Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Positivism and study of society

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2549 words Published: 1st May 2017

Reference this

Positivism was named by Auguste Comte in 19th century, which was influenced by early empiricism of Enlightenment- with achieve the targets which include make objective knowledge and formulate the universal laws. The Rationalism also contributed positivism to improve the human conditions but not God (Smith, 2003, p76). Positivism has three development stages after it was mentioned- the early positivism, the logical positivism and standard positivism (Smith, 2003, p77). This essay will discuss the early positivism and logical positivism. As a branch of empiricism, the broader sense of positivism is the true knowledge which should be based on sense experiences, and only can be advanced by observation and experiment, avoided all metaphysical or speculation (Urmson, 1960). Another definition in this essay which should be introduced is the contributions of positivism. In this essay, contribution means the positivism how to create knowledge than before but not only focus on any positivist��s theory or the contributions in any specific subject. Positivism affected the studies of society since early 19th century to now although some people point out positivism is not fitting for the development of society nowadays (Smith, 2003, p76). In this essay, the contributions of positivism are how the positivism creates knowledge. The methodology of positivism was complete the theory of empiricism in Enlightenment. Based on positivism methodology, the closed system was implemented in study of society by Positivists. The critical evaluation of these contributions will be stated in every section. This essay will also state using modern sight to review the contributions of positivism.

Early positivism contributed to create a framework of research method and the basic principles of positivism. After early positivism, ��Vienna Circle�� developed the thoughts and created logical positivism. Positivists followed the same thought to find truth out no matter which stage of positivism. All of them had contributions in history.

As mentioned above, positivism is a branch of empiricism. Comparing with empiricism in Enlightenment, the biggest contribution of positivism is complete the methodology on empiricism and lead the positivism nearly regard to scientific spirit today (Heidegren, 2006, p92). Through this methodology, new scientific methods will be completed and applied on social science. The ontology of positivism methodology is the world is external and objective, and the observers should be independent and be neutral in the researches (Smith, 2003). Under this situation, the epistemology of positivism is building hypothesises and then to find the relationships between limited facts in social phenomena, and formulate universal laws at last (Smith, 2003). Be ��neutral�� and ��objective�� were positivists insert in the positivism methodology and affect the whole society.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

Take an instance for the contribution of ��neutral�� and ��objective�� in positivism is the positivist approach in criminology. Before the positivism, criminal suspects could prove their own criminal behaviours and this lead some criminal suspects were suffering and had to admit the behaviours which were not existed. However, positivists thought this was not humanistic and criminal suspects should be avoid from evidences, that means the criminal suspects cannot prove their own criminal behaviours (Simon, 2006).

However, the contribution of ��neutral�� and ��objective�� has been questioned. For example, legal positivism has begun to be questioned in recent years. Priel pointed out ��Legal positivism is the thesis that one does not need to rely on evaluative considerations in order to identify what the law is�� in his essay (2006). He had the question about the validity and content of legal positivism (Priel, 2006).

Based on the positivism methodology, early positivists completed the scientific methods. As a representative of philosophers in Enlightenment, Bacon created ��science of method��, there were three steps in the scientific method. First, making observations and repeat the observations, which were based on experiments. Secondly, classify the observations. Finally, formulating the observations to laws through inductive reasoning (Porter, 2007, p21-22). Comte and Durkheim inherited the scientific method and completed this scientific method to six steps, 1) make an observation, 2) suggest a question, 3) formulate a hypothesis and except outline, 4) testing the hypothesis through experiment method, 5) to analyse the data and 6) formulate a universal law (Cohen el al, 2007). Positivism completed the procedure of scientific method, inserted ��hypothesis�� and ��experiment��. ��Hypothesis�� in scientific method was the speculations of relationships between factors- the causes and effects (Cohen el al, 2007). The ��experiment�� means to make a test in a controlled artificial environment which had small number of variables, this system was named closed system and which will be discussed later (Smith, 2003).

Hypothesis is not only the speculation of the research, but also the key of the research. Positivists mentioned this notion of hypothesis and lead the scientific method to become complete and more validity. Basically, the research is built on hypothesis, no matter in natural science or social science. For example, scientific method is applied in natural science such as biology, chemistry, physics, and other else. In social science, scientific method is also applied widely, such as economy, legal system, psychology and other subjects. Figure 1 is a good example to show the hypothesis has became one of the most important links in economic study.

Applying the closed system in social science is another contribution of the early positivism, as the notion of ��experiment�� which is mentioned above. Before the positivism, people only applied scientific method in natural science. Comte and Durkheim believe the social science is similar as natural science and closed system can be applied and the truth and law in social science will be found. This thought provided a model for studying the social science and made people create more knowledge about the society.

There are three closures in the closed system- experimental closure, theoretical closure, and statistical closure. Experimental closure is through the experiment methods in an artificial environment to get an empirical purpose (Smith, 2003). This kind of closure is usually applied in psychology and other similar subjects. Theoretical closure is usually building theory models to analyse the relationships between variables (Smith, 2003). Theoretical closure has been applied in economy widely. For example, economists anticipate the trend of national economy through the theory models. The last closure is statistical closure which means finding relationships between different variables through quantitative measurable data sets (Smith, 2003). This closure is used in economy, psychology, political science and other subjects widely. For example, customer satisfaction investigation, examination of electoral results and so on.

Early positivists let people study and understand society better through applied scientific method and closed system in study of social science and tried to obtain definite objective knowledge. However, some disadvantages are existed when positivists applying scientific method and closed system in study of social science. There are too many other unpredictable variables exist outside of the boundary of closed system which can affect the results (Smith, 2003). In addition, some social variables cannot be measurable such as beliefs and scientific method maybe not suitable for this situation (Bryman & Bell, 2007).

Logical positivism is a development of early positivism and appeared in early 1920s (Smith, 2003). A group of philosophers who had informal discussions at the University of Vienna and they were named ��Vienna Circle�� (Smith, 2003). The logical positivism was promoted by ��Vienna Circle��, the centre of the logical positivism was still avoid any kind of metaphysics and speculative attempts (Smith, 2003). According to Ganguly (1967), logical positivism is a kind of the empiricism which with a premise that the objects can be verifiable empirically and meaningful. Comparing with early positivism, logical positivism has ambition to all knowledge which cannot be verified (Smith, 2003).

One of the contributions of logical positivism is the meaning of the theory should be communicable. Logical positivists proposed achieve this target through synthetic and analytic statement (Ganguly, 1967). Ayer was a famous positivist who contributed much in logical positivism, and he pointed out that the language which was used in science should simple, clear and free from mystification (Ganguly, 1967). Smith pointed out that this proposal ��led many to refer to this new approach as the ��linguistic turn�� in the philosophy of the social sciences.�� (2003)

Another contribution of logical positivism is logical positivists provide verifiability principle. Combining with induction in logical positivism, logical positivists believed the real value-free could be achieved (Ganguly, 1967). Before the logical positivism, researches were based on designers�� purposes, therefore, the researches would be disturbed by designers�� opinions although they tried to avoid that. For example, in some marketing satisfaction investigations, the questionnaire will bring researchers subjective and leading the answers. Some theories such as physics theories which cannot be experiment directly should be proved by logic methods. Logical positivists tried to make absolute objective topic and find the real objective truth. Their strict method and serious scientific spirit lead people to treat natural and social sciences carefully, and the real truth can be found without any subjective.

However, some experts pointed out there are problems on logical positivism. First, the language requirement of logical positivism makes people confuse about the truth. Indeed, it is hard to translate the language because this doctrine defined the language so exactly (Ritchie, 2009). Secondly, the logical positivists mentioned the knowledge should be verifiable and logical, however, some theories is hard to be proved but people cannot say that is metaphysics (Ritchie, 2009).

Positivism contributed so much in history and still influencing the philosophies and study of natural and social sciences today. Positivists provided useful framework in its period and helped people to collect knowledge. Positivism is an ��extreme�� philosophy which oppose to interpretivism, however, it is the time to combine them together to develop new framework for study of society (Ricciardi, 2009). As mentioned above, some weaknesses are existed when positivists applied scientific method and closed system in social sciences and obtained the knowledge, such as some hide variables are ignored by closed system when studying social sciences. Under this situation, the validity of the research will be questioned and it is not follow the principles of positivism. Therefore, new framework or new philosophy should be created to solve this problem and replace the positivism.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

To sum up, positivism was mentioned in early 19th century, Comte and Durkhaim were the founders of the positivism. The purpose of positivism is finding the absolute objective true knowledge, different stage of positivism followed this thought and tried best to avoid metaphysics and subjective. Early positivists who were influenced by empiricism in Enlightenment and completed the positivism methodology, new completed scientific method was created based on this situation. Early positivists developed the closed system and enhance the development of sciences as well. Furthermore, early positivists applied scientific method and closed system in study of society, this helped people to understand the world better in that period, although some disadvantages were exist, such as some variables in society were ignored. Vienna Circle developed the thoughts and methods in early positivism and created logical positivism. They applied more strict principles to find the objective truth. The most important contributions of logical positivism were using exactly accurate language to describe the theories and verifiable principle. These lead the sciences to be objective and more accurate. However, the weaknesses are still in logical positivism, for example, using exactly language will bring the barriers in communication in different languages. As the development of philosophy and sciences, positivism emerge more and more weakness and will be replaced by other new philosophies. Positivism has depth influence in history and the contributions cannot be eliminated.


Bryman, A. & Bell, E. (2007) Business research methods, published by Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd Ed, 2007

Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2007) The Scientific Method, Research methods in education, published by Routledge, New York, in 2007

Ganguly, S. (1967) Logical positivism- as a theory of meaning, published by Allied Publishers Private Limited, India, in 1967

Heidegren, CG (2006) Positivism before Logical Positivism in Nordic Philosophy, The Vienna Circle in the Nordic Countries, published by Springer, published in 2006

Porter, D. (2007) Bacon��s Method and Coleridge��s Empiricism, “Knowledge broken”: Empiricist method and the forms of Romanticism, Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, published in 2007

Priel, D. (2006) TROUBLE FOR LEGAL POSITIVISM?, Legal Theory, Published by Cambridge University Press, published in 12/2006, p225-263

Ricciardi, F. (2009) Epistemology of Information Systems: Time for Something New? Positivism, Interpretivism, and Beyond, Information Systems: People, Organizations, Institutions, and Technologies, published on 03/10/2009

Ritchie, A. (2009) Errors of Logical Positivism, Philosophy, Vol: 12 Issue: 45, published in 02/2009

Simon, J (2006) Positively Punitive: How the Inventor of Scientific Criminology Who Died at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Continues to Haunt American Crime Control at the Beginning of the Twenty-First, Texas Law Review, Vol: 84, Issue: 7, published in 06/2006, [accessed on 09/03/2010]

Smith, M. (2003) Social science in question, edited, designed, and typeset by The Open University, published in 1998, reprinted 2002 and 2003

Urmson, O. (1960) The concise encyclopedia of western philosophy and philosophers, Urmson, O. edited, publisher: HUTCHINSON & CO. London


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: