positivism (pŏˈzĭtĭvĭzəm) [key], philosophical doctrine that denies any validity to speculation or metaphysics. Sometimes associated with empiricism, positivism maintains that metaphysical questions are unanswerable and that the only knowledge is scientific knowledge. The basic tenets of positivism are contained in an implicit form in the works of Francis Bacon, George Berkeley, and David Hume, but the term is specifically applied to the system of Auguste Comte, who developed the coherent doctrine. In addition to being a dominant theme of 19th-century philosophy, positivism has greatly influenced various trends of contemporary thought. Logical positivism is often considered a direct outgrowth of 19th-century positivism.

See L. Kołakowski, The Alienation of Reason (tr. 1968) and Positivist Philosophy (tr. 1972); C. Bryant, Positivism in Social Theory and Research (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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