The Pragmatic Case for Positivism, 12/31
Why would anyone find the verification criterion plausible? In general, the positivist writers just dogmatically asserted it, then started deducing consequences from it.
Huemer pokes holes in positivism, which is easy to do. But if there is a philosophy that is free of holes, I don’t know what it is.
I think that positivism, whatever its flaws, has pragmatic uses. Positivism, as I understand it, is intended to enforce rigor in thought and in expressions of thought.
The verification criteria is that your statements should be testable in some way. “God exists” is not testable. The gas laws are testable. Positivists want to stamp out non-testable statements as meaningless. Maybe that goes too far.
But when you encounter a statement, such as “racial disparities are caused by systemic racism,” it is very worthwhile, in my opinion, to apply positivist criteria to evaluate it. Ask what hypothetical conditions could possibly make it false. If the way that it is used makes that statement non-testable, then I feel entitled to treat it as posturing by someone who has a closed mind.
As an absolutist philosophy, positivism fails. But if you want people to be good at critical thinking and you want them to be able to distinguish proper forms of argument from manipulative rhetoric, then teach them the principles of positivism.
Positivism is best for assessing positivist claims.
As a first step, it helps just to ask someone whether they are making a claim in positive way - something that is testable and could be proven right or wrong by logic and evidence - or not. If you ask someone about God, they will sometimes answer, "No, it is a matter of faith, I can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of an open-minded skeptic."
If you ask someone about "systemic racism" they will always answer yes, like it's an established scientific fact and objectively true, but they're wrong about that.
So, when someone chooses to insist that they are making a positive claim, it's fair to hold that claim to full positivist standards and insist on strict rigor, the strongest evidence, and the highest burdens of proof to overcome a presumption of the null hypothesis.
Great post. In Its simplified form it’s just the “no bullshit rule.” Of course, in a world where the no “bullshit rule” applies, no one would listen to mainstream media or the politicians. We would all be looked on as individuals living in meritocratic society. We would trust our institutions. But that would be utopia and we’re a long way from there.