The 1970s may be termed as a turning point in the writing of modern geography. It was during this period that a number of works advocating different philosophical departures were published. Positivism, idealism, pragmatism and functionalism were redefined, while idealism, existentialism, Marxism, radicalism, humanism and behaviouralism were inducted in geographical researches as humanistic approaches.
Positivism is a philosophical movement, characterized by an emphasis on science and scientific method as the only source of knowledge. Positivism makes a sharp distinction between fact and value, and a strong hostility towards religion and traditional philosophy esp. metaphysics.
Historically, the concept of positivism emerged after the French Revolution and was established by Auguste Comte during the 1830s in France.
Positivism is also called empiricism. It is a philosophical view point that limits knowledge to facts that can be observed and to the relationships between these facts. The proponents of positivism advocate that science can only concern itself with empirical questions. Empirical questions are questions about how things are in reality. In this context, reality is defined as the world that can be sensed. What is not derived from the evidences of senses is not knowledge. To be scientific is to be objective, truthful and neutral.
Positivists further stress that since we cannot investigate and test moral norms (e.g. values, beliefs, attitudes, customs, prejudices, traditions, taste, aesthetic, values etc), we should keep away from normative questions. The essence of the positivist philosophy is that ideally speaking science is value-free, neutral, impartial and objective.
The followers of positivism regarded metaphysical (which lies outside our sense perceptions or is independent of them) questions also as unscientific.
Positivism determined the scientific status of its statements through:
• Unified scientific methods
• Formulation of scientific laws
• Exclusion of normative questions
• Unification of scientific laws
Followers of positivism believed that alongside the natural science, there should also be a science of social relationships (sociology) to be developed on the same principles. As natural sciences discovered the laws of nature so scientific investigations of communities would discover the laws of society.
One of the main characteristics of positivists is that they are anti-authoritarian. Positivism suggested that we could not accept authority simply because it was authority, but only give credence (to believe) to things for which there was scientific evidence.
According to positivists, there are technical solutions of all problems and value-free research is possible.
However, the assertion of the positivists that value-free, objective research is possible, has been vehemently (showing strong feeling) criticized by the proponents of humanistic approaches. The positivistic laws, mathematization and value-free analysis are difficult to achieve.
A serious criticism of positivism lies in the fact that natural and social sciences are not and cannot be of the identical nature from the experimental point of view. The same methods cannot be applied in social sciences. In social sciences scientists deal with man who cannot be taken as a ‘thing’ because he has brain and possesses thinking process. In fact, we cannot consider human behaviour the same way as animal behaviour, because men have intentions, imaginations, beliefs which cannot be translated into ‘thing’ language of the natural sciences. Thus the element of subjectivity is a must in the study of normative things with a view to make social laws.
Some Appreciation Please!