The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Mull on That | Moral positivism and you

This column, entitled “Mull Over That,” (although grammatically incorrect since the article is “this article” and is right here, right before your eyeballs as opposed to over “there,” in the trash can) will function as your philosophical section of The Triangle. Whatever you thought made sense in the News section and what pleasured your ears in the Arts & Entertainment section, as you recited the paper aloud atop the concrete-based quadrangle, alone in the rain, will be drained and poisoned opposite the editorial section with non-sensible musings from dead, old men, who thought it’d be a good idea to try to understand the minds of Homo sapiens sapiens.

Consider this column your beach read or your Danielle Steel version of “On The Suffering of the World.” There will be no romance in these columns, but there will be plenty of Romantics and a great deal of “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings!”

This week, I mull over positivism. There are several subdivisions of positivism, all either relating back to its original theorems or interpreting them to fit into modern society. At its core, and in ultra-simple terms, positivism says that knowledge and truth can be discovered only through empirical evidence, or sensory experiences. Originally, and even still, it is applied to sociology, in which society and its actions can be based on a system of general laws.

Like the scientific method, positivism brings a methodology to understanding problems, and it ignores any speculation or metaphysical explanation of knowledge or truth. Positivism, somewhat ironically, claims that philosophy does not lead to true knowledge of the world and only through scientific explanation can knowledge be verified. Yet many philosophers have fought against this belief, and thus branches of positivism have developed to include some intuition in the extraction of knowledge from our own feelings and thoughts.

Certainly, positivism is good for quantifiable objects, as measuring the accuracy or “positivity” of something we hold as true is important in research and applied sciences, but in terms of sociology, it works for quantifiable data but is generally difficult to apply to qualitative data. Especially when we delve out of the realm of sensual experiences, like when we talk about time and space. Positivism of course has been an abused term over the years since Auguste Comte introduced it, but at its root, it can be applied to sciences in a mathematical sense, where a scientific theory’s postulates and predictions can be tested and verified.

Yet, in the case of reality, a lot of ideologies we hold would fail in the face of strict positivism, since a good chunk of our knowledge is still intuitive, and science has yet to yield total positivity on our unquantifiable beliefs.

So, which is a silly word to say when you have nothing left to say, next time at the lunch table when your fellow peers are discussing metaphysics or something philosophical, be the cool kid and mention the positivists, like Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim. You don’t even really have to describe anything you read here, just say the names and you’ll sound smart. Stay tuned for next time, when I try to reduce another philosophy to a beach read. Happy philosophizing!

Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at
“Mull On That” publishes biweekly.