Evaldas Nekrašas, The Positive Mind: Its Development and Impact on Modernity and Postmodernity (Budapest-New York: Central European University Press 2016) 382 pp. £41.00 Hb. ISBN: 978-963-386-081-6
In this insightful book, the author sets out to re-evaluate what society often regards as a passé theory in philosophy. The Positive Mind: Its Development and Impact on Modernity and Postmodernity is a radical re-evaluation of positivism, emphasizing that – as a pioneering and influential movement in philosophy, science and culture – it has not only survived, but thrives to date. Nekrašas argues that although positivism may no longer be treated as a distinct current of philosophy, it nonetheless continues to have a profound influence on modern and postmodern developments, and in this respect, The Positive Mind attempts to make a comprehensive theoretical contribution to the study of comparative philosophy. To begin with, the author looks at the theory of positivism from within, later on approaching it from external, ie interdisciplinary, perspectives. Nekrašas reviews the period from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, and he demonstrates key stages that positivism as a movement went through, including several paradigm shifts. He takes up the challenge of responding to questions related to the meaning of such concepts as the positive mind or positivist philosophy, and he also investigates the history, significance, ventures, achievements, legacy as well as the failures of positivism.
The Positive Mind is divided into six chapters, each containing several subheadings for easier comprehension. Nekrašas outlines his objectives in six main points, as follows. First, he aims to define the notion of positivism more precisely and systematically. Second, he sets out to introduce positivism as a trend of thought concerned not only with the theory of knowledge and philosophy of science, but also with problems of ethics and political philosophy. Third, he analyses the development of positivism as a movement, explaining that it was born in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment, and that it took the form of social positivism in the nineteenth century, whilst the emergence of empiriocriticism transformed it at the turn of the twentieth century, and it became logical positivism later on in the same century. Fourth, he explores the external factors underlying this evolution and its internal logic. Fifth, he analyses how positivism is related to other trends of philosophy including Marxism, pragmatism, critical rationalism, analytical philosophy and the historical school of philosophy of science (at the same time he points out that Nietzsche and Heidegger, for example, were harshly critical of positivism). Sixth, he illustrates the impact the notion of the positive mind had on other cultural phenomena including natural and social sciences, law, politics, arts, religion and everyday life.
The first and perhaps most essential concern explored by Nekrašas is that positivism is profoundly difficult to define. The Positive Mind makes a clear statement early on that - in order to understand what positivism entails - the reader must stay focused until the end of this study as detailed answer will become apparent only after reading the entire book. Nonetheless, from the author's brief summary at the beginning, we are made aware that positivism is a philosophical theory stating that positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena only. In line with this founding principle, only that type of information can be considered authoritative knowledge, which has a rational and logical foundation, which can be supported by clear evidence, and which stems from sensory experience. Positivism holds that valid knowledge (in other words, truth) is found only in this type of knowledge, true data (in other words, facts) derive from the senses, therefore positivism is based on empiricism. Positivism also maintains that society operates in accordance with basic general laws, resembling how the physical world works. Correspondingly, all forms of contemplative and innate knowledge are rejected, as are metaphysics, theology and similarly conceptual critical branches of philosophy. Positivism essentially claims that only the empirical world is accessible to us, and it refuses to accept the validity of all abstract theories with no basis in reality which imply that we may know more.
The text of The Positive Mind is particularly helpful in its articulate, well-structured analysis of concepts (specifically those in twentieth-century positivism) which are often difficult to understand for those not deeply immersed in the discipline of philosophy. The language varies from complex sentences conveying sophisticated ideas and intellectual debates to a more everyday level of discussion, rendering the author's explanations and the general narrative all the more readable. Accordingly, the book proves to be a compellingly written survey of the positivist movement and its impact on Western culture.
In addition to the careful organisation of the core text, including the meticulous structuring of chapters and their subheadings, the book contains all necessary auxiliary materials such as References and Index. The outlook of the publication suits and properly reflects its content: the cover image – containing colourful squares – translates the text into a vision. The colours and objects may not be directly associated with the themes and arguments of the book itself, but their arrangement and variety, as symbolic imagery deliberately utilised here, suggests the complex yet straightforwardly objective world that positivist methods and analyses focus on.
The Positive Mind: Its Development and Impact on Modernity and Postmodernity is a highly recommended read for those who wish to understand the history of positivism as a prominent branch of philosophy, the powerful role of the positive mind in different walks of human life, the operation of contemporary societies as well as that of the cultures of previous centuries, our scientific and technological achievements, our increasing skepticism about religion and the importance of the Church, coupled with our ongoing dependence on authoritative powers prescribing grand standard-setting ideas.
Teodora Domotor, University of Surrey