“Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” Just as we cannot see our own faces, so some insights about European history are only easily visible to outsiders. The philosophy of logical positivism is one of these areas, where the internal European account of what it is and how it emerged is radically different from the external account I will present below. To put it in one sentence, this philosophy is an effort to make Science a Religion, and in fact, the common religion of all mankind. Although we may labor under the misconception that this philosophy has been debunked and refuted, central tenets of the philosophy continue to command widespread allegiance. If you believe that the objective facts are superior to subjective opinions (and who doesn’t?) then you are a positivist. The efforts to quantify, measure, observe, a host of qualitative and unmeasurable phenomena, and the belief that everything CAN be measured, derive from positivist roots. These efforts have caused a lot of damage, one aspect of which has been documented in my paper on “Corruption: Measuring the Unmeasurable”.
The purpose of this post is to explain this point of view. A warning is in order — an external outsider view is, by definition, alien and strange, and bound to cause some discomfort. To learn from it, we must be prepared to walk for a mile in alien moccasins. There is a great prize to be won – a re-integration of our identities which have been seriously distorted by putting the head above the heart and prizing rational thoughts over subjective feelings.
First, we must start with the story of the loss of faith in Christianity in Europe. Again, there is a radical difference between the internal European account, and an external outsider perspective.
European Loss of Faith in Christianity
Internal, European Account: According to the internal, European account, Christianity (like all religions) was just a collection of superstitions: stories about unobservables like angels, God, afterlife, which were not empirically verifiable. When the Enlightenment began, Europeans learned to reason for the first time, and they understood that religion was just superstition. Then they rejected religion and have made tremendous progress by using the light of reason, instead of superstition. This cover story is extremely powerful, because it seems to be proven by the historical facts – Europeans conquered 85% of the globe by early 20th Century, proving their superior ability to reason, and demonstrating the validity of the cover story. De-constructing this story and providing a satisfactory counter-narrative requires hard work.
The External, non-European Account: The real story of how Europeans lost their faith in Christianity is far more complex. We aim to explain some crucial elements of it here. In 1492 a triplet of climactic events occured with devastating consequences which continue to reverberate in the corridors of history. One: Columbus sailed for the Americas, giving Europeans access to vast lands and materials. Two: The Reconquest of Islamic Spain was completed, giving Europeans access to millions of books containing knowledge gathered from around the globe and developed in the Islamic Civilization; this sparked the Enlightenment. THREE: But most importantly for our current account, Rodrigo Borgia purchased the papacy in 1492 and named himself Alexander VI. (see European Transition to Secular Thought – bit.do/etst1a). This was a critical moment within a chain of events described in The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman in “Chapter Three – THE RENAISSANCE POPES PROVOKE THE PROTESTANT SECESSION: 1470–1530”. She writes that:
From roughly 1470 to 1530, … a succession of six popes (displayed) an excess of venality, amorality, avarice, and spectacularly calamitous power politics. Their governance dismayed the faithful, brought the Holy See into disrepute, left unanswered the cry for reform, ignored all protests, warnings and signs of rising revolt, and ended by breaking apart the unity of Christendom and losing half the papal constituency to the Protestant secession. Theirs was a folly of perversity, perhaps the most consequential in Western history, if measured by its result in centuries of ensuing hostility and fratricidal war.
The breakup of the church shattered the ideological unity of Europe and led to major wars, as well as political power struggles between Protestants and Catholics with extremes of cruelty towards each other. For example, one of the key fratricidal events was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (which may have been a model for the Red Wedding in the GoT). All this bloodshed and violence between Protestants and Catholics led to public dis-enchantment with religion as whole, and the idea that religion is the root of all warfare and conflict. This idea is still prevalent among secular modern thinkers, although countless deadly twentieth century wars show it to be false.
Trauma of Loss of Faith
Loss of faith is massively traumatic event. A Creator who knows and cares for us, makes our lives meaningful, and the eternal perspective offers strong solace against temporary tragedies of our mundane existence. Bertrand Russell describes how accepting the cold, harsh and cruel universe requires us to build our lives “on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” The trauma of loss of faith had a dramatic impact on European intellectuals, as we now describe.
Rejection of Heart and Soul: One of the most significant impacts of this trauma was the rejection of the HEART as a source of Knowledge. This is exemplified by Descartes’ logic: “I think therefore I am”, whereas “I feel therefore I am” related far more closely to our life experience. But this second statement was not acceptable. The heart had been proven to be a deceiver – it testified to the existence of God, and gave us faith in unknown and unknowable mysteries, and hence it must be rejected. Henceforth, the Enlightenment Philosophers vowed to never to trust their hearts, and instead, only trust what they could touch, and see, and arrive at with cold logic. They rejected the heart and intuition, and made a commitment to use of REASON and EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE only as sources of knowledge.
Deification of Science
When you reject religion, you lose answers to the most important questions we face in our lives, such as the meaning of our lives. As I have explained in “Origins of Western Social Sciences”, the Social Sciences originated in the attempt to find new answers to questions previously answered by religion. In particular, faith in religion was replaced by faith in Science: in the IDEA that science will solve all problems of mankind. This is, on the face of it, an absurdity; only the trauma of loss of faith can explain how one could come to believe such a thing. We lead unique lives, every human being is unique and distinct, and every moment that we experience is like none before, and none after. The idea that we should search over previous experience for patterns to guide us today, actually blinds us to the unique potentials which exist now, which never existed in the past, and will not exist in the future. The idea the “science” could be a guide in terms of teaching us how to live our lives and to realize our human potentials, is a non-starter. Nonetheless, having lost faith in their religion, Europeans had no option but to put their faith in the potential of science to solve human problems. This faith persists today, even though science has brought humanity to the brink of destruction via an environmental catastrophe.
The Philosophy of Science: The project to turn science into the new religion of man led to extreme distortions in European ways of thinking (see Deification of Science for links to many readings). In particular, it led to the search for a philosophy of science which would prove that ALL scientific knowledge – based on observations and logic alone, with no intuition and emotion involved – would lead to objective facts which were certain. The worship of science also led to the ELEVATION of objective over the subjective. Science is based on the sacred facts out there, and not on wishy washy subjective opinions which vary from person to person and can change whimsically. In fact, this was a huge reversal of priorities. What is most important for you and me are the questions of how we should lead our lives; who to befriend, what to believe, how to behave. The answers are necessarily subjective and personal, dependent on local and unique circumstances and environment; they are not “scientific” – universal laws applicable to all. This most important knowledge was ruled to be un-important, subjective, normative, as part of the process of deification of science. As a consequence of this, Western education today is a meaningless process of learning about the external world, which pays no attention to the most important questions we all face in our daily lives – that is finding the best ways to live our unique and precious few moments on this planet.
Emergence of Logical Positivism
It was these underlying trends that set the stage for the emergence of logical positivism. This philosophy asserts that all knowledge is based on observations and logic. Observations are objective, out there, verifiable, unquestionable and certain. Logic is the mortar we use to put together these bricks to construct the towering skyscrapers of scientific knowledge. The counterpart methodology to this worldview is the Axiomatic/Deductive scheme of geometry. Axioms come from observations and are CERTAIN. Logic leads to certainty in deductions. For an illustration of how this is a deeply mistaken approach to understanding the world around us, see Methodology of Modern Economics .
Elimination of Unobservables: There were many technical problems with the idea that science was based only on observables and logic. Many scientific objects like gravity, electrons, magnetism, were not observable. For details about how these problems were resolved, see my paper on Logical Positivism and Islamic Economics (December 30, 2013). International Journal of Economics, Management and Accounting, Vol 21, No. 2, pp1-18. The central device used by positivists was to replace unobservables by observable manifestations; for example, replace unobservable preferences by observable choices, or unobservable gravity by the observable elliptical orbits of planets. This point will be discussed in greater detail later. Logical Positivism achieved dual goal of philosophers of science, which European intellectuals had been searching for, for centuries. This philosophy showed that SCIENCE leads to truth and certainty. At the same time, RELIGION is pure superstition, because it is centrally based on unobservables. Because it fulfilled a DEEP psychological need of Western intellectuals, it became wildly popular and widely accepted, despite many fundamental weaknesses, which eventually led to its downfall.
(to be continued) –
This post provides details on Logical Positivism, an issue raised briefly in section 2: Flawed Foundations of Modern Economics, in my paper on “Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development”. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, March 2019. A 23m video on this topic, which goes over issues covered in above post, was part of Lec 11 of Islamic Economics 2019 (bit.do/ie2019) at IIIE, IIUI:
This is complex topic, for which I have provided a thumbnail sketch of some important ideas which are not readily available elsewhere. Nonetheless, it is extremely important to learn about Logical Positivism, because it is the basis for the worship of science that is now the most popular, almost the common religion of mankind, cutting across all other religions. My webpage linked below provides a large collection of links to articles related to various aspects of logical positivism
Collection of Articles & Video-Lectures on Logical Positivism
On the lighter side, I came across a great cartoon put-down of the Vienna Circle , which was responsible for the development of this philosophy.
13 thoughts on “The Emergence of Logical Positivism”
I am grateful for this post Asad and find much truth in it. The story of the rise of modernity and the revolt against the totalitarian hold of the Catholic church on the minds of what was called “freethinkers” who gave rise to the englightenment, and the excess of those “freethinkers” who went on to revolt against God in a form of militant atheism that sought to turn science into a new religion (aka scientism) is told in Hecht’s work (and many others). It resonates with your story in many ways.
Thanks ROb for your feedback and for the reference — which sounds interesting, and I will try to read when i get the time
My pleasure Asad. Indeed, despite the fact that much of the mechanistic philosophy such as logical positivism has failed the underlying secularism still blights the mind and souls of many an unthinking men and women.
I purchased Ahmad Dallal’s book (Kindle) and an reading now. Interesting. Relavant material.
Finally, orthodoxies can be political in a general sense: Alfred Russel Wallace’s claim that it was necessary to postulate supernatural forces in order to explain human intelligence was resisted owing to a naturalistic, positivistic worldview that had become mainstream through the work and influence of men such as Thomas Henry Huxley and his X-Club friends. No one at the time understood how intelligence had arisen, but a nonnaturalistic explanation was simply not going to be let on the field. (Dietrich, Muchael R. and Harman Oren, eds. Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology. New Haven & London: Yale University Press; 2008; p. 12. Emphasis added. )
I think the story you are telling Asad is very important one. While I agree we must learn to see ourselves through the eyes of another culture, religion, philosophy, etc. The idea that the post-enlightenment rise of science and the weakening of the institutional Christian churches hold upon the institutions of learning is a well documented story. But when one digs deeper, as with all things, it becomes more nuanced, less well defined, and deeper meanings emerge.
Few in today’s modern societies have the time or resources to enage in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge on a level deeper than pursuing a job, and even fewer pursue that form of knowledge that transcends mere technical skills (wisdom, or ilm). Much of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual stagnation in modernity is rooted in the nature of our educational systems that perpetuate such a shallow pursuit of knowledge. And this is turn is a reflection of the status and level of civilization and its ideas, ideals, and vision or lack thereof.
One of the great intellectual struggles of the nineteeth century was the comming to terms with Darwin’s theory of evolution. One cannot really understand the rise of science as the dominant worldview within modernity without addressing the impact Darwin’s theory has had and continues to have on modernity. Logical Positivism (LP) is only one strand in this story, and in my view, not the more important one, for evolutionary theory (ET) (which has undergone many changes over time) still is the dominate paradigm within science while ET in all its forms continues to be the dominant paradigm within well-educated modern men and women.
The religionist qua natural philosopher has a deep history. Numbers and others have well documented the relationship between science and religion in Western tradition. There were honest reasons that those seeking to develop a “science” independent of religious belief insisted on developing a methodology for investigating material reality that could find material causes. Invoking miracles or arguing endless over Noah’s Ark and so-called “flood geology” was seen as a waste of time. The history of not only evolutionary theory but the earth sciences are replete with examples of this intellectual struggle to free the emerging “science” as embodied in these natural philosophers from the intellectual constraints of dogmatic a priori eighteenth and nineteenth century Christian theological beliefs about the universe based upon scripture. The militant atheistic (see Hecht, End of Soul) movement had profound impact on the evolution of modernity and its understanding of knowledge as taught in secular universities that came to replace the largely religious backed and associated universities that were eventually replaced.
But this struggle is not over. It is ongoing and enlightened religionists from various traditions are raising their voices, such as Asher below:
Asad, as a Catholic Christian scientist and philosopher of science I very largely go along with your outsider’s view of the breakdown of medieval Christianity. My Pears Cyclopedia (1982-3) agrees exactly with you about 1492, but I hadn’t appreciated the significance of the defeat of the Spanish Moors, nor that Rodrigo Borgia had “bought” the papacy. That would however have explained the attitude of mind which sold “indulgences” to speed up the building of St Peter’s cathedral in Rome, licencing Machiavelli (1513) and justifying Luther’s protest (1517). I suggest the spread of that may be linked to previously illiterate people reading for themselves at least the Old Testament parts of the vernacular Bibles newly available since the invention of printing (1454). I have learned too from what you say about the rejection of the logic of the heart (i.e. feeling), but I think you must be careful not attribute that to Descartes himself, who I think did not make the distinction between thinking and feeling, remaining a Catholic all his life. G K Chesterton in his “Orthodoxy” of 1908, made the appropriate distinction in relation to J S Mill’s “happiness” version of economic Utilitarianism: “the old utilitarian test of pleasure (clumsy of course, as easily misstated) and the [will] which [G B Shaw] propounds”. In short, it provides evidence, not a conclusions. I can but commend to you the subsequent chapter called “The Ethics of Elfland”, reprinted by Martin Gardner in “Great Essays in Science”.
On Rob’s comments, again I largely agree with him, but again think he needs to be more careful, this time in his use of the word “religion”. As far as I can see, it is a Latin word originating in the early years of Roman persecution as a code word for Christianity: “re-tying” oneself to [the living, resurrected] God in gratitude for his dying [in a replaying of the Big Bang?] that we might live. It made no sense in the contexts of pagan “gods” or a pantheistic universe apart from this reason for the commitment, until the modern suggestion it is motivated by fear (as in an Old Testament fear and rejection of failure and death). I agree with Rob that evolution has more on-going signiificance than logical positivism, but that can lead one to rethinking God’s means of creation. A Father God is not so much an all seeing, all powerful Being as a hopeful lover, intending that his offspring shall be like him, loving and creative, but profoundly uncertain as to how they will actually turn out.
The answer to Logical Positivism I again get from G K Chesterton, this time in speculations about G F Watts’ art in 1904. The implications (suggested in “The Napoleon of Notting Hill, his novel of the same year), was that the two halves of the brain spoke about the same things in different languages, the one sensory and iconic, the other emotive and symbolic. Jung soon after related personality differences to differences in use of this brain structure, familiarily with with which has become common since recent experiments with separtion of the brain hemispheres and the introduction of MRI scans. Logic being about the use of language, it leads to four ways of using the brain: REDUCING sensory observations to symbolic (e.g. mathematical) language, RETRODUCING (intuitively) the symbols to images of applications, DEDUCTIVELY transforming the images into physical reality, then performing statistical reliability testing to INDUCE reliable results into the canons of knowledge, leaving outstanding problems for a further cycle of scientific study. In “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” Robert Pirsig saw that emotions were physically activated before one became aware of what one was sensing and act as a safety mechanism to block (taboo) interpretation of dangerous subjects or trrigger avoidance action when sensing dangerous realities. In my own work the corresponding structures in computer database gave keyword indexing data entries, with input/output peripherals and continuous error detection and correction.
You are clearly ignorant of the history of the not only the origin or the word religion Dave but the history of the Christian religion itself. You are simply wrong about the origin of the word you are turning into a polemic argument for your own self-serving polemic purpose. This is un-Christlike in my view.
The term religio predates Christ and the eventual evolution of Christianity. Dave is loose with the truth and intellectually sloppy with regards to Western history, yet presumes to warn Asad to be careful. What Dave is doing is pushing a sectarian, ahistorical, narrow, view of religion only shared by a narrow sect of unenlightened Christians, of an even more narrow conservative Catholic dogmatic view, who neither know their own history let alone the history of religion.
Wilfred Cantwell Smith in the introduction to his The Meaning and End of Religion writes:
The history of religion shows that no faith tradition is immune from the evils of institutional religion, sectarian fanaticism, or imperial conquest, depending upon what period in history one is looking at. There are saints and sinners in every world tradition. Christianity has just as much blood upon its hands as Islam for those who know their history. So too, Islam and Christianity have revelations of truth, goodness, and beauty in the lives and teachings of their saints. Dave would conveniently overlook this simple truth in his use of RWER as place to proselytize his narrow brand of Christian theology. Not all Christians are so anti-intellectual in their theology and would not stoop to using RWER for sectarian apologetics as Dave does regularly.
As a follower of the life and teachings of Jesus I take great offense to ahistorical ignorant polemics on a site dedicated to science and knowledge. Truth is truth and Dave seem to not know the truth regarding the origin or history of the word religion let alone the history of his own Christian tradition.
As the previous reply makes clear Dave is ignorant of the origin of the term religion. I was refraining from making explicit what I am now making explicit, but since Dave insists on engaging in polemics I have no choice to bring clarity to his muddled thinking. Dave views religion (and its terminology) through the dogmatic blinders of a conservative Catholic. The sad part is that Catholocism has produced wonderful world-class interfaith literature over the many decades that Catholic scholars have been engaged in interfaith dialogue with Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and other faith traditions, which clearly is a corpus Dave is wholly ignorant regarding the existence of. I have man of their works sitting in my library as write these words. Dave continues to parrot a theology of divine child abuse (the atonement doctrine) which is an insult to the divine character and unity of Allah (God). This is simply polemics, and the age of polemics is dead just as the age of materialistic scientism is dead along with its handmaiden mainstream economics.
No religionist who doesn’t intimately know another faith truly knows their own faith. Dave is conflating mere belief with living faith, and hence can only rise to the level of an intellectual parrot when it comes to truly seeing another religion, such as Islam or even his own propositional belief system of conservative Catholocism. Faith is not belief—mere propositial statements. The acceptance of a teaching—a propositional statement—is not faith; that is mere belief. Faith is a living attribute of a genuine personal religious experience in and with the divine presence. One can believe truth, admire beauty, and revere goodness, but doesn not worship them; such an attitude of saving living faith is centered on Allah (God) alone. Belief is always limiting and binding; faith is liberating, expanding, releasing, and always ready to follow the truth whereever it might lead. Belief fixates, faith liberates.
Living religious faith is more than the association of noble beliefs; it is more than an exalted system of philosophy; it is a living experience concerned with spiritual meanings, divine ideals, and supreme values; it is God-knowing and man-serving. Beliefs may become group possessions, but faith must be personal. Theologic beliefs can be suggested to a group, but faith can rise up only in the heart of the individual religionist. Faith has falsified its trust when it presumes to deny realities and to confer upon its devotees assumed knowledge. Faith is a traitor when it fosters betrayal of intellectual integrity and belittles loyalty to supreme values and divine ideals. Faith never shuns the problem-solving duty of mortal living. Living faith does not foster bigotry, persecution, or intolerance. Faith does not shackle the creative imagination, neither does it maintain an unreasoning prejudice toward the discoveries of scientific investigation. Faith vitalizes religion and constrains the religionist heroically to live the golden rule. The zeal of faith is according to knowledge, and its strivings are the preludes to sublime peace.
Dave is unwittingly (out of ignorance and ethnocentrism) treating the word religion like many uninformed Westerners now treat the term “Hindu” without a shred of awareness of its historical origin as though it is thing rather than the cultural imposition of narrow ethnocentric blinders of conservative Catholocism.
Noting, absolutely nothing, Universal about such a narrow, ahistorical, ethnocentric view of history and religion. First, Dave is simply wrong that the term “religio” makes no sense outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is simple polemics, not truth or fact. Dave has made clear in his many dogmatic statements that he is painfully ignorant of the history of Christianity and its own, as Smith (an intelligent Christian scholar) describes it,
… cumulative tradition … [for] is not simply the continuation or extrapolation of its earlier history … Rather, its later history is the prolongation and enrichment of its earlier existence as modified by the intervention of the faith and activity of this man…. It is a part of this world; it is the product of human activity; it is diverse, it is fluid, it grows, it changes, it accumulates. It crystalizes in material form the faith of previous generations, and it sets the context for the faith of each new generation as these come along. A religious tradition, then, is the historical construct, in continuous and continuing construction, of those who participate in it. (Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. The Meaning and End of Religion. Minneapolis: Fortress Press; 1991; c1962 pp. 158-159; 165. Emphasis added.)
There is in the field of history of religions and comparative religions a concept of the Founder’s Principle. In a nutshell the original teachings of the Founder inevitably undergo reification and transformation in the process of institutionalization, whether it be Guru Nanak or Jesus. Modern religious scholars know full well that the teachings of Jesus are different and separate from the teachings about Jesus. So too did early nineteenth-century Social Gospel Christians and those educated in the newly emerging field of religious studies (Religionswissenschaft) and Biblical Criticism know that the religion of Jesus was distinct from the theological dogma of Christianity, the religion about Jesus.
No collection of religious writings gives expression to such a wealth of devotion and inspirational ideas of God as the Book of Psalms. Religious scholars now know that the Jewish scriptures contain many borrowed Egyptian and Mesopotamian concepts of God in the writings of the Psalms. The Torah bears witness to the fact that the early Hebrews borrowed from surrounding religious cultures in the worship of El Shaddai, the Egyptian concept of the God of heaven, which they learned about during their captivity in the land of the Nile. In the Book of Hebrew Proverbs, chapters fifteen, seventeen, twenty, and chapter twenty-two, verse seventeen, to chapter twenty-four, verse twenty-two, are taken almost verbatim from Amenemope’s Book of Wisdom. The first psalm of the Hebrew Book of Psalms was written by Amenemope and is the heart of the teachings of Ikhnaton.
It is simply blind arrogance that leads Christians to believe or claim or assert that religion “made no sense in the contexts” other than the Judeo-Christian context given the fact that the evidence proves otherwise.
Auguste Comte created positivism and gave it the name. (see, “The Course in Positive Philosophy,” published between 1830 and 1842) He also is credited as one of the creators of Sociology, which he first called social physics, until made aware that term was used previously by Adolphe Quetelet. Positivism’s name comes from the results expected from it. According to Comte, the knowledge obtained through positivism can then be used to affect the course of social change and improve the human condition. Positivism also argues that sociology should concern itself only with what can be observed with the senses and that theories of social life should be built in a rigid, linear, and methodical way on a base of verifiable fact. Comte’s positivism was first focused on establishing theories that could be tested, with the main goal noted already of improving human cultures based on validated theories. Positivism’s way to this was uncovering natural laws that could be applied to society and Comte believed that the natural sciences, like biology and physics, were a steppingstone in the creation of the “queen” of the sciences, sociology. Comte laid out five principles of positivism,
1. The logic of inquiry is identical across all branches of science.
2. The goal of inquiry is to explain, predict, and discover.
3. Research should be observed empirically with human senses.
4. Science is not the same as common sense.
5. Science should be judged by logic and remain free of values.
Positivism influenced early sociology and the other new social sciences but has little influence on contemporary sociology. The argument against positivism is that it encourages a misleading emphasis on superficial facts without any attention to underlying mechanisms that cannot be observed. Instead, sociologists understand that the study of culture is complex and requires many complex methods necessary for research. For example, by using fieldwork, a researcher immerses itself in another culture to learn about it. Modern sociologists don’t embrace the version of one “true” vision of society as a goal for sociology as Comte did.
Anthropologists, both pro and con on positivism have debated positivism and its consequences for over a century. Positivism is identified with or detected in the work of British and French thinkers from Bacon and Descartes to Saint-Simon, Comte, and John Stuart Mill; the work of Victorian anthropologists who esteemed these thinkers; logical positivism; Popperian falsificationism; empiricism; methodological pragmatism; methodological naturalism; scientism; natural science; social science; the comparative method; holocultural methodology; participant observation; anthropological experiment; mechanism; intellectualism; sociocultural evolutionism; environmental determinism; functionalism; Marxism; Whitian culturology; cultural materialism; Levi-Straussian structuralism; conflict theory; action theory; methodological individualism; behaviorism; situational logic; logical atomism; “totalizing” theory; Bloomfieldian linguistics; Chomskian linguistics; generative semantics; British anthropology into the 1960s; Anglo-Saxon social science; British intellectual life; Protestant culture; and Western culture. To confuse matters further, “crypto-positivism” (Friedrich 1992) has been detected in the work of positivism’s arch critics, Clifford Geertz and his postmodern descendants (Bourdieu 1988: 11; Sangren 1988:405,409), while Marxist writings and those of Malinowski and Levi-Strauss are fingered as positivistic by some yet championed as non- or anti-positivistic by others. Positivism has it seems slipped in part of in whole into most of western culture, including Anthropology and the other social-linguistic sciences.
More broadly many Anthropologists and some other social scientists seem to assume that positivism’s philosophical precepts underwent a subtle metamorphosis in their post-Enlightenment history, becoming a kind of scientific habitus (Bourdieu 1990:52-65)-a “commitment,” “model,” “paradigm,” “world view,” “orthodoxy,” “doctrine,” or “faith” predicating the practice of natural and, especially, social scientists. With positivist precepts thus recursively linked to physical and social scientific practice, positivism becomes science. With this shift, positivism is also portrayed as spreading beyond the academy into Western-especially Protestant-culture in general, becoming in Ardener’s words a “lay positivism,” a “religion” of the “compulsorily educated masses” (1971:461-462; see also Diamond 1974:10).
Thank you Ken.
Rob is totally misdirected in his repeated attack on my comment about the word ‘religion’. As we use the word now, of course it applies to beliefs other than Christian. I was discussing the origins and literal meaning of the term, not how it is used now.