Re: functional positivism?

Harry Oxley (
Thu, 12 Oct 1995 15:43:14 +1000

Dear Devi,
I tried to send this before but now find it come back as 'failed
mail'. So I'll try again, with the probably result of everybody's getting
it twice. Aint technology wonderful.
You say "The point I'm making is that positivism according to Comte
is about always being able to decide whether you're right or wrong provided
the evidence is there; whereas constructivism is about deliberately
eschewing that position; which to the constructivist must include the
possibility that the positivists are right; but if so, then the
constructivist position is untenable."
I don't know whether I am a 'constuctivist' within the proper
meaning of the Act, but I myself would from early youth have denied the
possibility of "the evidence" as a positivist would see it ever BEING
there. So I can accept positivism as a charming little abstract ideal but
not as anything at all solid enough to trip over in the dark.
My trouble is that I'm never sure (a) whether fun little
discussions like this are ever intended to be taken seriously and/or (b)
whether they are merely weaving a gossamer web for an intellectual game
under rules that one must try to escape without breaking a single fragile
strand. That's the trouble with only being an ockerish sort of bloke -
gauche, like. But - - -
It's like that old 'paradox' of the bloke pursued by an arrow, and
how it could never hit him since by the time it had got to where he'd last
been he'd have moved on. Sure thing - if we limit the distance to one
infinitessimally shorter than the arrow needs to hit him, then it can't hit
him. Wow!
Or indeed like the Cretan saying "all Cretans are liars". A great
paradox in a world where people must be deemed to be either absolutely
truthful or absolutely untruthful. It may be amusing to think of what a
real-world sentence would mean in a totally different world specially
defined to make it nonsensical, but not something to worry about much.
We can do it in maths: Let x = 2 and let y = 2. Then x-sqd = xy.
Then, deducting equally from both sides, x sqd - y sqd = xy - y sqd. Then
factorising according to the best highschool maths, (x+y)(x-y) = y(x-y).
Then dividing both sides by (x-y), x+y = y. Which shows that two plus two
doesn't make four after all - it makes another two. A load of nonsense
accomplished by a procedure that looks good if one takes the highschool
maths at face value in an absence of content but isn't good at all.
This positivism/constructivism 'paradox' surely has to be ( as I
myself certainly interpret it) of that sort. It requires for life AS a
paradox that we see the world in a way that seems so unlikely as to need us
to boldly go where no man has ever gone before without dying laughing!
Harry Oxley
Harry Oxley