|Chapter 1||An Overall View of Positivism|
|§1||The rule of phenomenalism.|
|§2||The rule of nominalism.|
|§4||Unity of the Scientific Method|
|Chapter 2||Positivism Down to David Hume|
|§2||Positivist strands in the seventeenth century.|
|§3||The positivism of the enlightenment.|
|§5||The destructive consequences of Hume's work.|
|Chapter 3||Auguste Comte: Positivism in the Romantic Age|
|§1||The controversy about Comte.|
|§3||Ideas of social reform.|
|§4||Reform of the Sciences. The law of the Three States.|
|§6||The religion of humanity.|
|§7||The results of Comte's thought.|
|Chapter 4||Positivism Triumphant|
|§1||Claude Bernard: the native positivism of science.|
|§2||A positivist ethics: John Stuart Mill.|
|§3||Herbert Spencer: evolutionary positivism.|
|Chapter 5||Positivism of the Neo-Romantic or Modernist Age.|
|§1||The place of empirio-criticism in culture.|
|§2||Avenarius: the idea of a scientific philosophy.|
|§3||Avenarius: the critique of experience.|
|§4||Critique of `introjection'. Coordination between the self and the environment.|
|§5||The principle of economy.|
|§7||Arguments against empirio-criticism.|
|Chapter 6||Conventionalism: Destruction of the Concept of Fact|
|§1||The leading idea of conventionalism.|
|§2||The impossibility of proving or disproving hypotheses.|
|§4||Ideological consequences of conventionalism.|
|Chapter 7||Pragmatism and Positivism|
|§2||The pragmatic rehabilitation of metaphysics.|
|§3||Other versions of the pragmatic method. Its overall meaning.|
|Chapter 8||Logical Empiricism: A Scientistic Defence of Threatened Civilization|
|§1||The sources of logical empiricism. How it defines itself.|
|§3||Scientific statements and metaphysics.|
|§4||The programme for reducing all science to physics.|
|§5||The humanities and the world of values.|
|§6||Logical empiricism in Poland.|
The term "positivism" refers not only to a kind of philosophy, but also to a theory of law, a current in literary history, and a way of addressing certain theological questions. Though there may be something common to these kinds of positivism, we are concerned here only with the philosophical variety.
No comprehensive discussion of positivistic philosophers is intended. The philosophers discussed are those whose discussion will help in understanding the ideas, many of whom did not consider themselves positivists. The book begins and ends in an attempt to characterise philosophical positivism as a whole, the first chapter providing an exposition of the most important features of positivism and the last enquiring into "the meaning" of this style of thinking. The main body follows a historical presentation.
These are the most important of the rules:
§1 the rule of phenomenalism - there is no real difference between 'essence' and 'phenomenon'
§2 the rule of nominalism - "every abstract science is a method of abbreviating the recording of experiences and gives us no extra, independent knowledge in the sense that , via its abstractions, it opens access to empirically inaccessible domains of reality".
§3 the rule that refuses to call value judgements and normative statements knowledge - this is essentially Hume's denial that one can derive an "ought" from an "is".
§4 the belief in the essential unity of the scientific method - exactly in what that unity consists seems a bit variable
All the above need to be taken with a pinch of salt, insofar as they have both extreme and moderate interpretations (and the most moderate verge on being content-free). Different positivists have ranged across the spectrum.
Of course, opponents of positivism will speak as if all positivists adhered to the most extreme interpretations.
Positivistic elements appear in writers opposed to scholasticism at Paris and Oxford in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. Of these the best known is William of Occam immortalised in the radical nominalism of "Occam's razor", which tells us that "we are to include in our conception of the world only so much as the irrefutable testimony of experience obliges us to" (often abbreviated as "entities are not to be multiplied without necessity").
This was an anti-metaphysical doctrine opposing the over-inflated ontology of scholastic metaphysics. Occam separated out the domain of science, which was to be based on observation, from that of faith, which addressed matters inaccessible to observation or demonstration. He considered religious truths to be based on faith, their demonstration through natural theology or metaphysics was impossible and unnecessary. This contributed to the separation of secular matters of all kinds (not merely science) from the influence of the church.
The most radically positivistic medieval philosophy was advanced by the Paris nominalists, notably Jean de Mirecourt and Nicolas d'Autrecourt who affirmed that all knowledge was either logical knowledge reducible to the principle of contradiction, or an account of the facts of immediate experience. This extends to a radical phenomenalism, the concept of substance being regarded as superfluous.
Similar to Mersenne was Gassendi, who attacked metaphysical speculation and rational theology. He considered all knowledge, inevitably, to be imperfect.
Descartes and Leibniz also get mentions here, both having some elements of positivism in their thought, both seeking to avoid "explanations" in terms of "unseen faculties or forces, inaccessible to experimental investigation".
"Comte's whole doctrine, including the theory of knowledge, becomes intelligible only when grasped as a grandiose project for universal reform, encompassing not only science but all spheres of human life."Comte's ideas of social reform are based on a conception of history which originates with Saint-Simon (similar in some respects to Joseph de Maistre's philosophy). This conceives history as progressing by passing through successive epochs of two distinct kinds, between which it alternates. The epochs are either "organic" or "critical".
Organic epochs are conservative and stable, individuals have their respective places in society, which is itself considered an entity greater and more important than its individual members.
Critical epochs are times of change, "bent above all on destroying the existing order" in which individualism is important and society is "merely the sum total of separate individuals" having no independent existence or values.
Comte lived in a critical epoch following the French revolution and his ideas were intended to provide the basis for the next organic epoch, the "positive society" of the future. This would involve restoration of some features of feudal society, for example, the separation between secular and spiritual authority. Spiritual authority was however to become scientific rather than religious.
Comte recognised the risk that utopian thinking yields an idealised and unrealisable society and looked to his new science of sociology to ensure that his utopian conceptions were adapted to "the natural and necessary characteristics of social life".
He asserted the existence of a social instinct at least as strong as selfish aspirations, which made possible the harmonious coexistence of human beings. The organic and rational society he envisaged would be organised along scientific lines and would depend upon its members adopting a scientific way of thinking. This scientific way of thinking was to be determined by studying the history of science. From an understanding of the way in which scientific methods have evolved through history one could come to an understanding of how they must be in the future. Comte's understanding comes as the law of the three states.
In which the hidden nature of things is sought by constructing divine beings in man's own image.
In which the hidden nature of things is sought without resort to supernatural beings.
In which questions about the hidden nature of things are rejected as pathological in some way (e.g. meaningless, or verbal).
In the positive state science seeks to discover universal laws governing phenomena by observation and experiment. The scientist does not seek beyond these laws governing phenomena for deeper explanations, especially not explanations which involve entities which are not directly observable..
Conventionalism is primarily associated with certain French Physicists and Mathematicians, notably Henri Poincaré(1854-1912), but was anticipated by Mach. Other leading French conventionalists were Pierre Duhem(1861-1916), and Edouard Le Roy(1870-1954) The name is associated with certain problems rather than a philosophical doctrine.
Kolakowski states "The Fundamental Idea" thus:
"certain scientific propositions, erroneously taken for descriptions of the world based on the recording and generalisation of experiments, are in fact artificial creations, and we regard them as true not because we are compelled to do so for empirical reasons, but because they are convenient, useful, or because they have aesthetic appeal."This is closely associated with the doctrine that empirical evidence under-determines theory, that there will often or always be more than one theory which is consistent with the evidence. From this one further step takes us to the position that our view of the world is conventional.
More constructively Kolakowski says that the primary aim of the French conventionalists was to define the epistemological boundary separating metaphysics from science (without rejecting metaphysics).
This is held to undermine the empiricist foundationalism in respect of empirical knowledge, to render verification in terms of sensory data untenable and to undermine scientific induction.
From here one step further leads us to the view that "the theory of physics is a purely man-made construction", that they are true by convention and thence to Le Roy's extreme view that the majority of scientific laws are definitions.
This seems an odd introduction for it is immediately made apparent from the account of Peirce's philosophy which follows that Peirce's philosophy can be related to positivism in other matters than "philosophy of life". In fact I found very little in this chapter which I would have called "philosophy of life". Perhaps the author considers the whole "pragmatic" as constituting this philosophy of life, but still, I have little inkling of what it was that the author was excluding. The following three subsections seem mainly concerned with the philosophy of Peirce, James and Dewey respectively.
"The sciences have a certain number of methodological rules common to them all: namely rules of clarity, criticism, verifiability and objectivity. Philosophy can achieve scientific status and develop the same empirically tested precision if and only if it will rid itself of meaningless terms and falsely formulated problems."
"The meaning of every judgement consists in its strengthening of a practical rule..."
"Peirce explicitly goes so far as to say that the meaning of a judgement is entirely exhausted by its practical consequences."
Notwithstanding these quotes Kolakowski also says that Peirce did not hold the meaning of a sentence to be its practical consequences, but rather that the practical consequences are a criterion of truth for the sentence.
"Peirce asked that practical effectiveness be treated as a criterion of truth."
"Truth was for him a relation of correspondence between judgements and actual states of affairs."