Who is the postivist?

Finn N. Rasmussen finnr at BOT.KU.DK
Fri Dec 5 04:32:10 CST 1997

It was really not my intention to trigger another Tom and James
episode when I asked the question "Is positivism a relevant concept in
evolutionary biology". Actually, I uploaded the same qeustion to
Daewin-L, but that list seems to be paused. Anyway, there is much
information about Comte and Positivism on the web. The following is
clipped from:


The French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857) developed a secular
religion known as positivism, which emphasized reason and logic, that
he later systematized as the Religion of Humanity, complete with
priests and a calendar of saints. Comte divided the progress of
mankind into three historical stages:
   1.Theological: relies on supernatural agencies to explain what man
can't explain otherwise.
   2.Metaphysical: man attributes effects to abstract but poorly
understood causes.
   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 the
>     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?

 Finn N. Rasmussen * Bot. Lab. University of Copenhagen, Denmark
 Homepage: http://www.bot.ku.dk  E-mail: FinnR at bot.ku.dk

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