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Interpretivism and Positivism (Ontological and Epistemological Perspectives)

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❶Canadian Review of Sociology , Vol. We never achieve objectivity perfectly, but we can approach it.

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Thus, information derived from sensory experience , interpreted through reason and logic , forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Verified data positive facts received from the senses are known as empirical evidence ; thus positivism is based on empiricism.

Positivism also holds that society , like the physical world, operates according to general laws. Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected, as are metaphysics and theology because metaphysical and theological claims cannot be verified by sense experience.

Although the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought, [2] the modern sense of the approach was formulated by the philosopher Auguste Comte in the early 19th century.

The English noun positivism was re-imported in the 19th century from the French word positivisme , derived from positif in its philosophical sense of 'imposed on the mind by experience'. The corresponding adjective lat. Positivism is part of a more general ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry , notably laid out by Plato and later reformulated as a quarrel between the sciences and the humanities , [6] Plato elaborates a critique of poetry from the point of view of philosophy in his dialogues Phaedrus a, Symposium a, Republic a, Laws b-d and Ion.

The consideration that laws in physics may not be absolute but relative, and, if so, this might be more true of social sciences, [9] was stated, in different terms, by G. Positivism asserts that all authentic knowledge allows verification and that all authentic knowledge assumes that the only valid knowledge is scientific. Wilhelm Dilthey — , in contrast, fought strenuously against the assumption that only explanations derived from science are valid. At the turn of the 20th century the first wave of German sociologists, including Max Weber and Georg Simmel , rejected the doctrine, thus founding the antipositivist tradition in sociology.

Later antipositivists and critical theorists have associated positivism with " scientism "; science as ideology. The positivists have a simple solution: But can any one conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies.

In the early 20th century, logical positivism—a descendant of Comte's basic thesis but an independent movement—sprang up in Vienna and grew to become one of the dominant schools in Anglo-American philosophy and the analytic tradition. Logical positivists or 'neopositivists' rejected metaphysical speculation and attempted to reduce statements and propositions to pure logic.

Strong critiques of this approach by philosophers such as Karl Popper , Willard Van Orman Quine and Thomas Kuhn have been highly influential, and led to the development of postpositivism.

In historiography the debate on positivism has been characterized by the quarrel between positivism and historicism. Arguments against positivist approaches in historiography include that history differs from sciences like physics and ethology in subject matter and method. Experimental methods and mathematical models do not generally apply to history, and it is not possible to formulate general quasi-absolute laws in history.

Positivism in the social sciences is usually characterized by quantitative approaches and the proposition of quasi-absolute laws. A significant exception to this trend is represented by cultural anthropology , which tends naturally toward qualitative approaches. In psychology the positivist movement was influential in the development of operationalism. The philosophy of science book The Logic of Modern Physics in particular, which was originally intended for physicists, coined the term operational definition , which went on to dominate psychological method for the whole century.

In economics , practising researchers tend to emulate the methodological assumptions of classical positivism, but only in a de facto fashion: For example, much positivist legislation falls short in contrast to pre-literate or incompletely defined common or evolved law. In jurisprudence , " legal positivism " essentially refers to the rejection of natural law ; thus its common meaning with philosophical positivism is somewhat attenuated and in recent generations generally emphasizes the authority of human political structures as opposed to a "scientific" view of law.

In the early s, urbanists of the positivist-quantitative school like David Harvey started to question the positivist approach itself, saying that the arsenal of scientific theories and methods developed so far in their camp were "incapable of saying anything of depth and profundity" on the real problems of contemporary cities.

In contemporary social science, strong accounts of positivism have long since fallen out of favour. Practitioners of positivism today acknowledge in far greater detail observer bias and structural limitations.

Modern positivists generally eschew metaphysical concerns in favour of methodological debates concerning clarity, replicability , reliability and validity.

The institutionalization of this kind of sociology is often credited to Paul Lazarsfeld , [23] who pioneered large-scale survey studies and developed statistical techniques for analyzing them. This approach lends itself to what Robert K. Merton called middle-range theory: Other new movements, such as critical realism , have emerged to reconcile the overarching aims of social science with various so-called 'postmodern' critiques.

Auguste Comte — first described the epistemological perspective of positivism in The Course in Positive Philosophy , a series of texts published between and The first three volumes of the Course dealt chiefly with the physical sciences already in existence mathematics , astronomy , physics , chemistry , biology , whereas the latter two emphasized the inevitable coming of social science.

Observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science, and classifying the sciences in this way, Comte may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.

His View of Positivism therefore set out to define the empirical goals of sociological method. This Comte accomplished by taking as the criterion of the position of each the degree of what he called "positivity," which is simply the degree to which the phenomena can be exactly determined. This, as may be readily seen, is also a measure of their relative complexity, since the exactness of a science is in inverse proportion to its complexity.

The degree of exactness or positivity is, moreover, that to which it can be subjected to mathematical demonstration, and therefore mathematics, which is not itself a concrete science, is the general gauge by which the position of every science is to be determined. Generalizing thus, Comte found that there were five great groups of phenomena of equal classificatory value but of successively decreasing positivity.

To these he gave the names astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology. Comte offered an account of social evolution , proposing that society undergoes three phases in its quest for the truth according to a general " law of three stages ". The idea bears some similarity to Marx 's belief that human society would progress toward a communist peak see dialectical materialism.

Comte intended to develop a secular-scientific ideology in the wake of European secularisation. Comte's stages were 1 the theological , 2 the metaphysical , and 3 the positive. God, Comte says, had reigned supreme over human existence pre- Enlightenment. Humanity's place in society was governed by its association with the divine presences and with the church. The theological phase deals with humankind's accepting the doctrines of the church or place of worship rather than relying on its rational powers to explore basic questions about existence.

It dealt with the restrictions put in place by the religious organization at the time and the total acceptance of any "fact" adduced for society to believe. This second phase states that the universal rights of humanity are most important. The central idea is that humanity is invested with certain rights that must be respected. In this phase, democracies and dictators rose and fell in attempts to maintain the innate rights of humanity. The final stage of the trilogy of Comte's universal law is the scientific, or positive, stage.

The central idea of this phase is that individual rights are more important than the rule of any one person. Comte stated that the idea of humanity's ability to govern itself makes this stage inherently different from the rest.

There is no higher power governing the masses and the intrigue of any one person can achieve anything based on that individual's free will. The third principle is most important in the positive stage. Neither the second nor the third phase can be reached without the completion and understanding of the preceding stage.

All stages must be completed in progress. Comte believed that the appreciation of the past and the ability to build on it towards the future was key in transitioning from the theological and metaphysical phases. The idea of progress was central to Comte's new science, sociology. Sociology would "lead to the historical consideration of every science" because "the history of one science, including pure political history, would make no sense unless it was attached to the study of the general progress of all of humanity".

The irony of this series of phases is that though Comte attempted to prove that human development has to go through these three stages, it seems that the positivist stage is far from becoming a realization. This is due to two truths: The positivist phase requires having a complete understanding of the universe and world around us and requires that society should never know if it is in this positivist phase.

Anthony Giddens argues that since humanity constantly uses science to discover and research new things, humanity never progresses beyond the second metaphysical phase. As an approach to the philosophy of history , positivism was appropriated by historians such as Hippolyte Taine. Many of Comte's writings were translated into English by the Whig writer, Harriet Martineau , regarded by some as the first female sociologist.

Debates continue to rage as to how much Comte appropriated from the work of his mentor, Saint-Simon. Brazilian thinkers turned to Comte's ideas about training a scientific elite in order to flourish in the industrialization process. Brazil 's national motto , Ordem e Progresso "Order and Progress" was taken from the positivism motto, "Love as principle, order as the basis, progress as the goal", which was also influential in Poland.

In later life, Comte developed a ' religion of humanity ' for positivist societies in order to fulfil the cohesive function once held by traditional worship. In , he proposed a calendar reform called the ' positivist calendar '. For close associate John Stuart Mill , it was possible to distinguish between a "good Comte" the author of the Course in Positive Philosophy and a "bad Comte" the author of the secular-religious system.

Although Comte's English followers, including George Eliot and Harriet Martineau, for the most part rejected the full gloomy panoply of his system, they liked the idea of a religion of humanity and his injunction to "vivre pour autrui" "live for others", from which comes the word " altruism ".

The early sociology of Herbert Spencer came about broadly as a reaction to Comte; writing after various developments in evolutionary biology, Spencer attempted in vain to reformulate the discipline in what we might now describe as socially Darwinistic terms. Fabien Magnin was the first working class adherent to Comte's ideas.

Comte appointed him as his successor as president of the Positive Society in the event of Comte's death. The positivist position is grounded in the theoretical belief that there is an objective reality that can be known to the researcher, if he or she uses the correct methods and applies those methods in a correct manner.

Reviewing the validity debate and opening the dialogue. Sociological paradigms and organizational analysis. Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions.

Handbook of Qualitative Research. Click here to go back to Common Paradigms. Science was largely a mechanistic or mechanical affair. We use deductive reasoning to postulate theories that we can test. Based on the results of our studies, we may learn that our theory doesn't fit the facts well and so we need to revise our theory to better predict reality.

The positivist believed in empiricism -- the idea that observation and measurement was the core of the scientific endeavor. The key approach of the scientific method is the experiment, the attempt to discern natural laws through direct manipulation and observation. OK, I am exaggerating the positivist position although you may be amazed at how close to this some of them actually came in order to make a point.

Things have changed in our views of science since the middle part of the 20th century. Probably the most important has been our shift away from positivism into what we term post-positivism. 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.


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In other words, studies with positivist paradigm are based purely on facts and consider the world to be external and objective. The five main principles of positivism research philosophy can be summarized as the following: There are no differences in the logic of inquiry across sciences. The research should aim to explain and predict.

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Assumptions and beliefs of the Positivist Paradigm: realist ontology - assumes that there are real world objects apart from the human knower. In other words, there is an objective reality. representational epistemology - assumes people can know this reality and use symbols to accurately describe and explain this objective reality.

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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. CHAPTER 4 Research Methodology and Design research paradigm is an all-encompassing system of interrelated practice and thinking Positivism The positivist paradigm of exploring social reality is based on the philosophical ideas of the French Philosopher August Comte. According to him, observation and reason.

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eventually undermined the validity of positivism. The positivist paradigm asserts that real events can be observed empirically and explained with logical analysis. The criterion for evaluating the validity of a Positivist research methodology (methodological individualism). Full-Text Paper (PDF): Positivist and Non-Positivist Paradigm in Social Science Research: Conflicting Paradigms or Perfect Partners?