[Marxism] What is wrong with positivism?

Jeff Rubard jeffrubard at gmail.com
Fri Aug 3 11:26:05 MDT 2007

A lot of ground has been covered on this topic already, but there
are a few points I would like to chime in on.

1) In terms of "bourgeois thought", the element of positivism that has
been most thoroughly rejected is its phenomenalism, the idea that
our perception presents us only with "appearances" which we arrange
in configurations of increasing order, without real access to a
transcendent external reality. One way of thinking about
phenomenalism that has been proposed is that it supposes the
principle of bivalence not to hold for statements about
sense-perception: features of perception make some statements
true and some statements false, but there is no guarantee that
a perceptual observation be either determinately true or false,
no state of affairs that "makes" it be one way or the other.
This conclusion is repugnant to most people's sense of what
it is to make a report about the world as it seems to be
(which seems to be essentially related, at least in intention,
to the way the world actually is); so phenomenalism has
been widely rejected in favor of a "direct realism" about
perception which has a broadly Aristotelian cast. This
is closely related to operationalism in the philosophy of science,
which has been rejected for similar reasons.

2) In terms of Marxism, the element of positivism that is most
threatening is its skepticism about the reality of social facts
beyond the views, interests, and plans of the individual.
The *Positvismusstreit* in (early) '60s German sociology,
although it was to a certain extent only so-called (the
"positivist" was supposed by Adorno to be Karl Popper, who
no philosopher of science would recognize as anything but
post-positivist) in large part hinged on the acceptability of
entities like classes as means of sociological explanation:
and I think we can all agree it would be a pretty poor
Marxism that was reconstructed in line with the dictates
of "methodological individualism", leaving out the character
and dynamics of larger social groups.

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