Define and discuss why the term "positivism" matters. Define and discuss why the term "positivism" matters.  

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For social scientists, positivism is a philosophy which has to do with the ways in which observers perceive the subjects that they are studying.  Positivism holds that observers can look at their subjects and see true facts about them.  Positivism is opposed by epistemologies that argue that we are unable to look objectively at other people or cultures.  These philosophies deny that there can be any objectively true facts when it comes to the social sciences.  All of what we perceive as facts are simply our subjective opinions about what we observe in our subjects.

The term matters, then, because we have to think about whether positivism is a valid philosophy whenever we try to study other people or other cultures.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Positivism matters in that it impacts our ability to trust our own observations and the conclusions and resolutions drawn from our observations. If we are able to examine in a positive light, i.e, truly perceive what truly is, then our results are trustworthy. If we are not able to truly see past our own culture and social psychoses, as historian Page Smith called our social "blind" spots (where we do not perceive our own actions and motives truthfully), then it is not possible to trust the results of our examinations of others.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Positivism has been well described in the above posts, although I think the main reason why the concept is important is because it contributes to the debate about sociology and anthropology and culture, in the sense that we recognize how difficult objective assessment of peoples, cultures and individuals is inherently and incredibly difficult. Before we can really assert whether it is even possible, we have to assume that it is. The funny part is, can we objectively assess our objectivity?
litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
There are some that disagree with positivism and favor relativism. If you are a positivist, you believe in true or false, right or wrong. A relativist believes that there is no one truth, that truth varies from person to person, and that culture impacts truth. Social scientists are not as likely to be positivists, because when it comes to humanity there is very little we can count on knowing.
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think positivism is important because without it we would have to conclude that any sense of objectivity is impossible to achieve as we look at the world around us. Positivism is therefore valuable because it allows us to make conclusions on what we are able to objectively see, whilst also indicating the way in which objective knowledge is often difficult to attain.