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In the humanities and social sciences, the term positive (occasionally positivist) is used in at least two ways.

The most common usage refers to analysis or theories which only attempt to describe how things 'are', as opposed to how they 'should' be. In this sense, the opposite of positive is normative. An example would be positive, as opposed to normative, economic analysis. Positive statements are also often referred to as descriptive statements.

The term positive lies at the heart of one of the major epistemological debates in the humanities and social sciences. Positivists (in the humanities and social sciences) on the one hand, advocate a 'value-free' approach to the study of humanity that shares much in common with methods employed in the natural sciences. Positivists seek only to make objective descriptions of humanity and society without making normative judgments. In contrast, non-positivists reject the notion that the methods of the natural sciences are adequate in explaining and describing humanity and society - this is primarily because of the 'meanings' that humans attach to their actions. They believe that it is not possible to be completely value-free in their study, as a person cannot stand totally removed from their place within space and history. Humanistic Sociology is an example of a post-positive approach to social science.

Another sense of the word positive is used to describe things which are defined by construction, as opposed to things which are defined "negatively", by the absence of something else. Examples are negative and positive rights, or negative and positive liberty.

See also


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