Positivism can have several meanings.
Logical positivism was a school of philosophy developed in the 1920s by the Vienna Circle. Logical positivists are skeptical of theological and metaphysical propositions and exclude them from logical reasoning. The logical truth of a proposition must be ultimately grounded in its accordance with the (physical) material world. All arguments should be based on the rules of logical inference applied to propositions grounded in observable facts. Hence they support realism, materialism, philosophical naturalism, empiricism and favor the scientific method.
Examples of logical positivists include the early Ludwig Wittgenstein (from the period of the Tractatus) and A.J. Ayer. See also the listing for Karl Popper.
In sociology, anthropology, and other social sciences, the term was closely connected to sociological naturalism and can be traced back to the philosophical thinking of Auguste Comte in the 19th century. Structural anthropologist Edmund Leach described positivism during the 1966 Henry Myers Lecture as follows:
- Positivism is the view that serious scientific inquiry should not search for ultimate causes deriving from some outside source but must confine itself to the study of relations existing between facts which are directly accessible to observation.
In some quarters of contemporary sociology, positivism has been replaced by antipositivism.
Philosophy of Law
Positivism, in particular legal positivism, is a legal view which, in contrast to the natural law view, claims that a legal system can be defined independently of evaluative terms or propositions.
Sometimes legal positivism is also understood as the view that laws must be obeyed, whatever their content. The late Carlos Nino called the former view 'methodological' and the latter view 'ideological', claiming that only the former was philosophically defensible.
In Poland, the period in literature in the second part of 19th century is known as positivism. Famous writers of Polish positivism include:
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