By post-positivism, I don't mean a slight adjustment to or revision of the positivist position -- post-positivism is a wholesale rejection of the central tenets of positivism. A post-positivist might begin by recognizing that the way scientists think and work and the way we think in our everyday life are not distinctly different.
Scientific reasoning and common sense reasoning are essentially the same process. There is no difference in kind between the two, only a difference in degree. Scientists, for example, follow specific procedures to assure that observations are verifiable, accurate and consistent. In everyday reasoning, we don't always proceed so carefully although, if you think about it, when the stakes are high, even in everyday life we become much more cautious about measurement.
Think of the way most responsible parents keep continuous watch over their infants, noticing details that non-parents would never detect. One of the most common forms of post-positivism is a philosophy called critical realism. A critical realist believes that there is a reality independent of our thinking about it that science can study.
This is in contrast with a subjectivist who would hold that there is no external reality -- we're each making this all up! Positivists were also realists.
The difference is that the post-positivist critical realist recognizes that all observation is fallible and has error and that all theory is revisable. In other words, the critical realist is critical of our ability to know reality with certainty. Where the positivist believed that the goal of science was to uncover the truth, the post-positivist critical realist believes that the goal of science is to hold steadfastly to the goal of getting it right about reality, even though we can never achieve that goal!
Because all measurement is fallible, the post-positivist emphasizes the importance of multiple measures and observations, each of which may possess different types of error, and the need to use triangulation across these multiple errorful sources to try to get a better bead on what's happening in reality. The post-positivist also believes that all observations are theory-laden and that scientists and everyone else, for that matter are inherently biased by their cultural experiences, world views, and so on.
This is not cause to give up in despair, however. Just because I have my world view based on my experiences and you have yours doesn't mean that we can't hope to translate from each other's experiences or understand each other. That is, post-positivism rejects the relativist idea of the incommensurability of different perspectives, the idea that we can never understand each other because we come from different experiences and cultures.
Most post-positivists are constructivists who believe that we each construct our view of the world based on our perceptions of it. Because perception and observation is fallible, our constructions must be imperfect. So what is meant by objectivity in a post-positivist world?
Positivists believed that objectivity was a characteristic that resided in the individual scientist. Scientists are responsible for putting aside their biases and beliefs and seeing the world as it 'really' is. Post-positivists reject the idea that any individual can see the world perfectly as it really is.
We are all biased and all of our observations are affected theory-laden. Our best hope for achieving objectivity is to triangulate across multiple fallible perspectives! Thus, objectivity is not the characteristic of an individual, it is inherently a social phenomenon. It is what multiple individuals are trying to achieve when they criticize each other's work.
We never achieve objectivity perfectly, but we can approach it. The best way for us to improve the objectivity of what we do is to do it within the context of a broader contentious community of truth-seekers including other scientists who criticize each other's work.
The theories that survive such intense scrutiny are a bit like the species that survive in the evolutionary struggle. This is sometimes called the natural selection theory of knowledge and holds that ideas have 'survival value' and that knowledge evolves through a process of variation, selection and retention. They have adaptive value and are probably as close as our species can come to being objective and understanding reality. Clearly, all of this stuff is not for the faint-of-heart.
In particular, they still felt that the goal of philosophy should be to aim at objective truth. They believed that there was an objective reality, and felt that science was a flawed but still highly respectable means of understanding it, but they accepted that there were major complications in the process of knowing or understanding that truth.
And, of course, they accepted that there was no objective basis for believing in objective truth. Postpositivism has been so successful in critiquing positivism that there are very few fully-convinced positivists left today. Auguste Comte was a French philosopher who lived in the early 19th century and was strongly associated with positivism though he was more interested in sociology, a science that was just then getting under way, than he was in the natural sciences.
In this short quote, he expresses the basic hope of positivism: Notice, too, that he places religion at the bottom of his hierarchy, referring to it as a fiction. This skepticism of religion is common among positivists. Despite being such an important scientific figure, however, Popper was skeptical about positivism.
As an early postpositivist, he argued that there were limits to scientific knowledge simply because there are limits to what we as human beings can possibly know and understand. Thus, he thought that positivism placed too much faith in science without being attentive enough to its blind spots. The basic insight of positivism is as old as philosophy itself, and probably a lot older.
That is, human beings have always understood that one of the best ways to know about reality is to observe it systematically, and ordinarily people believe pretty easily that the world around them is an objective reality.
The modern form of positivism, however, is defined by the modern form of science, which dates back to around the 17th century. European thinkers developed a system for testing and evaluating their ideas which was not completely new — it was strongly influenced by Indian and Islamic ideas developed in previous centuries — but which did include some striking new elements. For example, the European scientists decided that supernatural ideas could not be used to explain their observations, an idea that would become central in modern positivism.
Positivism reached its peak in the early 20th century, when philosophers in Britain and America were at the height of their efforts to integrate philosophy with the natural sciences. They were understandably impressed with the progress that science had made over the previous centuries, and believed that this progress was due to the inherent superiority of science over all other systems of thought.
They showed that scientific thinking was not a perfect or complete system, and that it had to be supplemented with other non-scientific ideas.
Today, we live in an age caught between two opposite forces: However, we also realize that science is responsible for death and destruction on a massive scale, and that our love of technology has not helped us develop greater love for our fellow human beings. So the allure of positivism is still there, since we all understand the power of the scientific worldview — but at the same time, we are much more aware of its dangers than the original postpositivists ever were.
Despite its ambiguous stance on science, the movie Avatar has some positivist underpinnings. So the movie basically takes a positivist stance on what sort of things exist in the world, but it still makes room for a semi-spiritual relationship to the natural world.
In an episode of South Park, Cartman travels into the future to a time when positivism has taken over the world, replacing political and religious ideas with pure science. Although this future world has incredible technology, all the basic problems are exactly the same — war, bigotry, and stupidity are still rampant. For many people, the existence of God is a true-or-false question. Historically, most positivists and many postpositivists have been atheists. In order to be false, a statement must have an established meaning.
Both true and false. All of the above. None of the above.
It has to be acknowledged that the positivism research philosophy is difficult to be explained in a precise and succinct manner. This is because there are vast differences between settings in which positivism is used by researchers.
The positivist approach is popular in the social sciences, as it allows researchers to assess results without personal value judgments. Research methods that involve the use of quantitative data are popular among researchers who align to a positivist approach.
Positivism and Interpretivism are the two basic approaches to research methods in Sociology. Positivist prefer scientific quantitative methods, while Interpretivists prefer humanistic qualitative methods. This post provides a very brief overview of the two. POSITIVIST RESEARCH In this chapter, we will look at what is meant by positivist research, and consider how a positivist approach to research leads to the use of experimental and quantitative meth- ods.
Video: What is Sociological Research? - Positivist, Interpretive and Critical Approaches - Positivist, Interpretive and Critical Approaches Human society is a complex network, and there are many. This approach to research is called positivist, or positivist-empiricist and it is the dominant one among the general public. Positivist researchers believe that they can reach a full understanding based on experiment.