Socialism - Science - Religion -Reply -Reply

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Mon Jun 12 19:40:46 MDT 1995

Positivism as a philosophy and as a method: I have a joint
Philosophy-Political Science degree from Michigan. The Poli Sci dept.,
there is macho quantitative, very "behavioralist," in the jargon of the
field. I worked with David Singer, Ron Inglehart, Harold Jacobson, and
other quantatitive social scientists learning survey research and other
stat research methods very much in the spirit that Chris S. describes--get
those correlation! Control for your variables! Nothing else matters.
(Jacobson gave me the only A+ I got in grad school, and the only one he'd
ever given, in part because he was impressed by a reserach proposal I drew
up for quantitive testing of Lenin's theory of imperialism, a theory which
he'd laughed at--literally--in a seminar. He said he wouldn'd do it again.
Incidenatlly Lenin came off pretty well in comparison with the theories I
compared his to--interdependence, dependency, and "realist" theories of
international relations. Of couyrse proper testing would have required a
reserach grant, not a seminar exercise.)

Anyway inn these classes, the "philosophical" introduction was pure,
unadulterated logical positivism circa 1955. The political scientists were
very surprised to find that what I as a philosopher could tell them was
that that theory of scientific method was dead as a doornail in
philosophy. Not that it made any difference to their work.

Incidentall there are some good not-necessarily-philosophically aware
political scientists at Michigan (and elsewhere) whose work is not in the
least positivist. It's good in part because it's not. At Michigan, I put
Matt Evangfelista and Jill Crystal (denied tenure, invol;ved in a nasty
battle over this) in that category.

--Justin Schwartz

On Mon, 12 Jun 1995, Lisa Rogers wrote:
> I guess we agree that the method should be matched to the question
> addressed, there are "many methods by which we can learn about social
> reality", "totality" is relative, as each one is divideable, but each
> is part of a still larger totality.
> But I think of positivism as a philosophy, and you describe it as
> methods, although perhaps you mean that they go together.
> My question is, what do you think are the "broader issues" in
> anthropology? (for an example in my own field.)
> >>> Chris M. Sciabarra <sciabrrc at>  6/12/95, 01:33pm >>>
> Lisa --
> When I say that "non-distorted social science" addresses totality
> and internal relations, I believe that we can never address that
> totality  without placing it within the context of a specific vantage
> point or  level of generality.  Hence, in certain contexts, it is
> fine to use  quantitative or statistical methods to try to make a
> point.  Dialectical  thinkers are just less likely to disconnect the
> specific questions from  the wider totality.  In my own discipline,
> there is a lot to be learned  by the statistical methods used to say,
> analyze election returns.  But  there are too many political
> scientists that I know to whom election  returns are the only
> important issue in politics.  All I'm saying is,  that dialectics
> demands that we connect the micro issues to the big  picture.  And
> that while it is OK to use the methods of statistical  inference,
> they are not the only methods by which we can learn about  social
> reality.
> As for my use of the phrase, "modern positivism"... I am using it
> very  broadly to refer to all of those methods that are "factual,"
> "quantitative," "statisical," and in general, unconcerned with the
> broader questions of political legitimacy, class analysis,
> psychology,  anthropology, ethics... etc.  The positivists tend to
> reduced EVERYTHING  to a number, since anything else reeks of
> "abstractness" and  "metaphysics," in their view.  Econometricians
> come to mind.
>    - Chris
> ==================================================
> Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
> Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
> ==================================================
> On Mon, 12 Jun 1995, Lisa Rogers wrote:
> >  > Chris S,
> > at first you seem to say that a non-distorted social science is one
> > which encompasses or addresses totality and internal relations, but
> > your last line is more reasonable (to me) to say that different
> > methods are applicable to different questions.  Which is it?  And
> > what is modern positivism?
> >  > I think that specific examples would help me a lot.  I like
> abstract
> > discussion to "get down to cases."
> >  > Thanks,
> > Lisa
> >  >  > >>> Chris M. Sciabarra <sciabrrc at>  6/10/95,
> 07:19am >>>
> > (snip) That modern positivists cannot even CONCEIVE of the totality
>  > and its internal relations is indicative of how deeply distorted
> > their  own approach to social science is.  This is not to say that
> > statistical  and quantitative approaches have NO value in certain
> > circumstances.  But  such approaches often miss the forest for the
> > trees.  Bertell Ollman  however, warns that dialectical thinking
> > often misses the trees for the  forest.  There has to be a good
> > balance between micro- and  macro-analysis, and different
> approaches
> > can sometimes shed some needed  light on specific areas of
> > investigation.   >  > - Chris
> > Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
> >  >  >  >  >      --- from list marxism at
> ---
> >
>      --- from list marxism at ---
>      --- from list marxism at ---

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