Who is the postivist?
James Francis Lyons-Weiler
weiler at ERS.UNR.EDU
Fri Dec 5 06:51:40 CST 1997
Finn N. Rasmussen" <finnr at BOT.KU.DK> wrote:
> 3."Positive": because man now understands the scientific laws
> which control the world.
> Comte also founded the social sciences, and it is important to
> remember in our more cynical times the ideals to which they aspired.
> Comte and other early social scientists assumed that human behavior
> must obey laws just as strict as Newton's laws of motion, and that if
> we could discover them, we could eliminate moral evils -- in exactly
> the same way that medical scientists were then discovering how
> diseases worked and were eliminating much of the physical suffering
> which had always been an inevitable part of the human condition.
> It occurs to me that James turns "positivism" upsuide down when he
> uses it as label for a metaphysical belief in the exsistence of a
> signal, even if there really isn't one:
> > (James Lyons-weiler): I tend to balk at the positivisitic position that th
> > processes of evolution (be they simple, complex, hierarchical,
> > cyclical, neutral or Darwinian) will have occured in just the
> > right way to allow us to summarize the geneaological
> > relationships among organisms with a parsimony model, for
> > example.
> Real Positivism seems to related to rationalism and indeed:
> > (Richard Zander): a philosophy
> > eschewing explanation and metaphysics in favor of description of
> > phenomena.
> Isn't it James who is the positivist in this thread?
As I tried to make clear in a early post, the word
"positivism" means many things to many people.
What some see as "modern positivism" can be summarized
A misplaced belief that an inference is scientific, and
therefore accurate and precision, simply because it is
based on a formal method. Positivism was adopted by the
Vienna circle, but my studies indicate that they merely
co-apted the British model of empricism; in so doing, they
placed their faith in a single mode of inference, and
became modern positivists.
Ironically, I think it is possible for someone to be
optimistic about a method of inference without being
a Neopositivist. For example, one might say "MP is
probably doing OK on average - sure it doesn't give us
the true phylogeny all the time, but maybe it does
most of the time". This is an optimist. A positivist
would argue that based on first principle alone, regardless
of how well or poorly it may perform in general, MP provides
the best estimate _in a particular case_.
Pessimism and optimism have nothing to do with logical
inference. They are subjective. They may motivate and
inspire, but they can't change the informativeness of
data. Even if we all decided that MP was the route,
the only route to go, it wouldn't change the data
or the probability of success. It would only change
the socially agreed-upon perception of a rational
That is not to say that subjective creativity cannot
help move science along. The component of subjectivity
that I see as useful is that we can tap into numerous
independent resevoirs of thought, and, as a direct
consequence, increase both the probability that
some subjective self somewhere will hold all or part of
a rational, objective inference, as well as the probability
that some subjective self somewhere will in fact be able
to recognize it as such.
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