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In philosophy, postpositivism is, as the prefix indicates, a metatheoretical stance following positivism. One of the main supporters of postpositivism was Sir Karl R. Popper. Others mentioned in connection with postpositivism are John Dewey and Nicholas Rescher. It is a stance that recognizes most of the criticisms that have been raised against traditional logical positivism and similar foundational epistemologies, but also a stance that is critical about what is seen as misconceptions about positivism itself. Thus, postpositivists believe that human knowledge is not based on unchallengeable, rock-solid foundations; it is conjectural. But they think we do have real grounds, or warrants, for asserting these beliefs or conjectures, although these warrents can be modified or withdrawn in the light of further investigation.
In the social sciences, postpositivism is used to refer to a group within political theory (mostly comprised of feminists and postmodernists) who do not believe it is possible to view life from an objective point of view. They also value language, speech, and culture when dealing with rational political decisions. It encompasses the group of political theorists who believe that theory both shapes reality and follows it. It is the opposite of sociological positivism.
The postpositivist paradigm emerged as a respose to the debunking of positivism at the end of World War II. The main tenets of postpositivism (and where it differs from positivism) are that the knower and known cannot be separated and the absence of a shared, single reality. Therefore, postpositivism attempts to reconcile the main criticisms made of positivism.
The development and advocacy of alternative paradigms, such as postpositivism, pragmatism and constructivism marked a period of great development in relativist theory. These paradigms have had significant influence in the social sciences over the past half century, broadening the spectrum of social inquiry.
- D.C. Philips & Nicholas C. Burbules (2000): Postpositivism and Educational Research. Lanham & Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
- John H. Zammito (2004): A Nice Derangement of Epistemes. Post-positivism in the study of Science from Quine to Latour. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.
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