[hist-analytic] Positivism in 21th.-Century Analytic Philosophy

Roger Bishop Jones rbj at rbjones.com
Tue Feb 2 16:25:55 EST 2010

On Tuesday 02 Feb 2010 18:18, jlsperanza at aol.com wrote:
> Anyway, a little ps. in care


> R. B. Jones cares to comment on the
> value-side
> to what I see his "metaphysical" scheme: positivism. I see he may
> endorse a NEUTRAL view of "positivism" as the "logical" positivists
> once endorsed.

Not sure what kind of neutrality you speak of here, I don't recall using the 
term myself.

However. I'll clarify my position and terminology.

I use the term "metaphysical positivism" for the purely analytic aspects of my 
philosophy.  I use the term "positive philosophy" for a much broader 
conception of philosophy.  I haven't said much on hist-analytic about this
but it is sketched very briefly on my web site.

As far as values are concerned, insofar as one simply analyses these, that 
belongs to metaphysical positivism, but insofar as one takes a position that 
belongs to positive philosophy.
However, I have recently been inclining towards adopting positions rather more 
subtly, by analysing their merits vis-a-vis the alternatives, and this 
tendency results in discussions which might have been positive philosophy 
looking rather like metaphysical positivism.
That very same tendency also results in metaphysical positivism getting more 
and more like pure analysis.

Much of Carnap's philosophy should, according to Carnap, be understood not as 
doctrine but as proposals for usage.
Thus, whereas Kripke purports to show that there are necessities de-re, 
supposedly contra Carnap, Carnap merely proposed that we should adopt a usage 
for the terms Necessary and Analytic which makes necessity de-re (if defined as 
non-analytic necessity) a vacuous concept.

In metaphysical positivism I now retreat from Carnap's tendency to "make 
proposals", and fall back on more analysis, a step which falls under a heading  
"epistemic retreat" which I invented for myself (I don't think its in use).
So whereas Carnap proposes this close connection between analyticity and 
necessity, I just aspire to expose its merits relative to the alternatives, 
and you can please yourself whether you adopt such a usage.

Now this retreat into meta-analysis might make things a bit more NEUTRAL,
but I think of it as making them more OBJECTIVE, and more solid (more likely 
to be true).
Often we have better grounds for comparisons than absolute judgements.
A technical example is the very high level of confidence we can have that ZF is 
more likely to be consistent than ZFC, and the much weaker levels of confidence 
that either one is consistent.

In my philosophy, theory is subordinate to practice, in the sense that the 
purpose of theoretical philosophy is to underpin and serve the purposes of 
practical philosophy.  This possibly brings me closer to Comte than more 
recent positivists.  Unlike Wittgenstein's position in the Tractatus this is 
something which I can speak about.

My positivism is explicitly rooted in ancient scepticism, which itself rooted 
in practical philosophy.  Both practically and theoretically however, its not 
very good.  On the practical side, scepticism about rationality is dealt with 
in far better ways in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Dao.
The principle of Wu-Wei is pretty much the idea that we shouldn't rationally 
decide what to do anyway, we should act from deep within.

> Where "positivism" has little in the way of comparison
> with things like Comte´s philosophy and stuff.

Comte seems to be a bit of a curates egg.
But his core idea, that civilisation progresses through stages which are 
characterised by something like how we decide what is true, seems to me to 
have something in it.  History is much more complicated than that, but 
progress is desirable and progress in the way in which we resolve differences 
is an important, if not the most important element of what we mean by 
This puts the focus on rationality, and one can regard the notion of positive 
science as being about the rationality of our conduct of science.

> But perhaps, no. And Jones is a _positivist_ of the old school as he
> should and as I would myself be, if I could make sense of the idea of
> "progress" which was in Comte´s head and in the contributors to the
> "Unified Science" project.

The Unified Science project, if you read Carnap, was a rejection of a previous 
distinction made between social and physical sciences, the details of which I 
am not familiar with.
My own position is that it is uncertain that there is anything common to all 
sciences except possibly a nomologo-deductive method, possibly not even that.
Depends where you want to draw the line between science and non-science, and I 
don't really care about that line.
> Grice writes, "beware of the devil of scientism", in Conception of
> Value.

Well, I agree.
I don't think that I am, or that Carnap was, scientistic.
He was in his philosophy, interested almost exclusively in scientific 
philosophy, and in philosophy for science.
But that is just a specialism, not scientism.



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