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Evolution of the concept
Antipositivism evolved in the 19th century, when sociological positivism and sociological naturalism begun to be questioned by scientists like Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert, who argued that the world of nature is not the same as the world of society, as human societies have unique aspects like meanings, symbols, rules, norms, and values—all that can be described as the culture.
This view was further developed by Max Weber, who introduced the term antipositivism (also known as humanistic sociology). According to this view, closely related to antinaturalism, sociological research must use specific tools and methods and concentrate on humans and their cultural values. This has led to some controversy on how one can draw the line between subjective and objective research, much less draw an artificial line between environment and human organization (see environmental sociology), and influenced the study of hermeneutics.
The base concepts of antipositivism have expanded beyond the scope of social science, in fact, phenomenology has the same basic principles at its core. Lately, Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela applied these notions to the world of biology, developing a type of relativist science.
Critique of positivism
Antipositivism criticises many of the positivistic assumptions and principles. First, they argue that there is no methodological unity of science, i.e., that we cannot use the same tools to study natural and social sciences. Antipositivists then add that positivism is restricted to phenomena that can be constrained within an analytical and verifiable fragment of the reality, i.e., that it is impossible to study freedom, irrationality and various unpredictable actions that are common in individual human behaviour. They also argue that knowledge can never be neutral, as it directly translates into power and that positivists attempt to draw an artificial line between observer and the subject. Finally, antipositivsts argue that positivism's two goals - explanation and prediction - are incomplete, since they lack the goal of understanding.
Some argue that, even is positivism was correct, it would be dangerous. Science aims at understanding causality so that control can be exerted. If this succeeded in sociology, those with knowledge would be able to control the ignorant and this could lead to social engineering. This critique is common amongst postmodernists like Derrida and Rorty.
Overview of non-positivistic approaches
There are several approaches in social sciences that are opposing the positivistic view. They are:
- interpretive sociology - developed by Max Weber, connected to hermeneutics, accepts subjectivity, deals with understanding human social behaviour and its influence on social context.
- critical sociology - developed by Karl Marx, contains both nomothetic and idiographic approaches, tries to combine antipostitivistic interpretive approach with positivism by trying to develop general laws while accepting subjectivity and inductive logic.
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