Scott J. Simon / p. 2
Positivist psychologists include the behaviorists (Watson, Skinner) and structuralists (Wundt
& Titchner). The most well know positivist philosophers were those of the Vienna Circle
(Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap, G.E. Moore). Such positivists took an atomistic and diachronic
(historical) approach to science that favored an anti-metaphysical rhetoric. Such rhetoric claimed
reality was composed of discrete units, in which the parts were more real than the whole. The
holistic and synchronic (ahistorical) view that reality was composed not of “things” but
relationships, and in which the parts are real only in relation to each other and the whole was one
that the positivists rejected; this more metaphysically favorable approach emerged later with
systems theory and process philosophy. The bridge between such disparate views of science may
be found in Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn.
“Our belief in any particular (scientific) law cannot have a safer basis than our unsuccessful
critical attempts to refute it” (Karl Popper, 1977, p.112). Sir Karl Raimund Popper (1902-1994)
was an Austrian-born British philosopher of science, known for his theory of scientific method
and his criticism of historical determinism. He was born in Vienna and received a Ph.D. degree
from Vienna University in 1928. Although not a member of the so-called Vienna circle, Popper
was sympathetic with their scientific attitude, but critical of certain of their beliefs. It was the
positivists’ anti-metaphysical beliefs that Popper critiqued in particular.
Popper’s metaphysical critique of positivism began with the critique of inductivism.
Familiar with John Stuart Mill, whose principle of uniformity of nature was an alternative to
Hume’s claim that contiguity leads to habitual views of cause and effect; and the resulting claim
that the future may not resemble past, Popper criticized the positivists for a “uniformitarianist”
use of induction, in which particulars were mistaken for universals and vice versa; Positivist
pseudo-universals are really multi-particulars according to Popper.