Chapter 9. The positivistic philosophy and epistemology
9.1. The positivistic philosophy of Compte and Spencer
The German classical philosophy was an attempt to make philosophy scientific, i.e. to create of it a rational basis for the development of science. The top point of it and the peak of rationalism are considered Hegel’s philosophy. But, alas! It turned out to be quite alien to the time of real science. And thus, to the beginning of the 19th century a situation took place when both the philosophy and the science developed in their own ways without any real intercourse between. The need of philosophy, which would reflect problems of the science arose. That philosophy became the positivistic (i.e. based on positive or nature sciences) philosophy. It emerged in the first half of the 19th century and passed three waves during its development. These waves are the 1st positivism (Compte, Spencer), the 2nd positivism or empiriocriticism (Mach, Avenarius) and the 3d or neopositivism. And later in the second half of the 20th century the so-called postpositivism appeared.
The founder of the first positivism and the positivism in general was a French philosopher August Compte who the first had paid attention to that time break between philosophy and science. In order to remove this break he announced that all previous philosophy had been over and a new one the positive philosophy should come in place of it. The previous philosophy belongs to the out-of-date epoch and doesn’t satisfy the demands of time, asserted Compte. In general, he went on, society, consciousness and thinking passed three stages in their development (the so-called three stages’ law): 1) theological, 2) metaphysical and 3) positive.
On the first or theological stage human tries to explain all phenomena and events around him by means of different supernatural powers or creatures such as gods, ghosts, heroes, spirits and so forth. All the explanations, which arise on this stage, are still quite irrational and very far from a true science. The human fantasy is unlimited and restricted by nothing. The second (metaphysical) stage is transitional. On it the human declines the irrational supernatural explanations and starts using the rational metaphysical ones. He refuses the explanations by means of supernatural entities and comes to those by means of different rational constructions such as the Plato’s ideas, Leibniz’s monads, Spinoza’s Divine Substance, the material of materialists etc. These explanations are purely speculative and have nothing to do with the reality itself. The chief mistake of the metaphysical stage consists in that the human tries to answer the question ‘What? What is the ground of reality or things which occur?’ but this question is unanswerable in principle.
When the human has realized this he comes to the third, the highest stage of the development of thinking, to the positive one. Here he gives up fruitless attempts of answering the question ‘what?’ and concentrates his efforts on looking for answering the question ‘How? In which way the processes of nature occur?’ The foundation for this stage thinking and outlook is the positive science which having rejected senseless searches of prime grounds is engaged in the research how phenomena happen (i. e. the positive science describes and doesn’t explain). On this the law of the fantasy’s subordination to observation steps into its full force. The task of philosophy on this stage is the coordination of different sciences’ results and approaches, the elaboration of scientific language etc. The positive science remains the foundation in any case. The latter, however, doesn’t mean the rejecting of religion because in real the science and religion don’t intersect with each other [1, p. 200 – 201].
This statement got the further development in works of the English philosopher-positivist H. Spencer. In general Spencer’s philosophy is a combination of the positivistic and evolutionist views. The common base of it is the teaching of knowable and unknowable. The knowable is how some or other processes occur but their prime cause or source remains unknowable. Thus, physics, for example, reduces all processes’ explanations to different forces’ activity but what the force as itself is stays beyond the physics boundary and belongs to the sphere of the unknowable. In the same way to the unknowable belong such problems as what the Universe on the whole is, what the prime cause of it is, what consciousness and life are etc. This all is beyond the sphere of science and, therefore, the true science and true religion do not contradict each other because both recognize the existence of the unknowable, where they adjust supplementing each other.
Spencer was famous also by his attempts to generalize and summarize his time knowledge. Having adopted the theory of evolution he in his main work “The Synthetic Philosophy” (the complete variant of which consists of 11 volumes) brought the systemized sum of his time scientific ideas based on the conception of general evolution. The common philosophic foundation was the above teaching of the knowable and unknowable. Further the different stages of evolution beginning from the evolution of the dead matter to the emergence and development of life and human society were regarded. The knowable is how some or other concrete processes on these stages occur, the unknowable is the transition from stage to stage and connected with its new qualities emergence [1, p. 202 – 203].