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Empiricism, positivism, rationalism

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Atreides99 posted on Fri, Oct 5 2012 9:36 PM

Could someone explain to me the shortcomings of each of these topics in scientific philosophy. Would someone be willing to direct me towards a book that would clear this up cause I hardly understand these concepts.

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Bertrand Russell - The Problems of Philosophy (second time I've recommended this today) Chapter 7 (On Our Knowledge of General Principles, p. 77 of the pdf in the link).

Traditionally, empiricism (Hume, Locke) and rationalism (Plato, Descartes) have been at odds.  Empiricists deny that one can have knowledge of anything outside of perceptions.  Rationalists disagree and think knowledge can be derived without sense-datum (data from the senses).  So, naturally, they disagree on the breadth and power of man's reason.

Positivism is kind of a combination of the two.  Bertrand Russell was a logical positivist, a slightly more amenable version of positivism.  Postivism, I think, relies on logical proof (math, basically) and empirical data.  The debate comes down to whether or not math/logic (they are the same thing) is true because man has 'laws' that we recognize or if they are part of nature.  The positivists divide knowledge into analytic (a priori) and synthetic (a posteriori - empirically verifiable).

After all, one cannot create a logical proof for an inference rule without using the inference that one is attempting to proof!  There are just certain "rules" that we know and that we use to deduce truth and falsity.  2+2, for instance, we know as 4.  J. S. Mill tried to say that we know this because we are so accustomed to it, i.e. that we are familiar with the empircal evidence of its truth.  But, Russell, in the PoP, asks whether 2 apples today is the same as 2 Britons 1000 years from now.  Of course it is, but how can we have had empirical evidence of that truth?  We cannot.  Thus, logic/math seem to be categorically opposed to definitions of either a pure empiricist or pure rationalist nature.

 

 

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Bertrand Russell - The Problems of Philosophy (second time I've recommended this today) Chapter 7 (On Our Knowledge of General Principles, p. 77 of the pdf in the link).

Traditionally, empiricism (Hume, Locke) and rationalism (Plato, Descartes) have been at odds.  Empiricists deny that one can have knowledge of anything outside of perceptions.  Rationalists disagree and think knowledge can be derived without sense-datum (data from the senses).  So, naturally, they disagree on the breadth and power of man's reason.

Positivism is kind of a combination of the two.  Bertrand Russell was a logical positivist, a slightly more amenable version of positivism.  Postivism, I think, relies on logical proof (math, basically) and empirical data.  The debate comes down to whether or not math/logic (they are the same thing) is true because man has 'laws' that we recognize or if they are part of nature.  The positivists divide knowledge into analytic (a priori) and synthetic (a posteriori - empirically verifiable).

After all, one cannot create a logical proof for an inference rule without using the inference that one is attempting to proof!  There are just certain "rules" that we know and that we use to deduce truth and falsity.  2+2, for instance, we know as 4.  J. S. Mill tried to say that we know this because we are so accustomed to it, i.e. that we are familiar with the empircal evidence of its truth.  But, Russell, in the PoP, asks whether 2 apples today is the same as 2 Britons 1000 years from now.  Of course it is, but how can we have had empirical evidence of that truth?  We cannot.  Thus, logic/math seem to be categorically opposed to definitions of either a pure empiricist or pure rationalist nature.

 

 

"The Fed does not make predictions. It makes forecasts..." - Mustang19
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Hmm. Yeah basically all I knew before is that Mises looked down upon economists who were empiricists and theorized that economics was a priori like math. Also I heard from tom woods that Austrians are not a big fan of positivism either which is a straw man attributed to austrians because they look similar to chicago school economists to the layman who are positivists. I got a nice reply though I'm liking these forums already.

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Aristophanes,

I was always under the impression that positivism and empiricism were more or less the same thing, simply with positivism more focused upon a fixed method of experimentation. I was also under the impression that Kant in his "Critique of Pure Reason" started to bridge the gap between the two by showing that a coherent worldview could only be developed if the two methods were combined through a mixture of a priori and a posteriori reasoning. I don't know if this is in any way correct or even how exactly I came to believe that.

Could you clarify this for me?

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
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This was in my orignal post

Positivism is kind of a combination of the two [rationalism and empiricism].

I'm not familiar enough with Kant to answer that =/...(I know I should be...)   But, Russell talks a lot about these issues, and Kant, in the book I provided.

In the present connexion, it is only important to realize that knowledge as to what is intrinsically of value is a priori in the same sense in which logic is a priori, namely in the sense that the truth of such knowledge can be neither proved nor disproved by experience. 

All pure mathematics is a priori, like logic. This was strenuously denied by the empirical philosophers, who maintained that experience was as much the source of our knowledge of arithmetic as of our knowledge of geography.  They maintained that by the repeated experience of seeing two things and two other things, and finding that altogether they made four things, we were led by induction to the conclusion that two things and two other things would always make four things altogether. If, however, this were the source of our knowledge that two and two are four, we should proceed differently, in persuading ourselves of its truth, from the way in which we do actually proceed. In fact, a certain number of instances are needed to make us think of two abstractly, rather than of two coins or two books or two people, or two of any other specified kind.  But as soon as we are able to divest our thoughts of irrelevant particularity, we become able to see the general principle that two and two are four; any one instance is seen to be typical, and the examination of other instances becomes unnecessary.[1]


[1] Cf. A. N. Whitehead, Introduction to Mathematics (Home University Library).


The same thing is exemplified in geometry. If we want to prove some property of all triangles, we draw some one triangle and reason about it; but we can avoid making use of any property which it does not share with all other triangles, and thus, from our particular case, we obtain a general result. We do not, in fact, feel our certainty that two and two are four increased by fresh instances, because, as soon as we have seen the truth of this proposition, our certainty becomes so great as to be incapable of growing greater.  Moreover, we feel some quality of necessity about the proposition 'two and two are four', which is absent from even the best attested empirical generalizations. Such generalizations always remain mere facts: we feel that there might be a world in which they were false, though in the actual world they happen to be true.  In any possible world, on the contrary, we feel that two and two would be four: this is not a mere fact, but a necessity to which everything actual and possible must conform.

The case may be made clearer by considering a genuinely-empirical generalization, such as 'All men are mortal.'  It is plain that we believe this proposition, in the first place, because there is no known instance of men living beyond a certain age, and in the second place because there seem to be physiological grounds for thinking that an organism such as a man's body must sooner or later wear out.  Neglecting the second ground, and considering merely our experience of men's mortality, it is plain that we should not be content with one quite clearly understood instance of a man dying, whereas, in the case of 'two and two are four', one instance does suffice, when carefully considered, to persuade us that the same must happen in any other instance. Also we can be forced to admit, on reflection, that there may be some doubt, however slight, as to whether all men are mortal.  This may be made plain by the attempt to imagine two different worlds, in one of which there are men who are not mortal, while in the other two and two make five. When Swift invites us to consider the race of Struldbugs who never die, we are able to acquiesce in imagination.  But a world where two and two make five seems quite on a different level. We feel that such a world, if there were one, would upset the whole fabric of our knowledge and reduce us to utter doubt. 

The fact is that, in simple mathematical judgements such as 'two and two are four', and also in many judgements of logic, we can know the general proposition without inferring it from instances, although some instance is usually necessary to make clear to us what the general proposition means. This is why there is real utility in the process of deduction, which goes from the general to the general, or from the general to the particular, as well as in the process of induction, which goes from the particular to the particular, or from the particular to the general.  It is an old debate among philosophers whether deduction ever gives new knowledge.  We can now see that in certain cases, at least, it does do so. If we already know that two
and two always make four, and we know that Brown and Jones are two, and so are Robinson and Smith, we can deduce that Brown and Jones and
Robinson and Smith are four. This is new knowledge, not contained in our premisses, because the general proposition, 'two and two are four', never told us there were such people as Brown and Jones and Robinson and Smith, and the particular premisses do not tell us that there were four of them, whereas the particular proposition deduced does tell us both these things.

I looked for a bit online about Kant, but I think he is one of the most complicated philosophers of recent memory (save Wittgenstein who I am sort of familiar with).  Reading him, especially in English, is going to require a study guide or something.  If you are really curious you could look up Allen Wood, he is a professor at my University and one of the world's most well known Kant scholars (I, ....uhhh, haven't taken any of his classes though (Pure Reason was full last spring =/ ))

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Are there scientific philosophies that can be considered like a type of empiricism or a type of positivism. Like is there a form of positivism that favors rationalism but only a little bit of empiricism. Or does everybody just say they're positivists.

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could someone give me an example of praxeology vs. an example of logical positivism in economic thought or direct me to an example?

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