Positivism explained including examples

Positivism - Toolshero

Positivism: In this article, you will understand the basic concepts of Positivism. The article begins with a general definition of this concept, followed by an explanation of the law of positivism. You will also find how this concept can be applied in many different settings, for example science, marketing and other business related disciplines. Enjoy reading!

What is Positivism? The definition

The term positivism refers to the idea of looking for facts without the influence of theories. Facts are collected by enumeration or experimentation and can be classified in ways that make them more comprehensible using simple processes or procedures (i.e., algorithms).

Positivism may also refer to an analytical approach based on strict logical empiricism (Vienna circle) involving taking measurements, counting items, and engaging in statistical analysis. It is used most often as a philosophical underpinning for scientific research.

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Legal positivism is a philosophy of law that emphasizes the conventional nature of law, not to be confused with natural law.

What is the law of Positivism?

Historical positivism is the label attached to the approach that informs the search for scientific laws by cataloging and analyzing facts without concern for their theoretical implications. This approach contrasts with what Karl Popper called “historicism”, in which the goal is not just to describe events but to show how they follow logically from one another according to some general law of history.

There are a lot of interesting sociology research topics that can change our life. The term positivism has been applied to many different fields including science, business, education, politics, law, medicine, psychology, sociology, economics, engineering, architecture, art, religion, etc.

It is important to note that there is no single form of positivist thought; rather, there are several schools of thought within this field. The following sections will discuss some of these schools of thought.

What is Logical Positivism?

This school of thought was developed by Bertrand Russell and Alfred Whitehead in England during the early 20th century. Logical positivists believe that all statements must have two parts:

  1. A statement about reality
  2. An assertion about how we know what we say is true

For example, “All men are mortal” would be considered false because it does not include any information about reality. However, “I am mortal” would be accepted since it includes both a statement about reality and our ability to recognize its validity.

In order to determine whether a statement is valid, logical positivists use three criteria:

  1. Is the statement self-evident? Self-evidence means that the statement makes sense when taken out of context. For instance, “A triangle has 3 sides” seems like common sense but actually requires proof. In contrast, “If 2+24=26, then I am God” is self evident.
  2. Does the statement follow logically from other known truths? To do so, one needs to understand the rules of logic. These rules state that every proposition should contain only 1 subject and 1 predicate. That is, “Socrates is wise” contains Socrates and wisdom while “Wisdom is good” contains wisdom and goodness.
  3. Can the statement be proven through observation? Observations are things that take place in real life. They involve measuring, observing, recording, classifying, and analyzing data. Examples of observations could be seeing someone walk into a room, hearing a sound, tasting food, smelling smoke, feeling pain, etc.

Positivism in corporate environments

A positivist approach in business management has been defined as one “that attempts to explain phenomena by stating generalized empirical regularities, without concern for their explanatory power or even the ultimate meaning of such statements.”

This is often associated with approaches such as Six Sigma and marketing, where it is said that simple procedures exist that will solve production problems and marketing issues (of various levels of complexity). Many companies now operate as if demands for higher quality products at lower prices come not from customers, but through “research” done in-house.

Positivism, similar to the scientific method, involves looking for factual explanations about things and events without resorting to hearsay or opinions.

Positivism is based on the idea that something can be measured objectively by observing phenomena caused by physical effects.

According to positivists, objects of study are things that can be directly observed or at least physically represented.

Examples of phenomena include anything observable, either currently or potentially through some technological device.

The scope of positivist research includes all related fields which strive for objectivity and empiricism, including hard sciences such as physics, chemistry, neuroscience, psychology, etc., but also softer sciences like sociology.

How to implement the positivism principles in a business?

Positivism is a set of rules or guidelines that dictates how a company should be run. The positivist approach to management states that the ultimate goal of a business is to please its customers. For this to happen, it’s necessary to design products and services under the expectations of those customers.

To achieve this end, business managers and designers need to understand and anticipate what people want and need. That means studying individual consumers and groups of them; then designing products and services that fulfill their needs; then watching closely for trends in consumer demand.

This kind of marketing management is also known as customer-driven marketing.

A company that wants to implement this kind of management needs first and foremost employees who are willing to contribute their ideas. They also need to be creative, imaginative, and willing to try the unconventional.

Generally speaking, an ideal person for this line of work is someone who has experience in marketing research; someone who knows what methods can best suit specific kinds of business; someone with excellent communication skills; and most importantly, someone who does not think like a businessman or like any other type of manager because management based on positivism requires an open mind.

The positivist approach in marketing research

The positivist approach in marketing research is based on the idea that facts do not lie. Quantitative results of a market research campaign are what they are and provide information about specific groups and their preferences and behavior patterns.

However, for this information to be useful, it has to be treated with some amount of subjectivity.

Market researchers use statistical analysis to remove as much bias from the results as possible; then they determine how certain factors like demographics affect the choices that consumers make when it comes to products or services.

The aim of using such an approach is not necessarily finding correlations between different variables, but eliminating them so that it would become easier for marketers to design products people want.

Positivism suggests that every business should study its customers and design products that would satisfy their needs. To do this, it’s necessary not only to understand customer behavior patterns but also to predict how those patterns might change in the future as a result of changes in economic conditions, lifestyle, culture, etc.

Positivism is very helpful for businesses because it’s based on research done by customers themselves. It enables marketers to create a bigger picture of consumer demand and react quickly to changing trends.

Researchers who work under the positivist approach strive for objectivity and impartiality. They do not base their opinions on hearsay or “hunches” about what works best for a business — they use only facts that have been measured objectively through market surveys and interviews with consumers.

Positivism in social sciences

Scientific research in the social sciences is based on the idea that there are patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion that governs the way people act. The positivism principle says that these patterns of behavior can be measured and studied.

Positivist thought is nothing new, but it has gained more popularity in recent years. It can be applied to different fields like anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, etc.; although it’s used most often in experimental sciences.

The idea behind positivist research is very simple: if you want to make some argument about something – design an experiment or carry out a survey; then collect quantitative data; analyze this information using statistical methods; generate conclusions based on the results of this analysis; use statistics again to eliminate as much bias from your findings as possible; then present your results knowing that they are reliable because they are based on facts.

Quantitative research is seen as the most objective, empirical research method because it allows you to measure things that are often hard to quantify in any other way. It uses statistical analysis to provide marketers with the information they can use when designing products or coming up with marketing campaigns.

Political positivism

Positivism is often criticized because it has become closely associated with 19th century and early 20th-century political thought. This type of positivism was known as Comtean positivism, named after the French philosopher Auguste Comte.

Comtean positivists believe that society progresses through three stages: theological, metaphysical, and positive. The theological stage is when people believe in God or gods who determine their destiny; the metaphysical stage is when they begin to abandon these beliefs and think about society in abstract terms; and finally, at the positive stage, humans recognize themselves as part of nature and recognize social laws like cause and effect.

Of course, this ignores other important factors like technological advances and changes in economic conditions that would affect what is considered progress at any given time.

In the social sciences, positivism is often criticized for its tendency to assume that science can provide a kind of objective truth that can’t be questioned. It suggests that scientists should be able to make value-free observations about the world and then draw conclusions based on those observations.

However, some critics say this idea is misguided because everything a scientist observes is influenced by personal experience, education, culture, and the society they live in. These factors (and many others) may affect how somebody chooses to interpret their research findings.

A few examples of other criticisms include:

  • Positivist researchers tend to put too much emphasis on quantification
  • They ignore important intangible aspects like culture
  • They neglect the importance of personal bias in research
  • Their work can be used to support any argument because they focus on statistical abstractions rather than real-world considerations

Positivism versus interpretivism

Other critics point out that positivists ignore aspects like culture and behavior patterns when it comes to their research methods. They say this isn’t good enough for objectively studying these things. Interpretivism, however, believes that all knowledge is constructed by people.

They suggest that researchers should acknowledge the subjective nature of their work and how society influences what is studied.

Researchers should be willing to look at other viewpoints (instead of just looking for quantitative evidence). This allows them to explore different interpretations of data and facilitate a better understanding of human behavior.

As described in Miller (1972), “in the social sciences, positivists believe that social sciences should be scientific by emulating natural sciences to study society. In contrast, the interpretive approach argues that the application of scientific methods is not suitable for studying social phenomena because their studies investigate human thoughts and beliefs.”

In other words, it’s possible to take different approaches when researching people.

You can choose to view them as complex individuals who are influenced by different factors, or you can try to reduce them into simple statistics without any consideration for what these statistical abstractions may represent in real life.

Positivism versus post-positivism

In recent years, there’s been a lot of debate about how useful positivism is when trying to understand social phenomena. Some people say that it’s time to move beyond the old positivist/post-positivist dichotomy.

They suggest that we should find a new way of thinking about the social sciences, so they don’t have to rely on statistics and quantitative research methods. We can explore other ways of describing these concepts using different models, stories, and other types of narratives.

The problem with people defending positivism is that they’re not being scientific. Science isn’t just about replicating observations from other studies by using different forms of data; it also involves questioning ideas through empirical testing. Here are some examples:

  • If we were trying to study how people in different cultures behave in certain situations, positivists might try to reduce these concepts into numbers and statistics
  • Post-positivists would encourage us to look at each culture individually and consider the context of this behavior
  • A critical theorist would suggest that we should question what society tells us about our moral values. They may say something like, “if somebody decided to write a research paper using data compiled by the Catholic Church, they are ignoring the fact that it is not an objective source”.

Steps to implement Positivism in businesses

There are some simple statements to understand and implement Positivism in your business:

  • Questions are framed in a way that does not allow answering them with any subjective responses. An example would be, “what is the main KPI for your job?”, instead of asking someone what they think the main KPI for their job should be.
  • Only one person is responsible for designing the questionnaire, analyzing the results, and interpreting everything before sharing their conclusions with other people.
  • The researcher has little or no contact with participants during the research process. This means they must rely on secondary sources when gathering data. They might read articles written by experts in the field instead of asking people directly what they know or think. It also means that they avoid doing things like focus groups where different opinions converge to create data.
  • Researchers try their best not to be influenced by their own cultural biases when they design research studies. They don’t want anything outside of the data itself to interfere with their perception.
  • Researchers try not to make any subjective assumptions when interpreting results or concluding.
  • There must be a clear distinction between facts and values in the interpretation of every result.
  • The researcher’s goal is maximizing objectivity. Instead of focusing on what they think is true (their truth), they try to find out what is true (objective truth).


The use of Positivism has influenced business theories by making them more scientific and objective oriented providing concepts that have allowed managers today to better comprehend the phenomena that happen within their work environment.

This is because these theories enable organizations to understand causalities between what happens in the organization and the performance of individuals which ultimately leads to certain group behaviours.

It has also improved designs for psychological experiments making them easier to conduct, especially in controlled environments (i.e., laboratories).

Positivism has enabled managers today to make more accurate decisions about future plans depending on past results allowing them not only to eliminate risky strategies but also customizing solutions depending on the context of each business.

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you understand the explanation of positivism? If you have any questions or want to provide feedback about this article, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

More information

  1. Miller, E. F. (1972). Positivism, historicism, and political inquiry. American Political Science Review, 66(3), 796-817.
  2. Halfpenny, P. (2014). Positivism and sociology (RLE Social Theory): Explaining social life. Routledge.
  3. Clark, Alexander M. (1988). The qualitative‐quantitative debate: moving from positivism and confrontation to post‐positivism and reconciliation. Journal of advanced nursing 27.6 (1998): 1242-1249.
  4. Comte, A. (1975). Auguste Comte and positivism: The essential writings. Transaction Publishers.

How to cite this article:
Ospina Avendano, D. (2021). Positivism. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/sociology/positivism/

Original publication date: 11/16/2021 | Last update: 01/19/2024

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Daniela Avendaño
Article by:

Daniela Avendaño

Daniela Avendaño is a content producer and translator at toolshero. She obtained a Bachelor in Communications & Journalism, and with her theoretical and practical knowledge she supports the toolshero production team with interesting articles on management, personal & professional development, marketing and more. She is driven by sharing knowledge and stimulating others to develop.

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