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Comte and the possibility of a hermeneutics of science

Robert Scharff

pp. 117-126

One surprising feature of Comte's positivism is that it does not support the sort of "rational reconstruction" of the scientific method promoted by 20th Century positivism. Still more surprising is what one might call the "pragmatist" character of his arguments against such reconstructions. Of course later positivists, too, sometimes claim to be heirs to pragmatism; but Comte's pragmatism is of a different order. Later positivists speak of pragmatism within their context of a purely internalist, epistemic analysis of scientific reasoning — a task they sharply distinguish from what they see as the "extraneous" and non-philosophical study of the psychological, social, political, and historical factors that impinge upon actual scientific practice. In contrast, Comte's pragmatism does not yet even recognize such a distinction. Indeed, in this respect, and certainly most surprising of all, his treatment of science has less in common with later positivism than with the views of some contemporary postpositivists. For in both Comte and postpositivism, philosophy is charged with thinking about science — i.e., with reflecting on scientific practice understood as one human activity among others, not just analyzing and/or idealizing its cognitive structure from within.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-94-017-1767-0_9

Full citation:

Scharff, R. (2002)., Comte and the possibility of a hermeneutics of science, in B. Babich (ed.), Hermeneutic philosophy of science, van Gogh's eyes, and God, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 117-126.

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