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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Chapter 9

Science and Technology: Positivism and Critique

HANS RADDER

The notion of positivism, which is primarily used in relation to science, is notoriously ambiguous. Karl Popper, for one, strongly argued against positivist philosophy of science and was sharply criticized for being a positivist philosopher of science himself. In epistemology, positivism is often seen as equivalent to empiricism; in philosophy of science, it usually means “anti-realism”; in methodological discourse, it frequently refers to a unity-of-science approach according to which the social sciences should follow the methodology of the natural sciences; in social science, it commonly stands for a preference of quantitative over qualitative methods; and in ontological debates it may denote reductionist or materialist positions.

Clearly, some limitation and clarification is in order, the more so since not all of these senses of positivism will be equally relevant to both science and technology. For the purpose of this essay, I start with the influential views of (the early) Jürgen Habermas, who conceived of science and technology as being intrinsically related. Habermas proposes a very broad characterization of positivism as the view that, because of their obvious successes, there is no need for a critical reflection on science and technology “as such.” The latter qualification is important, since positivism acknowledges, and even explicitly aims to criticize, the occurrence of particular deviations from ...

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