Hey Paul? (Pomo Ground Clearing)

Paul Henry Rosenberg rad at gte.net
Sun Mar 7 10:36:56 PST 1999

Doyle Saylor wrote:

> Hello everyone,
> Carrol Cox writes:
> ...<SNIP>...
> What the various people on this list mean by it I do not know. In
> writing I never use the label but just use the paraphrase, "belief
> that facts explain themselves," thus avoiding either debates over
> terminology *or* a pointless exchange of labels no one understands.
> Doyle
> Absolutely. I have plenty of room for someone to say something clearly
> enough to me about what positivism is. I like your definition a great deal,
> Carrol. I could speculate what someone seems to mean by positivism, but
> frankly positivism appears to me to have been a metaphysical movement of a
> few people (I believe starting with Ernst Mach) who had some influence in
> Western European science, but faded away a long time ago as a doctrine.

Close, but not quite on two counts:

(1) Positivism was an ANTI-metaphysical movement. Of course this is still a kind of metaphysics, as I always argue when confronting positivists, but it suggests the need for a more subtle conceptual mapping.

(2) It certainly did not fade away as a doctrine. It did undergo some substantial reformulations, which didn't amount to much difference unless you were one of the priesthood. It does retain a much stronger cultural influence than is warranted by it's relatively embattled state, however.

> To say someone now is a positivist or typical science
> practices positivism is very muddy to me. I could better
> understand "scientism" because it implies someone is
> "religious" about some position in science (which is
> why your definition is so to the point, that matter
> explains itself) that is supposed to have special
> authority, but it is entirely unclear from those
> expressions of a critical attitude toward science
> what could be if science weren't positivist.

Well, you can be a pragmatist. And this can still allow you to hold that science has some sort of special authority, but that special has been earned in a manner that pragmatism helps demystify the basis of that authority, and delimit its scope. (After all, one meaning of special is that it is NOT general, that it cannot substitute for all other forms of human inquiry or knowledge.)

What distinguishes pragmatism from positivism is that pragmatism claims no special foundation for science, but only a special articulation of its practice. This is why James could write a book like *The Varieties of Religious Experience."

Pragmatism has no problem with recognizing that there are kinds of questions one can ask and answer that call upon something other than science. Put another way, there's a pragmatic limit to what science can contribute in the way of knowledge.

-- Paul Rosenberg Reason and Democracy rad at gte.net

"Let's put the information BACK into the information age!"

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