Positivism: (III) The Shift from Theory to Method—Value Judgments and Fact Judgments


The third manifestation of positivism was the development of methodology, especially in the half-century from 1870 to 1920. The movement was distinctly a phase of positivism in so far as the perversion of relevance, through the shift from theory to method, was the very principle by which it lived. At the same time, however, it was instrumental in overcoming positivism because it generalized the relevance of method and thereby regained the understanding of the specific adequacy of different methods for different sciences.

Thinkers like Husserl or Cassirer, for instance, were still positivists of the Comtean persuasion with regard to their philosophy of history; but Husserl's critique of psychologism and Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms were important steps toward the restoration of theoretical relevance. The movement as a whole, therefore, is far too complex to admit of generalizations without careful and extensive qualifications. Only one problem can, and must, be selected because it has a specific bearing on the destruction of science, that is, the attempt at making political science (and the social sciences in general) "objective" through a methodologically rigorous exclusion of all "value-judgments."

In order to arrive at clarity about the issue, it must first of all be realized that the terms "value-judgment" and "value-free" science were not part of the philosophical vocabulary before the second half of the nineteenth century. The notion of a value-judgment (Werturteil) is meaningless in itself; it gains its meaning from a situation in which it is opposed to judgments concerning facts (Tatsachenurteile). And this situation was created through the positivistic conceit that only propositions concerning facts of the phenomenal world were "objective," while judgments concerning the right order of soul and society were "subjective." Only propositions of the first type could be considered "scientific," while propositions of the second type expressed personal preferences and decisions, incapable of critical verification and therefore devoid of objective validity.

This classification made sense only if the positivistic dogma was accepted on principle; and it could be accepted only by thinkers who did not master the classic and Christian science of man. For neither classic nor Christian ethics and politics contain "value-judgments" but elaborate, empirically and critically, the problems of order that derive from philosophical anthropology as part of a general ontology. Only when ontology as a science was lost, and when consequently ethics and politics could no longer be understood as sciences of the order in which human nature reaches its maximal actualization, was it possible for this realm of knowledge to become suspect as a field of subjective, uncritical opinion.

CW VOL 5,
The New Science of Politics
Introduction,
pp 95-96.
[U.Chicago ed., p 10-12]

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