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Positivismusstreit is the German word for debate about positivism and refers to a well known philosophical dispute between Critical rationalism (Karl Popper, Hans Albert) and the Frankfurt School (Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas) in 1961, about the methodology of the social sciences. It grew into a broad discussion within German sociology from 1961 to 1969.

The debate began in 1961 in Tübingen/Germany at the 'Tagung der deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie' (Conference of the German Society of Sociology). The speakers at the conference were invited to discuss the differences between social and natural sciences and the status of values in the social sciences.

In 1963, the debate was heated by Jürgen Habermas in the Festschrift für Adorno. The debate became more intensely critical at the 'Soziologentag' (conference on sociology) in Heidelberg when Herbert Marcuse joined the discussion. A spirited literary debate between Habermas and Hans Albert sprung up and positivism became the centre of the debate.

The participants also discussed the question of whether Popper's and Albert's critical rationalism had exacerbated ethical problems. The Frankfurt School believed this should be impossible, because as a theory of science critical rationalism is seen to be restricted to the field of knowledge.

The famous dispute inspired a collection of essays which were published in 1969. This book was translated into several languages, including English in 1976 (see below). This collection revived the debate and introduced these ideas to a broader audience.

See also


  • Adorno, Albert, Dahrendorf, Habermas, Pilot und Popper, The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, Heinemann London 1976 and Harper Torchbook 1976.
  • Dahms, H.-J., Positivismusstreit. Die Auseinandersetzungen der Frankfurter Schule mit dem logischen Positivismus, dem amerikanischen Pragmatismus und dem kritischen Rationalismus, Frankfurt a.M. (Suhrkamp) 1994.
  • Find further literature in the German "Study Guide to Hans Albert": [1]


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