Frisby D Introduction to the English Edition

Positivism has been defined by Habermas [the reference is to Knowledge and Human Interests, where Habermas says that '"Scientism" means science's belief in itself...[that we]...must identify knowledge with science' and that 'The positivism that enters on the scene with Comte makes use of elements of both the empiricist and rationalist traditions in order to strengthen science's belief in its exclusive validity after the fact, instead of to reflect...on it' (4) '{Given flaws in philosophical analyses of knowledge} positivism could forget that the methodology of the sciences was interwteined with the objective self-formative process...of the human species and erect the absolutism of pure methodology on the basis of the forgotten and the repressed' (5)]. There is also  von Wright: 'methodological monism, with the exact natural sciences as the ideal, causal explanations whereby individual cases are subsumed under laws of nature'. It is possible to add the notion of practical technical use for knowledge leading to full blown scientism.

There are lots of problems in trying to pin down the nature of this dispute. For example, all participants denied they are positivists. Popper  (Objective Knowledge) says that the split between sciences and humanities is based on whether positivism is seen as scientific method, usually the inductivist variant. Habermas is more interested in scientism as imperialism, as positivism in effect, when rationality means only scientific rationality. For other participants positivism is seen as both empiricist and rationalist both positive and exclusionary. Issues of value freedom are involved too, and the fact/value split.

Feyerabend explains the dispute best, perhaps  [as incommensurate theoretical approaches]. There have been an number of theoretical disputes before, including the debate between developing types or studying particulars; between synchronic and diachronic analysis; on the relation between social sciences and natural sciences. The neo-Kantian nature/culture split saw renewal of the debates: Popper sees the importance of hypothetical deductive methods in both, which makes both obsolete, while Habermas's the need to revive the notion of cultural sciences to oppose scientism.

Neo-Kantian philosophy spawned a number of dichotomies -- nomothetic versus in geographic for one branch, fact/value splits for the other. Both Weber and Mannheim emphasised more the political and practical it seems rather than those of abstract methodology, as did Critical Theory. The present dispute takes on undertones of these as well -- the debate is not just about methodology about the whole object of theory. All the participants are critics of the grounds of positivism: the dispute is really about the values of science, were reason is practical, grounded in reason. These are connected with earlier debates about whether science should be critical, historical or theoretical, whether it should operate on the global or individual level, and what the relation might be between theory and practice.

This Dispute was organised as a conference of German sociologist in 1968. Among other developments, Habermas became interested in Luhmann's systems theory. The relation between Habermas and Luhmann in fact echoes aspects of the Dispute, such as the relation between technical questions and private decisions, and whether or not we should operate with whole systems or individuals. Echoes are also found in Habermas's later debate with hermeneutics: Apel, for example, argues for a broader conception of Kantian transcendental exploration than the one that sees it narrowly, as a logic of science or as formal logic, and this was to lead to the notion of a  'meaning constritutive cognitive interest' [and the whole apparatus of human interests in Habermas].

This conception is used here to attack Popper. Popper wrong to see critical rationality in an open society as founded on scientific methods, since technology itself presupposes division domination and ignorance rather than reflection. Popper's also wrong to see the community of scientists as a model of open discussion, because the criticisms that they offer ridge other's works are cognitive and formal, while the real cognitive interest of science as much is presupposed [it lies in the general interest in work or technology]. Popper should really enlarge his notion of critical rationality, but his insistence on demarcating science tightly from other approaches restricts this effort, forbids transcendental reflection  [on the conditions of possibility of science] and also forbids the hermeneutic sciences. These have helped precisely to posit problems of identity, the relations between subjects and objects, and notions of communication. These issues are action behind the controversies between Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend.

This position is criticised in turn by Albert, who sees more continuities between the work of Popper and Weber. For Albert, the new critical hermeneutics is  'a new transcendental idealism', conservative, too close to Hedidegger, opposed to critical rationalism. The response is to attempt to ground it in linguistic orientation, to see language as transcendental and apriori. The notion of  three quasi transcendental human interests owes much to Scheler's hierarchy of knowledge, which is conservative in respecting existing divisions and methodologies rather than attempting a critical demarcation. There is an overemphasis on meaning, on signs rather than action. The resort to transcendental philosophy is unnecessary, and transcendental human interests are inextricable from actual realisations. Habermas and Apel offer circular argument here -- human interests are presupposed by acts and then become a precondition for them. The  'problem of knowledge'is really only relevant to  'problems of structural features of reality', leading to the need to  'make clear the basic features of the factual cognitive efforts of real subjects'.

This approach led to attempts to resurrect  'practical philosophy'and rational discourse about normative orientations. One central opponent here is Weber  [in his work on science as a vocation], and the fact/value issue emerged. Habermas's response was to see the practicalities of speech acts as a grounding for emancipation.

The Dispute has relevance for various Anglo-American debates about science, including Kuhn et al. Apel seized his work as revealing historical and social links with scientific logic, but Popper denies the relevance of sociological origins. There is also the issue of rationality, the historical influences on logic and how formal logic is actually put to use, ranging from Toulmin to Feyerabend's sceptical relativism. There are debates about methodological individualism. There are more recent attacks on positivism from phenomenology and ethnomethodology.

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