Positivism and Formalism are two very closely allied theoretical models.  Both focus on science and empirical evidence for explanations.  While the Positivists look exclusively at science (at the exclusion of culture, myth or religion), the Formalists look at form (at the exclusion of imagination, society, culture, myth or archetypes).  Both Positivism and Formalism have been heavily denounced in academic communities and are now only mentioned for small aspects of the theoretical models.  Below are definitions from our Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory that may help define the two theoretical models.

Positivism: "A philosophical theory or doctrine which combines a number of theses about the nature of knowledge and reality . . . (i) What really exists is what can be experienced by the senses or what is susceptible to experimental manipulation. (ii) This reality is the subject matter of science. (iii) Only scientific knowledge is genuine knowledge. (iv) Nonscientific cognitive claims, such as those of myth, religion, and metaphysics are idle and spurious. . . .  The overall aim of positivism was to boost the claims of science as the one and only true approach to understanding the world, including the social world" (Payne 417, emphasis added)

Logical Positivism borrowed from this 19th Century theoretical concept and furthered "that only scientific statements were open to verification by empirical procedures. . . . Since nonscientific statements had no method of empirical verification, they were literally nonsense! Thus the logical positivists believed that they had eliminated from philosophy all its traditional religious and metaphysical aspects, leaving only logic and scientifically pristine theory of knowledge" (Payne 417).

Last updated: 09/07/2005 03:15 PM
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