In partial praise of a positivist (O’Neill, 1995)

Otto_Neurath

The work of Otto Neurath

by John O’Neill (Radical Philosophy, 1995)

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From the Frankfurt School the story has emerged that positivism is a conservative doctrine necessarily committed to existing social institutions and to a technocratic conception of politics. Even the most scientistic orthodox Marxist is unlikely to announce that she is a positivist. Such is the disrepute into which positivism has fallen that to accept the title of positivist would amount to an admission that one’s position was untenable. The picture of positivism that informs its use as a term of academic abuse is a caricature. Positivist philosophy was much more heterogeneous than recent thumbnail versions allow, and many of the doctrines ascribed to it were explicitly rejected by many of its proponents.  Neurath himself was unhappy with the term for the very reason that it suggested a systematic set of doctrines incompatible with the methodological pluralism he defended, although ‘not being a pedant’ he was willing to ‘bear it’.

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