Laruelle, Latour, Empiricism, Positivism

On the question of the relation between “empiricism” and “positivism”, in the context of the philosophy of science I tend to use them to refer to an epistemology that separates theory from observation, that claims meaning and or testability of theories derives from non-conceptual observations. In this I follow my old teacher in the philosphy of science, Alan Chalmers:

“Two schools of thought that involve attempts to formalise what I have called a common view of science, that scientific knowledge is derived from the facts, are the empiricists and the positivists… Empiricism and positivism share the common view that scientific knowledge should in some way be derived from the facts arrived at by observation” (Chalmers, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED SCIENCE?, 3).

I tend to treat empiricism as the more general term, and to associate positivism with the further assumption of scientism, i.e. that the sciences provide the model to which all cognitive claims must conform.

In this sense, empiricism and positivism are naive epistemologies that have been thoroughly refuted throughout 20th Century epistemology.

I also use “empiricism” in the rather vague sense of viewing knowledge as not just empty speculation but as necessarily corresponding to experience.

These two senses can lead to some confusion or apparent paradox. Latour calls his metaphysics empirical, and I claim it is not derived from empirical investigation but from philosophical speculation and autobiographical fidelities. Yet I accuse him of being “empiricist” in the negative sense in that many of his formulations suppose that we can just describe experience free from concepts and then apply more faithful concepts to the empirical material  than those that are in place now.

My concern with Kolozova’s formulations in her introduction to CUT OF THE REAL is that she wavers between a sophisticated set of “Laruellian” operations (decomposition, extraction, concretisation, and determination) and a naive empiricist version (observation, selection, hypothesis, verification).

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One Response to Laruelle, Latour, Empiricism, Positivism

  1. Hmm. Too bad for them that many scientists spend much of their time reading textbooks and journals. Helpfully there is a lab, but it doesn’t always work as intended:


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