Positivism is a set of scientific philosophies that claim the proper method to arrive at truth or knowledge is through scientific processes. Developed in the 19th century by sociologist Auguste Comte, the primary concept is that science should replace metaphysics as the most effective and efficient method in the validation of knowledge. The idea that the scientific approach to reality involving repetition and observation would provide a more accurate conclusion was eventually implemented in other academic areas as sociological positivism, logical positivism and legal positivism.
Comte suggested that society proceeds through time in three phases: the theological, the metaphysical and the positive. During the theological stage of social progression mankind is predisposed to believe that God reigns supreme. In the metaphysical stage the primary concerns are addressed by rationality and reasoning. The combination of the two allows society to advance scientifically. In the positive stage, quantifiable scientific processes become the determining factor in actually understanding reality and truth.
There are five primary principles of positivism. The leading principle is that the scientific method is the most unified form of logical inquiry. The goal is to explain particular phenomena with an expectation to predict future conditions. Empirical scientific evidence is absolutely necessary to determine validity. Scientific knowledge can be tested and measured where argumentative common sense claims cannot. The final principle is that scientific knowledge should be provided free from political or social pressure.
Comte's principles of scientific explanation were implemented in sociology later in the 19th century as Emile Durkheim advanced the positivism approach to knowledge in explanation of human activity. Durkheim stated that his work was just the result of the school's rationalism as a research template. The same method of analysis would also be applied to disciplines of logic and law. Logical positivism accepts the principles of empirical evidence as being obviously valid but suggests that there is a component of what we "know" that is outside of the realm of tangibility.
Legal positivism has also been a general extension of the scientific process, especially in the area of natural law and rights. The use of knowledge in all court systems has adopted the general principles of positivism in application of laws and rights as well as developing legal cases among society. Rules of evidence admission are based on a more general approach but measurable evidence is used in various ways in the legal process. Legal and sociological positivism are interconnected in many respects.
Comte's concept of positivism has not been without its critics. Anti-positivists have claimed during the 20th century that the use of the scientific method is actually an innate ideological theory and merely uses empirical evidence in support of technocratic claims. The primary counter position is that metaphysics and materialism are two distinct philosophies that are validated under different principles.