Value of Knowledge Reference


(from the Dictionary of Philosophy, Progress Publishers)

A trend in bourgeois philosophy which declares natural (empirical) sciences to be the sole source of true knowledge and rejects the cognitive value of philosophical study. Positivism emerged in response to the inability of speculative philosophy (e.g. Classical German Idealism) to solve philosophical problems which had arisen as a result of scientific development. Positivists went to an opposite extreme and rejected theoretical speculation as a means of obtaining knowledge. Positivism declared false and senseless all problems, concepts and propositions of traditional philosophy on being, substances, causes., etc., that could not be solved or verified by experience due to a high degree of abstract nature. Positivism claims to be a fundamentally new, non-metaphysical ("positive") philosophy, modelled on empirical sciences and providing them with a methodology. Positivism is essentially empiricism brought to extreme logical consequences in certain respects: inasmuch as any knowledge is empirical knowledge in one form or another, no speculation can be knowledge. Positivism has not escaped the lot of traditional philosophy, since its own propositions (rejection of speculation, phenomenalism, etc.) turned out to be unverifiable by experience and, consequently, metaphysical.

Positivism was founded by Auguste Comte, who introduced the term "positivism", Historically, there are three stages in the development of positivism. The exponents of the first were Comte, E. Littré and P. Laffitte in France, J S Mill and Herbert Spencer in England. Alongside the problems of the theory of knowledge (Comte) and logic (Mill), the main place in the first Positivism was assigned to sociology (Comte's idea of transforming society on the basis of science, Spencer's organic theory of society).

The rise of the second stage in Positivism - empirio-criticism - dates back to the 1870s - 1890s and is associated with Ernst Mach and Avenarius, who renounced even formal recognition of objective real objects, which was a feature of early Positivism. In Machism, the problems of cognition were interpreted from the viewpoint of extreme psychologism, which was merging with subjectivism.

The rise and formation of the latest Positivism, or neo-positivism, is linked up with the activity of the Vienna Circle (O. Neurath, Carnap, Schlick, Frank and others) and of the Berlin Society for Scientific Philosophy (Reichenbach and others), which combined a number of trends: logical atomism, logical positivism, semantics (close to these trends are Percy Bridgman's operationalism and the pragmatism of William James et al). The main place in the third positivism is taken by the philosophical problems of language, symbolic logic, the structure of scientific investigations, and others. Having renounced psychologism, the exponents of the third positivism took the course of reconciling the logic of science with mathematics, the course of formalisation of epistemological problems.