Positivism, arguments, and answers

Let’s divide questions into two classes.  Those that can be studied using statistics and those that cannot.

When I say can be studied by statistics I mean three things as taken from Langley’s Practical Statistics.

1) Defining a problem or what is to be sought,
2) Choosing a method in which the answer may be found,
3) Interpreting the meaning of the results.

Let’s distinguish between two kinds of positivism: strong positivism where one believes that all that can be studied is through statistics and scientific method, and mild positivism where one cares more about studying questions that can be answered through statistics and scientific method, and does not care much about those questions that can’t be studied thus even though one feels they are still important questions worthy of reflection on their answers.  What I’m talking about is two kinds of positivist temperament.

I would categorize myself these days as a mild positivist if I am a positivist.  Distinguishing inductively between the probable and the improbable satisfies me more than contemplating questions that, although rigorously argued philosophically, cannot be put to statistical scrutiny.

Too bad questions are not as easily categorized as I’ve laid it out.  Take condoms for instance.  I take it as scientifically shown that using condoms reduces the number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases.  Those that enjoin people not to use condoms are relegated to justifiying their position by saying using a condom is a sin or some other moral or religious injunction.  However, one might consider that reducing sexually transmitted diseases carries more moral weight than a religious injunction that increases the chances of getting sexually transmitted diseases.  The moral question remains despite the scientific evidence.

One should be honest when arguing metaphysical or moral points of view.  One should declare how one is answering questions.  One should not try to subvert scientific evidence with pseudo-scientific arguments to the contrary intended to obfuscate an issue.  Those last statements are again moral injuctions of a sort, but I would think that we would have all reached a point where we agree with them.

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Published in: on June 28, 2009 at 10:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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