientific positivism

The complex of pictorial sensations (seen with just one eye for simplicity). Only an interpretation decides what your own body should be and what the outside world. Illustration from Ernst Mach, The Analysis of Sensations .

Positivism had the greatest influence as an epistemological option in the natural sciences at the turn of the 20th century. It came up here as a separate position in the dispute between empiricists and transcendental philosophy . Most proponents of classical empiricism proceeded more or less openly from a material external world that affects the sense organs and sets cognitive processes in motion in human consciousness. On the other hand, advocates of transcendental philosophy objected that we could ultimately say nothing about " the things in themselves " (the things before we perceive them as they actually are). We do not see whether they are matter or dream. We only have the senses. While on the Marxist side dialectical materialism was formed with a clear commitment to the material outside world as the starting point of all processes (the cognitive processes as well as the historical processes), representatives of the transcendental philosophies objected that this decision was already a belief. In this dispute, the positivists took a radically empiricist position that allowed the transcendental philosophies to criticize: we ultimately know nothing about the outside world. All we have is sensory data. We interpret these, but the question now arises as to how we interpret them.

The positivist answer to this question is: " thought-economical ", that is, without unnecessarily bringing entities and entities into play. Transcendence does not become an issue because it does not manifest itself. As an assumption, transcendence makes it difficult to make predictions about physical and chemical processes. However, matter or energy are no less redefined: They are constructs like three- or four-dimensional space. As long as the sensory data can be interpreted with the assumption of a three-dimensional material outside world, this is the economic model - the model which keeps working with the data situation manageable in the basic assumptions. If the data situation requires a different model, the one that is best suited to cope with the data situation is chosen; the scientist will not introduce any factors which he cannot say how they affect his predictions. He remains sparing with basic assumptions, only explains what positively (scientifically) perceptible data is to be recorded.

The position of the positivists between materialists and transcendental philosophers is clear when it comes to the question of whether God exists. One can deny that with materialism - there is only matter here. Transcendental philosophers use (according to the positivists) a problem that materialists have with proving their fundamental decision in order to introduce an equally unprovable transcendence. On the part of positivism, no meaningful statement can be made about transcendence: the way God is defined, he always remains outside of what is to be described - the data situation. We can examine the existence of belief historically, sociologically, and anthropologically. From the point of view of positivism, the debate about the existence of God revolves around a “ pseudo problem ”, a problem that is not given with the data situation.

While positivism turns out to be scientifically oriented agnosticism from the perspective of religions - as a position of ignorance of God, on the other hand the relationship to the dialectical materialism of communism is tense. The position taken by German experimental physics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that all of our knowledge is merely a practical interpretation of data was answered by Lenin in 1908 with a pamphlet against Ernst Mach'sempirical criticism ” . (The entire text is a long polemic, which did much to ensure that positivism was recognized in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland , as a subversive theorem that was sensitive to materialism and yet suited science.)

Ernst Mach had more influence in his own camp of German physics than he was comfortable with - he remained skeptical of the theory of relativity . Albert Einstein thanked him retrospectively for the theorems that he claims to have followed in formulating his theory. According to Einstein at the time, modern physics had to be ready to separate itself from three-dimensional space and from its ideas of matter if scientific data showed a different description model than the more manageable one. As Einstein was able to show, the more economical, more predictable and predictable model was that of a four-dimensional space - time in which matter and energy can be converted into one another. At this point, the sciences cannot be concerned with the question of what the truth is; they must strictly design a model that allows predictions to be made about measurement results; they are obliged to choose the mathematically simplest model. In later years, however, Einstein distanced himself from this Machian philosophy.

Neopositivism and Analytical Philosophy

Emil Du Bois-Reymond , Heinrich Hertz and Ernst Mach developed a philosophy of science at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century . It found its most prominent philosophical forum in the Vienna Circle , which played an essential part in the formulation of logical empiricism ; in England Bertrand Russell received the development. A direct connection between the fields of debate was established with Ludwig Wittgenstein .

Wittgenstein's publications embedded themselves in the discussion structure geared towards the theory of science, but shifted the focus to the logical limits of meaningful statements.

If the positivists of the 19th century had steered the philosophical debate away from things and sensory perceptions towards the interpretation of data, the new debate concentrated on the statements in which any interpretation of data must take place.

The first question here is: How can you tell whether a statement makes sense? For the answer, Wittgenstein, based on Gottlob Frege , introduced a fundamental dichotomy: The meaningful statement can, but does not have to, designate a fact. "Mr. X is in his room, room 209" may be a statement that a secretary makes when asked about Mr. X's current whereabouts. The statement makes sense to the questioner to the extent that he can fill it with an idea of ​​what should be the case if it is true. Then the wanted Mr. X is actually just in the designated room, which can be found at the specified location. The questioner can look into the room and determine whether this is the case. Thus one can make some logical and set theoretical statements. The set of facts is a subset of the facts that can be meaningfully formulated. We still do not need any verification in order to formulate facts sensibly. "Mr. X has seven heads" is a meaningful statement regardless of all biology, to the extent that it can be agreed under which findings we will affirm or deny it: what one head should be, what is meant by seven, etc. The statement, “There are people with six fingers,” demonstrates this. As a statement, it works no differently than the statement about the seven heads. In reality, it turns out to be in agreement with the findings of polydactyly .

In an analysis of statements and our ideas about verification, the next step can be to consider where the positivist project of research that captures facts has its limits. Statements about causality and morality , as Wittgenstein goes through in more detail in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus , cannot be understood as meaningful factual formulations. We can use meaningful statements to formulate that an object falls over when the perpendicular hanging down from its center of gravity falls outside the base area . If one converts the if / then statement, which describes the observations meaningfully, into a causality statement (in a sentence with “because”), then it no longer makes sense. It is not clear what attempt we can use to evaluate the if / then statement as false and the because statement as the superior one. When it comes to keeping unnecessary entities, beings, forces out of science and trying to correctly map the world through scientific knowledge, then this project of meaningful mapping is at a limit at this point.

There is a comparable limit for all sentences that are intended to provide instructions. The sentence “You should not kill!” Formulates a widespread instruction for human coexistence. If there is a reason why one should not kill, one must in any case leave the project of depicting reality. "Because otherwise human coexistence will be difficult", "Because otherwise God punishes you". Reasons like this move the problem from one to another. At the end you have to say, "if I want this, I have to do this," but you don't get beyond the point that you want this.

In this way of thinking, epistemology set itself limits, which can be thought about by means of set theory ( set theory ) and propositional logic - and these limits prove to be much harder to define than those previously defended against materialists and transcendentalists with regard to things.

Wittgenstein continued the considerations with a reflection on language acquisition and the constitution of meaning and thus developed an enormous influence on linguistics (linguistics) of the 20th century as well as on the currents of discourse analysis of the 1960s to 1990s. In his analyzes of postmodernism, Jean-François Lyotard tied in with Wittgenstein's later considerations.

Up to Michel Foucault , representatives of the French theory schools of the 20th century presented themselves as positivists at the time, without referring to the latest developments - Foucault openly linked the word with his understanding of discourse analysis in his Archeology of Knowledge (1969):

To describe a set of statements not as the closed and overflowing totality of a meaning, but as a fragmentary and fragmented figure; to describe a set of statements not in relation to the inwardness of an intention, a thought or a subject, but in accordance with the dispersion of an outwardness; Describing a set of statements, not in order to find the moment or the trace of the origin, but the specific forms of an accumulation, certainly does not mean the production of an interpretation, the discovery of a foundation, the uncovering of founding acts. Nor does it mean deciding on a rationality or going through a teleology , but rather the determination of what I would like to call a positivity . Analyzing a discursive formation therefore means dealing with a set of linguistic performances on the level of statements and the form of positivity by which they are characterized; Or, in short: it means defining the type of positivity of a discourse. If you put the analysis of rarity in place of the search for totalities, in the place of the topic of transcendental justification, the description of the external relations, in place of the search for the origin, the analysis of accumulation, you are a positivist, well well i'm a happy positivist i agree right away.

Among modern theorists, the position proves to be a persistent affront to both left and right camps of political and philosophical-humanistic debates , precisely as historically criticized and whose radicalism has remained suspect.

Sociological positivism

For Theodor W. Adorno and with him the Frankfurt School every sociological question presupposes a totality of society as a whole. The research process must therefore take into account the intentionality of life practice and must not be limited to the observation of processes that can be physically experienced. "Positivism, to which contradictions are anathema , has its innermost and self-unconscious core in the fact that it adheres to the most extreme objectivity that has been cleared of all subjective projections, but only gets caught all the more in the particularity of merely subjective instrumental reason." For Adorno, positivism has only a limited view of the world. "Positivism regards sociology as a science, among other things, and since Comte has considered the tried and tested methods of the older ones, especially those inherent in nature, to be transferable to sociology." For Adorno, however, sociology must take into account the dialectic between totality and observable phenomena. “Sociology has a double character: in it the subject of all knowledge, precisely society, the bearer of logical generality, is at the same time the object. Society is subjective because it refers back to the people who make it up, and also its organizational principles to subjective consciousness and its most general form of abstraction, logic, an essentially intersubjective element. Objectively it is because due to their supporting structure their own subjectivity is not transparent because it has no overall subject and by their institution whose instauration thwarts. "Science must therefore not only the" scientistic objectivity grasp ", but must also subjective being of Bill society. By making this connection, critical theory differs from a positivist sociology.

Adorno's position was partially disputed by representatives of critical rationalism , especially Hans Albert , in the context of the so-called positivism dispute. Critical rationalism, however, also rejects positivism in its pure form. The term positivism dispute is therefore only partially correct and should be understood as Adorno's fighting term.

Ralf Dahrendorf also partially joined the opposing position . A mediating position that further established positivism was assessed by Adorno and Habermas as excellent, was developed by Herbert Schnädelbach .

Positivism criticism

Karl Popper

Karl Popper criticized the possibility of a verification method as having been logically refuted and opposed the falsification method. According to Popper's résumé in his famous polemic “Against the Big Words”, this criticism was later largely accepted by some members of the Vienna Circle. Popper quotes John Passmore : “Positivism is as dead as a philosophical movement can be.” (Text passage taken from Logical Empiricism ).

Louis Pasteur

"The big and obvious gap in the system is that the positivist worldview does not take account of the most important of the positive ideas, the idea of ​​the infinite."

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Positivism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Johannes Hoffmeister : Dictionary of Philosophical Terms. Hamburg 1955. - Eisler, Rudolf : Dictionary of Philosophical Terms , Volume 2. Berlin 1904, pp. 125–128. Online - Friedrich Kirchner , Carl Michaëlis: Dictionary of Basic Philosophical Terms. Leipzig 1907, pp. 450–451. Online Wolfgang Röd : The way of philosophy. Second volume: 17. – 20. Jh. Munich 1996, p. 311f.
  2. Cf. Long / Sedley: The Hellenistic Philosophers. Stuttgart / Weimar 2006, p. 94f.
  3. George Berkeley: Philosophical Diary . Edited by Wolfgang Breidert, Hamburg 1979, §539.
  4. George Berkeley: A Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge. Hamburg 2004, p. 6.
  5. ^ Heinrich Pleticha: World history. Vol. 10. Gütersloh 1996, p. 13.
  6. See Hans Richert: Philosophy: Introduction to science, its essence and its problems. 1908. Reprinted by TP Verone Publishing House Ltd. 2017, p. 13.
  7. Auguste Comte: Introduction to the positive philosophy. Trans. V. GH Schneider. Leipzig 1880, p. 6f.
  8. See Hans Richert: Philosophy: Introduction to science, its essence and its problems. 1908. Reprinted by TP Verone Publishing House Ltd. 2017, p. 12.
  9. Michel Foucault : Archeology of Knowledge. Translated from the French by Ulrich Köppen. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1973, ISBN 3-518-06378-2 , p. 182.
  10. ^ Theodor Adorno : Introduction to the sociology of music. Twelve theoretical lectures. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1962, p. 12, quoted from: Theologische Realenzyklopädie . Volume 27: Politics, Political Science - Journalism, Press. de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1997, ISBN 3-11-015435-8 , p. 81 (keyword: positivism ).
  11. ^ Theodor Adorno u. a .: The positivism dispute in German sociology (= sociological texts. Vol. 58, ISSN  0584-6072 ). Luchterhand, Neuwied et al. 1969, p. 10.
  12. ^ Theodor Adorno u. a .: The positivism dispute in German sociology (= sociological texts. Vol. 58, ISSN  0584-6072 ). Luchterhand, Neuwied et al. 1969, p. 43.
  13. KA Kneller: Christianity and the representatives of modern science , p. 411f.