Positivism is the belief that human knowledge is produced by the scientific interpretation of observational data.

The approach has been an ongoing "theme in the history of western thought from the Ancient Greeks to the present day".[1] The term was used in the early 19th century by the philosopher and founding sociologist, Auguste Comte.[2]

Comte, a sociologist, believed in a three part model of human knowledge. He claimed that it had gone through phases. There was a religious worldview, and a metaphysical worldview before the scientific interpretation was considered. The positivistic method should, said Comte, no longer aim at a revealing ultimate causes. It should rather focus on how data are linked together. Scientists would simply interpret these correlations. All human knowledge could only be relatively true, so Comte with a look at these interpretations. Late 19th-century philosophers of the sciences from Heinrich Hertz to Ernst Mach eventually discussed specific requirements of operable scientific theories and physical laws such as the predictability of results in experiments and the functionality of laws in computations.[3]


In its strongest original formulation,[4] positivism could be thought of as a set of five principles:

  1. The unity of the scientific method – i.e., the logic of inquiry is the same across all sciences (social and natural).
  2. The aim of science is to explain and predict.
  3. Scientific knowledge is testable. Research can be proved only by empirical means, not arguments alone. Research should be mostly deductive, i.e. deductive logic is used to develop statements that can be tested (theory leads to hypothesis which in turn leads to discovery and/or study of evidence). Research should be observable with the human senses. Arguments are not enough, sheer belief is out of the question.
  4. Science does not equal common sense. Researchers must be careful not to let common sense bias their research.
  5. Science should be as value-neutral as possible. The ultimate goal of science is to produce knowledge, regardless of any politics, morals, or values held by those involved in the research. Science should be judged by logic, and ideally produce universal conditionals.
  6. Experiments must be able to verify a statement anytime and anywhere.[5]

Unlike materialists positivists do not make any claims about a primary substance such as matter. They assume that we have data and that we interpret the data. The idea of a material world with three dimensions is, for positivists, just a good model to handle the experiences of everyday life. If astronomy has to deal with more complex data that cannot be handled consistently in such a model, they will have to think of a different model. Early 20th-century positivists like Ernst Mach said that the best model is the most "economical" model, that is the model we can use best in calculations and predictions.

The idea that all physical laws could be useful dates back to Auguste Comte. Comte said that all theories were merely "relatively" true, and that even Isaac Newton's law of universal gravitation was strictly speaking nothing but a social convention – true until new data force us to find a better theory.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Positivismus
العربية: وضعية
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azərbaycanca: Pozitivizm
Bân-lâm-gú: Si̍t-chèng-chú-gī
беларуская: Пазітывізм
български: Позитивизъм
bosanski: Pozitivizam
brezhoneg: Soliadouriezh
català: Positivisme
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Ελληνικά: Θετικισμός
English: Positivism
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한국어: 실증주의
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हिन्दी: तथ्यवाद
hrvatski: Pozitivizam
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íslenska: Framhyggja
italiano: Positivismo
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қазақша: Позитивизм
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latviešu: Pozitīvisms
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日本語: 実証主義
occitan: Positivisme
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਪ੍ਰਤੱਖਵਾਦ
Piemontèis: Positivism
polski: Pozytywizm
português: Positivismo
română: Pozitivism
русский: Позитивизм
Scots: Positivism
سنڌي: اثباتيت
slovenčina: Pozitivizmus
slovenščina: Pozitivizem
српски / srpski: Позитивизам
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Pozitivizam
svenska: Positivism
тоҷикӣ: Позитивизм
Türkçe: Pozitivizm
українська: Позитивізм
اردو: مثبتیت
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: دەلىلچىلىك پەلسەپىسى
中文: 实证主义