What is Positivism

The Positivism is a philosophical movement that originated in France in the early nineteenth century.

She defends the idea that scientific knowledge would be the only form of true knowledge.

From this knowledge, one can explain practical things such as the laws of physics, social relations and ethics.

In positivism, two orientations are remarkable:

  • the scientific orientation, which seeks to effect a division of the sciences;
  • psychological orientation, a theoretical line of sociology, which investigates all verifiable human nature.

The positivist current promotes the cult of science, the human world, and materialism to the detriment of metaphysics and the spiritual world.

History of Positivism

The term positivism was first used as a concept to designate scientism as a method by the French philosopher Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Count de Saint-Simon (1760-1825).

However, it will be Auguste Comte (1798-1857), his disciple, who will appropriate the term to name his philosophical current.

History of Positivism

Auguste Comte, creator of Positivism

His fundamental work, the “Course of Positive Philosophy“, written between 1830 and 1842, is the positivist methodological treatise.

It is worth noting that Comte lived in the context of the end of the Enlightenment and the rise of scientism, in which there is a belief that the power of the intellect can do everything.

However, since he died a few years before Darwin published “ The Origin of Species ” (1859) and Marx wrote “ Capital ” (1867-1894), he was not influenced by the ideas of these authors.

Positivism Characteristics

As a philosophical, sociological and political doctrine, positivism has mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology and also sociology as scientific models. This is because they stand out according to their cumulative and transcultural values.

On the other hand, we can say that positivism is the “romanticization of science”. He places his faith in the omnipotence of reason, despite establishing human values ​​as diametrically opposed to those of theology and metaphysics

It is also a totally scientific classification of knowledge and human ethics, where introspection is suspected as a means of achieving knowledge.

Thus, there is no objectivity in the information obtained, as in the unobservable phenomena. These would be inaccessible to science since it is only based on theories proven by valid scientific methods.

Thus, sensitive experience would be the only one to produce concrete (positive) data from the physical or material world.

The basic positivist methodology is the observation of phenomena . From it, observation is privileged over the imagination of facts, completely disregarding all knowledge that cannot be scientifically proven.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the key idea of ​​Comtian Positivism is the “Three State Law”, namely:

  • the theological , where the human being seeks explanation for reality through supernatural entities;
  • the Metaphysical , of which the gods are replaced by abstract entities, such as “the Ether,” to explain reality;
  • The Positive of humanity, where one does not explain the “why” of things, but the “how”, from the mastery over the laws of cause and effect.

Positivism as a Religion

With the work “ System of Positive Politics ” (1851-1854), Auguste Comte created the Religion of Humanity, or the positive religion. It has the following guidelines:

” Love by principle and Order by base; Progress by end .”

Positivism as a Religion

Positivist Chapel in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul

In this way, it seeks to “live in the open” and “live for others”, where altruism is the watchword.

To this end, spiritual unity is established by science, the religion of humanity, the only one capable of social and moral regeneration.

This religion also has a “Supreme Being.” He would be the “Personified Humanity” and his strength emanates from the set of converging intelligences of all generations, past, present and future, which will perfect the human race.

It is curious to note that the positivist religion also used symbols, signs, banners, liturgical robes, days of saints (great human types), sacraments and civic commemorations with their own calendar. The positivist calendar is lunar-based and at 13 months of 28 days.

Positivism in Brazil

This philosophical current spread throughout Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Already in Brazil, it will arrive only in the twentieth century, when the ideas of Comte will be propagated by thinkers:

  • Miguel Lemos (1854-1917)
  • Teixeira Mendes (1855-1927)
  • Benjamin Constant (1836-1891)
  • Deodoro da Fonseca (1827-1892)
  • Floriano Peixoto (1839 -1895)
  • Tobias Barreto (1839-1889)
  • Silvio Romero (1859-1914)


  • There are currents of other disciplines that call themselves “positivists” unrelated to Comte’s positivism.
  • Positivism is a radical reaction to German Idealist Transcendentalism and Romanticism.
  • Auguste Comte was the creator of the word “altruism” to summarize the ideal of his New Religion.
  • The terms “ Order and Progress ” on the Brazilian flag are positivistically inspired.
  • The forerunners of positivism in France were Mostesquieu (1689-1755) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).
  • Comte’s theories were criticized by the Marxist sociological and philosophical tradition, especially by the Frankfurt School.

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