Since most people have a good sense of what skepticism means, let me start with positivism. This term does not imply particular optimism versus pessimism or realism. Instead, it speaks to a philosophical foundation based in empirical knowledge. In other words, it’s a world view shaped by evidence-based reasoning. In many ways, it is the polar opposite of a world view based on intuition or revelation.
So what does this mean in practical terms? Well, for me positivism underlies my personal belief and value systems. It is the basis of my political, religious, philosophical, and scientific approaches to life. Again, it is not about optimism. In fact, it is very possible to be a pessimistic positivist, although I would argue that descriptor does not fit me either.
Let me give you some examples to help clarify this further…
As a scientist, I am an empiricist, driven and influenced by the pursuit of truth through evidence-based inquiry. In action, this means I approach questions with the goal to disprove through the accumulation of observed evidence for or against a particular idea, hypothesis, or theory.
As a blogger and organizational psychology practitioner, my understanding of organizations and leadership and my beliefs about these topics are based not in popular trends, but rather in understanding and pursuing truth through data-driven, empirical means. It’s the way I approach my work, my clients, and my research. Data-driven. Data-driven. Data-driven.
And quite honestly, skepticism dovetails perfectly with positivism, as it is through questioning of everything that we derive the questions that drive the data-driven inquiry to land on real solutions, explanations, and move ever closer to “true” understanding (an ideal that can never be fully realized, but that remains the ultimate goal).
Quite literally, then, a skeptical positivist is someone who both adopts a broadly questioning attitude that drives an inner seeking of evidence-based explanations. And we’re talking observable evidence, not mere speculation or subjective intuition. There is a place for these in society, mind you. And it’s not to place judgment on more intuitive conclusions and perspectives. Rather, skeptical positivism merely informs the way in which I view the world around me, whether personally, professionally, intellectually, or spiritually. It’s who I am, and it’s what I do.
Does that help? 🙂