Lecture 15

I want to offer some criticisms of Positivism.

1. When Comte rejects metaphysical explanations – having recourse to noumena, eg mind, soul, Nature etc. – he has only the phenomena or observable facts left to explain. Comte supposes a scientist can pick up facts like a person picks up sea shells at the sea shore.

STOP when you read the notes, ask self, are facts picked up like shells on a sea shore?

Comte is giving expression to modern scientific method that goes back to Bacon: give up tradition in order to be free to determine what the facts are. It is harder than one suspects! Bacon still talks of qualities – an Aristotlean tradition; ninety per cent of Bacon is Aristotle carried over, in other worlds tradition of which he is unconscious.

Not so easy to select the facts, tradition makes us see certain things, or not see certain things. Tradition is with us.

Bacon advocates as the first prerequisite the overthrow of preconceptions.

Can one overthrow this tradition? Chomsky, argues for the innateness of language.

The word ‘fact’ has turend out to be dangerous – we don’t just gather ‘facts’. The determination of facts is not as objective as gathering sea sells. Our subjectivity I already involved.

For example, Eddington’s tale of a net in the sea. The fishing net is the theory, if the interstices are large then the fish (facts) caught will be of a certain size. The net is the theory by which we look for facts.

Einstein at Princeton: our theories are the nest – everything depends on the kind of net/ theory what you will find as facts.

[break in the tape]

The positive stage differs from the earlier stage – it rules out certain questions that the previous stage ask ruling out the fruitless. No longer ask ‘why?’ things behave, they ask ‘how’ phenomena arise and what course they take.

It does not permit deductive thinking to be taken too far.

Its sole aim is to discover invariable (ie no negative instances) universal laws governing the phenomena in time.

The positive mind presupposes a deterministic determination of phenomena. It is convinced that these laws, or rather regularities in observed phenomena, exncopasses the totality of the world.

Eddington’s illustration of the net: facts depend on theory as a fisherman depends on the net.

A second illustration. What we experience as a world of fact depends not only on subjective theory presuppositions but also on the light divine/ special revelation shseds on the facts. Do we understand the world if we don’t understand it as a creation? On what ground can you base confidence in induction? What happens in the past, does it always have to happen? The ground of our assurance applies in inductive procedure has to do with God who is creator has revealed himself as a faithful covenant keeping God. His word abides – that’s the only basis for our confidence in inductive procedures.

Not just that facts are created facts, but let me be more specific.

1 Sam 24. Saul was pursuing David and his men, closing in on him. Message comes to Saul, the Philistines are invading the land. Later Saul set out to look for David and his men. He went into a cave, where David and his men were hiding, to relieve himself. David crept up and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. As a result David was conscience stricken: ‘ this is the anointed of the Lord’.

Fact: Saul was vulnerable and could easily be taken and murdered. ‘Surely this is the Lord’s sign’ – a factual situation. Yet David knew there was a word from God – Saul was the Lord’s anointed, a word abut murder. A word from God, in which the fact was to be interpreted.

When do you now how to read facts? Are they so readily available – to be taken and possessed?

‘Scientific facts’ are always an abstraction from something that presents itself to you.

The biotic, physical, never presents itself to you, it is always to be abstracted from some person, some event.

There is always something that precedes science – science requires abstraction from what is given in our experience. It is not immediately available as sea shells on the seashore.

In Comte’s positivism law and fact are closely connected. Law is relations between facts.

Consult own inner self: do we mean something different when we think of laws?

We say, laws hold or obtain(?). We don’t say that of facts – facts don’t measure up to what you mean when we say law.

There may be laws that relate facts to each other – but they are not more generalised facts.

God sent his word and all things are subjected to his word of law.

Facts are more elusive than Comte would have us believe.

Law – confronted by creation order. We sense in our being that it is different in kind.

The relationship of philosophy and the special sciences
It is clear for Comte that only special sciences survive in this third stage. Maths, physics, electronics, even theology, special areas of scientific investigation.

Just how are we to think of this matter?

In registration time in this college [Calvin College] you have tables that you go past all are arranged alphabetically each table a department. If Basket weaving 151 is full you have to take Philosophy 151, if that is full have to take Sociology 151. It is treating philosophy and the special science as if they are transferable.

Is philosophy transferable? Is it on the same plain? on the same level?

For the positivists science is the fact sciences. They reduced philosophy to a special science – detailed epistemological issues.

If philosophy is another special science all the other sciences can do their job without philosophy. Don’t have to know philosophical foundations to do physics etc. All the special sciences collect their kind of facts. if these positivists are going to recognise philosophy at all it has to be on the same level, physics has agreed results, philosophy takes down these results and gives them a logical order. This led to the development of logic as a special science.

In the first place this isn’t true. There is growing awareness that recognising that no special science can grow without examining the philosophical foundations of its subject.

Freud a committed positivist
Jung had different philosophical commitment and so developed in a different way.

Every special science develops as it does depending on its philosophical presuppositions.

In 1963/4 in the Netherlands, the Minsister of Education, was successful in passing a law that reorganised the Dutch Universities. At the centre was an interfaculty philosophy department. Two groups of people professors of philosophy and professors of other departments work together to develop a philosophical view.

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