Central Question 1

Question: What are we talking about when we talk about positivism in the context of this book and this class?

Although Zammito situates positivism and post-positivism historically and socially (identifying who was affiliated with it, who rebelled against it, and so on), and despite opening chapter 1 by saying that it needs to be "elucidated," he talks a lot about its effects, how it's broadly construed, how it's misinterpreted, but very little about what it is. Because of this, I have to wonder if the purpose of this chapter is necessarily to focus on positivism itself or all of the attending baggage: the history, the debates, the effects (particularly scientism). We seem to be seeing a lot of the implications or applications of positivism (Comte's sociology, Kuhn's reaction to Popper, and so on) and not a lot of definition of terms, so what are the important things about and surrounding positivism that are actually at issue here? I would argue that they are: 1. The scientism (and logical positivism) put forward by the Vienna Circle that says that the logical conduct of science creates facts that are free of subjectivity and values; 2. The distinction between theory and observation, how positivism maintains that boundary strictly and post-positivism attempts to break it down; and 3. That Quine blew up the idea that there are things that are true because, linguistically, they must be, and that these things are separate from things that are true because they empirically are (and possibly 4. That Kuhn continued this legacy by arguing that science was sometimes wrong). These are, I think, the relevant features of and reactions to positivism, and so the important thing that I'm noting here is that these are mostly tangential to but inseparable from positivism itself, so to a certain extent, we're not talking just about positivism; we're talking more about everything that comes with it.

1/30 Revisitation: What are we talking about when we talk about positivism in the context of this book and this class?

Overall, I do still think the point of this question is a good one: it's important to note that we're looking at the entire tangle of context that comes with positivism and not just the simple concept itself. But I'm not sure this question really gets to the heart of it the way I was hoping it would. What I was trying to get at is basically what are the aspects of positivism that matter for the types of discussions that we're going to be seeing in this book and having in this class, but even that is a bit vague now that we've had the discussion. Another way of asking the question to get at the heart of it, then, might be What is invested in this concept of positivism, who invested it, and what's at stake? That may be so wide-ranging as to be useless, but it gets to the point that I wanted to make, which was that we're looking more at how positivism was deployed and contested by different people than at philosophical arguments about positivism itself. In that way, this chapter is kind of a sociology or history of philosophy than straight philosophy itself. That's how Zammito can get away without strictly defining positivism, particularly distinguishing it from logical positivism, and it also explains why there was the tangent into Kuhn and Quine being able to be reconciled with positivism – because their investments in positivism were misinterpreted, and they weren't contesting it after all. So I think this new question captures some of the nuance that the old question lacked, and may be more helpful in reexamining the material.

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