Positivism & Post

Positivism & Post - Sunday, August 11, 2002...

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Sunday, August 11, 2002 Page: 1 http://trochim.human.cornell.edu/kb/ positvsm.htm [ Home ] [ Structure of Research ] [ ] [ Positivism & Post-Positivism ] [ Introduction to Validity ] Let's start our very brief discussion of philosophy of science with a simple distinction between epistemology and methodology . The term epistemology comes from the Greek word epistêmê, their term for knowledge. In simple terms, epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge or of how we come to know. Methodology is also concerned with how we come to know, but is much more practical in nature. Methodology is focused on the specific ways -- the methods -- that we can use to try to understand our world better. Epistemology and methodology are intimately related: the former involves the philosophy of how we come to know the world and the latter involves the practice . When most people in our society think about science, they think about some guy in a white lab coat working at a lab bench mixing up chemicals. They think of science as boring, cut-and-dry, and they think of the scientist as narrow-minded and esoteric (the ultimate nerd -- think of the humorous but nonetheless mad scientist in the Back to the Future movies, for instance). A lot of our stereotypes about science come from a period where science was dominated by a particular philosophy -- positivism -- that tended to support some of these views. Here, I want to suggest (no matter what the movie industry may think) that science has moved on in its thinking into an era of post-positivism where many of those stereotypes of the scientist no longer hold up. Let's begin by considering what positivism is. In its broadest sense, positivism is a rejection of metaphysics (I leave it you to look up that term if you're not familiar with it). It is a position that holds that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena that we experience. The purpose of science is simply to stick to what we can observe and measure. Knowledge of anything beyond that, a positivist would hold, is impossible. When I think of positivism (and the related philosophy of logical positivism) I think of the behaviorists in mid-20th Century psychology. These were the mythical 'rat runners' who believed that psychology could only study what could be directly observed and measured. Since we can't directly observe emotions, thoughts, etc. (although we may be able to
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Positivism & Post - Sunday, August 11, 2002...

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