If Positivism is the chief source of the twentieth century’s most powerful secular religions it is partly through its impact on the social sciences. For Positivists, modernity is the transformation of the world by the use of scientific knowledge. For Comte, the science in question was sociology—of a highly speculative sort. For ideologues of the free market, it is economics—a no less speculative discipline. But whatever the science, its conclusions are supposed to apply everywhere.

In Positivist methodology, social science is no different from natural science. The model for both is mathematics. Nothing can be known unless it can be quantified. Applying this view, Comte invented sociology—a term he coined; but the idea that mathematics is the ideal form of human knowledge proved most powerful in economics, where it helped spawn the idea of a global free market.

Without realizing it—for few of them knew anything of the history of thought, least of all in their own subject—the majority of economists have inherited their way of thinking from the Positivists. …

The project of a unified science means that the social sciences are no different in their methods from the natural sciences. Both seek to discover natural laws. The only genuine knowledge is that which comes from scientific inquiry; and every science—including the social sciences—aspires to the generality and certainty of the laws of mathematics.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).