Since the introduction of the term “positivism” by the Father of Sociology, Auguste Comte, in the late 18th century, it has been widely practiced in the field of social science to elevate it to the position of a natural science. Positivism assumes that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge that comes from the positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific methods. After Comte introduced Positivism, he began to frame his theories on the basis of the Positivist approach, which encouraged the use of scientific methods and methodology to study social phenomena. This approach was adopted by many sociologists, although it faced severe criticism from many thinkers.
Despite criticism, positivism did not cease to exist. Even in today’s society, elements of positivism can be found. Because positivism discourages speculation and makes scientific and reasonable predictions, this approach has brought plenty of development to society.
With every passing year, decade, and century, science and technology have done wonders in the field of natural sciences. This development in the natural world has also influenced the social world. Because positivism had already rescued people’s minds from the clutches of superstitions and speculations to some extent, people today recognize scientific advances. People nowadays are seen to take decisions and perform their necessary activities rationally, which certainly reflects the relevance of positivism.
Many examples can be given to support positivism’s acceptance in today’s society. Previously, cutting nails and hair at night was thought to be bad luck, and the prohibitions on doing so had no justification. However, it is now observed that people do not hesitate to cut their nails or hair at night because there is no rational explanation for not doing so. Although there is one section of people who adhere to superstitious principles, another section of people counters their thoughts with reason, facts, and scientific explanations.
Positivism has been a grace to our social life, which is evident in the way we lead our lives using all the comforts of technology. Just as there are facts in the natural sciences, social life also has facts. The way people behave in a society is a reflection of social facts. The effect of positivism in social life leads people to make predictions and resonate on the basis of empirical data, that is, facts gained through sensory experience. Because positivism describes the world as a series of causes and effects between objects that can be observed, when a phenomenon is observed in society, people tend to look for a reasonable causal explanation. An apt example to cite in this context is that of the earthquakes. People know how earthquakes are caused by the constantly moving tectonic plates stuck at the edges of the ground because of friction. Because people have a reasonable and scientific explanation for this natural event, they make themselves alert rather than claiming it to be God’s will or believing it to be an indicator of a bad omen.
Further, the positivist approach also led to revelations about the laws of society. Just as Emile Durkheim, by making use of scientific methodology, studied society, the present society too could be studied in details by adopting quantitative methodology that is suitable for a positivist approach. For example, illiteracy is a social problem, and to find the solution to this problem, it could be studied by making use of quantitative research methods like conducting surveys, interviews, etc. or through census reports.
Because human society is complex in nature, it cannot be studied entirely by making use of scientific techniques, yet it cannot be denied that society cannot be studied through a positivist approach. To a great extent, society could be studied and explained through positivism.