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
> e
> >     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
        as follows:

        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.

        James Lyons-Weiler

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