Positivism is a trend in bourgeois philosophy, which acknowledges the orthodoxy towards empirical knowledge of natural phenomena where metaphysics and theology are regarded as inadequate and imperfect systems of knowledge. Positivism, began to rise as the main intellectual movement during the second half of the 19th century in response to the inability of speculative philosophy, witch was indeed Romanticism. During the first half of 19th century, the Romanticism brought new views that helped the civilization of that time reach a higher level but it also brought the negative side effects.
It brought the chaotic effect that people started in a extremely liberal way to threat the social order in the increasing dispute of 1847 to 1848 which was posed not just by revolutions but by the eruption of an insidious, continually growing, struggle of class against class. The imperceptive economic thoughts, as those in France of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, eloquent if inconsistent writer, denounced the property classifying it as theft. The revolutions of 1848 lead the way for European thinkers to develop new visions for the way of thinking that brought to the idea of Positivism.
Claude Henri de Saint-Simon, French socialist/philosopher, conceived the idea of a new science of society that would result in the economic and intellectual emancipation of man. Saint-Simon thought that the new idea must be a positive philosophy based on experience and science. Another Frenchman Auguste Comte, who is considered the founder of Positivism, was the first to introduce the term “positivism. ” According to Comte, the new natural sciences indicated that a new social science should be built on observation and experience.
Comte also described the human history as a three-staged chronology of progress, with each stage having a different social organization based on the social environment of the time, with action based on different principles at each stage. Those were the theological stage, metaphysical stage and at last the positive era. After its birth in France, positivism continued to spread to England where it obtained a new and better form. In fact, it was in England that the biggest positivist arose.
James Stuart Mill, a writer on economy, was one of the main figures in English positivism. In his largely influential System of Logic (1843) Mill introduced the logical positivism that declared: all discoveries of truth not self-evident consist of inductions and the interpretation of inductions. Mill’s theory of logic is based on the laws association. Comte’s influence extended to many other intellectuals in England including Herbert Spencer who followed the positivist idea. According to Spencer, the universe is a result of evolution.
The laws, which made possible such an evolution, are two: Concentration, by which is meant the transition of elements from the state of instability to the state of stability; Differentiation, by which is meant the passage from the homogeneity of the elements to the state of heterogeneity. German Positivism first emerges as a reaction against Idealism in general and Hegelianism in particular and then as re-development of Kantian theory of knowledge. The German positivist, as an anti-Hegelist, was Ludwig A. Feuerbach who sought to reduce religion to the cult of humanity.
Friedrich Albert Lange, as a young Kantian, demonstrated the necessity of rejecting and overcoming materialism because it presumes to derive knowledge from material motion. The most important of German intellectual to contribute to positivism was Karl Marx, author of Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto. Marx together with his collaborator Friedrich Engels strove to put into practical effect the humanitarian concept of Feuerbach. In so doing, they founded a new economic movement called Socialism,
The exponent of Italian Positivism was Roberto Ardigo, who accepted the evolutionist principle of reality as a passage from the “indistinct to the distinct. ” According to Ardigo, the primordial “indistinct” condition of being is a psychophysical reality revealing itself in the first event of consciousness. After the aftermath of 1848, Romanticism began to fade away and positivism aroused all over Europe. In arts, literary realism supported the positivist movement by reacting strongly against romanticism and retreating to a realistic, even humdrum description of the ordinary.