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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  utility of reductionist work tracing social behavior to psychological and cognitive functioning of the brain—an approach we see reflected in work in economics, sociology, and political science as well as in psychology. For critical scholars, however, another facet of Comte’s work is the more salient. That is his advocacy of positivism as a socio-political imperative, the making of order and progress by means of scientific inquiry into not only a value but very nearly a religion, and the assertion of empirical proof as the only criteria for the value of ideas. 2 Comte’s positivism was fundamentally an attempt to structure an alternate social structure based largely on scientific methods of thought that was to be more progressive (in a gradualist way) than the church-dominated societies of the early nineteenth centuries. Comte’s optimism regarding the moral impact of science seems quaint to the modern reader, humanist or scientist. It is crucial, however, to understand that Comte’s moral and social philosophy is severable from the theory and practice of both the social and physical sciences. While Comte’s positivism is inseparable from a reverence for the scientific enterprise, a rejection of his positivism implies little for one’s stance regarding social or physical science. To assume a social scientist is a positivist because a founder of social science also enunciated positivism makes little more sense than to assume a physicist must be a Rosicrucian because of Newton’s interest in the mystic and the occult. The relation between the sciences and the Vienna Circle of logical positivists, however, is more complex. These positivists, as skilled logicians, performed a signal service to the sciences by articulating a variety of principles of scientific practice (e.g., the necessity for working hypotheses to be disconfirmable in order to be testable scientifically). These methodological principles, however, are severable from many of the philosophic premises and propositions of the positivists. Moreover, the methods of science preceded logical

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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utility of reductionist work tracing social behavior to psychological and cognitive functioning
of the brain—an approach we see reflected in work in economics, sociology, and political
science as well as in psychology. For critical scholars, however, another facet of Comte’s
work is the more salient. That is his advocacy of positivism as a socio-political imperative,
the making of order and progress by means of scientific inquiry into not only a value but
very nearly a religion, and the assertion of empirical proof as the only criteria for the value of
ideas.
2
Comte’s positivism was fundamentally an attempt to structure an alternate social
structure based largely on scientific methods of thought that was to be more progressive (in
a gradualist way) than the church-dominated societies of the early nineteenth centuries.
Comte’s optimism regarding the moral impact of science seems quaint to the modern reader,
humanist or scientist. It is crucial, however, to understand that Comte’s moral and social
philosophy is severable from the theory and practice of both the social and physical sciences.
While Comte’s positivism is inseparable from a reverence for the scientific enterprise, a
rejection of his positivism implies little for one’s stance regarding social or physical science.
To assume a social scientist is a positivist because a founder of social science also enunciated
positivism makes little more sense than to assume a physicist must be a Rosicrucian because
of Newton’s interest in the mystic and the occult.
The relation between the sciences and the Vienna Circle of logical positivists,
however, is more complex. These positivists, as skilled logicians, performed a signal service
to the sciences by articulating a variety of principles of scientific practice (e.g., the necessity
for working hypotheses to be disconfirmable in order to be testable scientifically). These
methodological principles, however, are severable from many of the philosophic premises
and propositions of the positivists. Moreover, the methods of science preceded logical


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