Positivist, post-positivist theory and critical realism in future studies

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From the book: Future Studies and Philosophy of Science

Wendell Bell

Change is accelerating, and industrial society in its traditional form is collapsing. This eliminates the existence of that solid ground and “rooted the problem in the cognitive field.” It makes us need to know the logic behind our future findings, the rational thinking processes, and the objective evidence on which they are based. Logic in and of itself is not subject to critical examination. If the perceptual basis for future outcomes disappears, we will not be able to choose between conflicting outcomes. If we seek to assess the validity of any outcome, we must critically examine the underlying assumptions and the empirical, theoretical and logical foundations that support them. And, most importantly, the nature of the tests it failed to refute.

The methodologies – specific research tools and methods – in future studies are more sophisticated than the cognitive aspect.

Science and art:

Futuristic studies are mainly art, or “an art form based on science.” Scientific activity involves making a number of epistemic claims and striving to find the objective reasons for them. Science requires us to delve deeply into what things are. Science is automatic, robust and high-tech, rational and inhuman, an empirical method of steps entirely abstract, limited by the thinking of petrified, linear positivism philosophy.

While “art” includes skill and ability, it deals with aesthetics. Art is based on intuition, creativity, imagination, insight, and spiritual understanding, and requires exceptional talent and capabilities.

But it is certain that art and science share many characteristics. Art is affected by science, and vice versa, in its activities, materials, materials, tools, and even its subjects. Artists use the tools and application of scientific principles to solve the technical problems they face. Science and art can be learned and practiced through training and conscious thinking. The achievement of every great scientific work depends on genius, perseverance, skill, intuition, and creativity – that is, on art.


The difference between science and art is that art is often an illusion, a deliberate distortion of reality and perhaps a denial of it. It contains expressionism, art is not required to express the truth, and the artist is not obligated to tell you the truth.

On the contrary, scientists are obliged to tell facts, for truth is the essence of a scientific project. The spirit of science is the world’s commitment to scientific characteristics such as intellectual honesty, integrity, organized form, non-personalization, and lack of “objective” interest. The discovery and confirmation of the truth is the central principle of scientific work.

Scientific work requires honest and valid definitions of the lived reality, and honest and valid knowledge of causes and effects. It requires trying to fulfill all the knowledge required for the studies. The scientific conclusions are critically testable. Also, science fiction and utopian writings are an important source of imaginative ideas that contribute to enriching scientific research.

But .. is the future not real? It may be because it does not exist now. However, this does not mean that future studies are not science. We do not study it directly, but indirectly, through the study of real elements and real phenomena that affect it. The present and the past do exist, and their study helps to test our findings about the available, potential and even preferred future. Thus, it is instrumental in transforming a hypothetical future into an actual reality.

Basing reality on the future:

Phenomena to be studied in future include:

1- The current picture of the future and the expectation regarding it “beliefs” and the description of the possible.

2- The beliefs of “expert” individuals about the most likely future. Delphi Studies.

3- Individuals’ goals, values ​​and behaviors. “Preferences” or desired receptors.

4- Intentions to act, what it plans to do, directions, and future plans for the institutions.

5- Commitments and promises.

6- Knowledge of the past: (traditions, trend analysis, formulation of interpretations in the form of a prediction in a conditional form, historical analogy, previous image of the future).

7- Knowing the present.

The “present” is a way to explore the future as it contributes to “designing perspective” with regard to individual intentions. It also defines the “current possibilities for the future” as a reality that includes the absorptive capacities of individuals and society as a whole for change and development. So, the present can be studied scientifically.


Science is intuition :

Many scientific judgments cognitively do not differ from many assertions about the future made by the futurists, they seek the truth, and their approaches are error-prone and subject to modification. Scientific theories themselves are intuitive, and assumptions may go beyond simple, coherent descriptions of the empirical details of unexplained reality.

The importance of counterfactual study is due to its ability to measure the extent of the impact of a variable on the phenomenon, and what would be the evolution of the phenomenon without the influence of this variable “if the railways had not been established in America on the economy?” Here is an analysis based on speculation and intuition based on the “what if?” Assumption.

In all cases, future rules that contain inferences based on past and present facts can be practically tested. Thus, future studies are a science that seeks facts, and its assertions are partly based on intuition and predictions, but have rules of rational and objective reasoning. The methodology of science is ” rationality that establishes the acceptance or rejection of its assumptions and theories .”


Future studies scientific / applicable science:

Conscious human action and decision is a means of controlling the human future. And when we speak of “practical science,” it means “a perception of the human being as a problem of human action .” Which of its characteristics is as a “theory of human action”: 1- Presenting unconfirmed empirical proposals organized in the form of a theory. 2- Presenting knowledge used by individuals. 3- Providing alternatives to the status quo. All are defined by values ​​chosen by the actors.

Future studies is a transdisciplinary social science: it is diverse in the diversity of the lived worlds, and takes into account the complex interconnectedness of the world, and attracts interpretations from any field of knowledge that can be relied upon in explaining the phenomenon. And someone who sees the bigger picture and can relate the different things, see the whole, not some of the parts, is urgently needed. Futuristic studies are a broad, unifying social science for disciplines, requiring the rearrangement of knowledge in a specially designed complex and comprehensive packages that apply historical situations for planning purposes.

From Bardem to the Matrix Transdisciplinary:

Bardem gives the meaning of an example, a pattern or a model, a way of seeing, a frame of review, a notation system, a knowledge map. The multiplicity of meanings can be divided into three sections: “Bardem metaphysical, social Bardem, and Bardem the originator”. However, the term “matrix of disciplines” refers to the cognitive and common “set of obligations” that pertain to its owners who are practitioners of a scientific field, which is what is meant by the name “paradimat”. Key components of this matrix include: “common symbolic generalizations of a scientific community, shared schemes, shared values, shared ideals”.

Elements of the Transdisciplinary Matrix for Future Studies:

1- A view that implies changing the past and possibilities of disagreeing with the future from the present.

2- A belief that future thinking can increase the efficiency of humanitarian work.

3- A belief in using knowledge in policy formation and implementation.

4- A personal identity card for future studies.

5- A set of common assumptions.

6- Common goals

7- Common ideals and approaches

8- Common key concepts

9- Emerging similar theories of human behavior and social change.

10- A trend towards conscious decision-making and social action.

11- Wide use of knowledge of its various specializations.

12- A comprehensive theory that assumes the necessity for a social action to need information.

13- Paying attention to the social effects of changes and the repercussions of human behavior.

14- Dedication to understand the general processes of change.

15- Shared values

Chapter II:

Epistemology for Future Studies: From Positivism to Critical Realism:

Science is shaped in part by intellectual currents and broader change within the framework of its social environment. The social context during the 1960s and 1970s was the nat, and intellectual conflicts within the scientific and research groups. Three epistemological theories developed, “positivism, post-positivism and critical realism”.

Postmodernism – anti-positivism, since it is a critical theory, is fundamentally flimsy and does not provide a sound philosophical basis for the development of knowledge. Rather, it has an extreme form and generates nihilism. Hence, “critical realism” presents an alternative philosophy that provides us with a valid epistemological theory, and is described as (post-post-positivist) suitable for future research, and it recognizes that all knowledge is intuitive. Thus the epistemology of the truth itself can merge about the present, the past, and the unproven future.

During the 1960s, no coherent epistemology was presented, everyone and everyone were criticized – in a confrontational state, and all the intellectual foundations were undermined. He underestimated “straight thinking” – the scientific rational understanding of external truth – and was portrayed as prosaic and pessimistic, and described as “epistemological dinosaurs.” While he considered “drunk thinking”, which is an intuitive and an experience of inner truth, that it leads to optimism and cosmic unity.

Old theories and concepts have been attacked and new ones and theories have been put forward to replace them. And all intellectual traditions became suspect as devices of domination. Rather, a “messy epistemology” was instituted although it was not measurable. The attack increased with the multiplicity of the attackers from the Hermontics, the Beniites, the post-empiricists, and the Fakkiyen … etc.

Therefore, the need for future studies arose to understand what is happening in changing societies, both socially and academically, and to conform to the future that will be different from the past. While retaining future studies and its empirical and logical approaches. Future studies were trying to find roots of knowledge at a time when all foundations were demolished and all roots cut. And science itself was subject to skepticism.

Application :

Critics of the positivism say that it focuses on discrete aspects and apparent observations, one-dimensional, and cannot ask deep questions, nor to think of radical alternatives, as they have restricted themselves and narrowed their horizons.

Although there are 12 versions of the situation, its most important features are as a theory in the future vision. The situation began in the thirties, the “Vienna Circle” and the “Berlin Society”, and it has 9 basic features of the future vision:

1- Knowledge is a product and structure of numerical and linguistic categories.

2- Attention to simplicity, and to clarify the structure and logical coherence of these statements.

3- Some categories are subject to test, confirmation or error through perceptual observation of reality.

4- Knowledge is remarkably cumulative.

5- Science is mostly transcultural.

6- Science is based on the results of the researcher’s personality.

7- Science contains measurable research theories and traditions.

8- Science includes new ideas that may not be related to old ideas.

9- Science includes the idea of ​​the unity of science, all fields of science are one science about one real world.

Beyond Positivity :

The “Scientific Revolution”: from 1300 to 1800, this period is described as having one structure of phenomena. Despite the fact that this revolution includes a series of important events in the history of modern Europe.

In the seventies there was a revolution in positivism by the intuitive, and empirical thinking was attacked “materialistic mechanical”. And he was asked to replace the “conscious mind of the self-righteous” and replace it with a “mixture of rational and influential processes that are so subtle as to be identifiable” that exist on the margins of consciousness.

This revolution tended toward idealism and romanticism, approaching subjectivity and relativism, while moving away from realism, empiricism, objectivity and certainty. The most important features of this revolution, as defined by “Kuhn,” were in the stage of pluralism of paradigms, followed by the stage of unified Pradem.

In a unified pradium, the “usual science” dominates the entire field and its scope, and defines its problems and solutions. A major development may occur in the field, but it is a large-scale clearance operation.

This phase follows: the stage of “the beginning of doubt”, when the contradictions are growing in the paradise. Which ends in questioning the Pradem itself.

The scientific revolution takes place in the next phase: when the conflict takes place between a new pradium and the old pradium.

The final stage: “The return of the usual science” when the new papyrus becomes dominant in the field. And the episode rotates again. Kuhn concludes that scientific change is revolutionary par excellence.

Post-posture features: The nine post-postural characteristics:

1- Instead of science being a product, the focus was on science as an activity or evolutionary history. The old positivism is philosophical, but the new is historical.

2- Instead of simplifying the facts and testing the theory through deductive observation, Post-Positivism says that there is no organized inferential structure.

3- Positivism insisted on the testability of theories, in contrast to post-positivism. The facts do not destroy the theory, so there must be an alternative theory, or a new version of the facts or different facts that is done through the formulation of the theory, or the launch of the new paradise, or rather the new facts create a new world.

4- Science is not cumulative, but it develops through revolutionary leaps.

5- Science contains cultural biases, and scientific knowledge is saturated with culture.

6- Scientific results are affected by the researcher’s personality and social status. Denying bias is impossible.

7 – Concepts are meaningless if they are isolated, then their meanings come from the context, and therefore if the arguments of two theories appear to contradict the differences in the contents of the concepts and the significance of their use. Thus each Bradim determines its evidence.

8- Science includes new ideas that may or may not be related to old ideas

9- Science does not constitute unity. Rather, they are different components of “knowledge”, each related to a particular topic and community.

Positivism critics argue that correct knowledge is not rationally possible. The extreme postmodernists affiliated with post-positivism claimed that there is no causation, determinism, objectivity, rationality, or truth. And that, as they say, “there are no rules for verification or for external evidence that can be defended.” Their aim is to “record the possibility of building any“ pillar of knowledge ”), but they are satisfied with denying the idea of ​​truth, but also rejecting the idea of ​​moral responsibility, and there is no better“ value ”system than the other. And that everything – truth and goodness – is an arbitrary human structure.

In an attempt to develop, ideas such as “subjective feelings” were presented to the researcher, “natural investigation” and the absence of a dichotomy between knower and knowledge, and the causes and effects. But it was in fact destroying the entire scientific project, drowning in subjectivity and denying that the motive behind scientific research is to know something real, regardless of ourselves.

By the end of the nineties, we entered a new “post-post-positivist” phase, and the goal was to move beyond some positivism into a cognitive theory with safer foundations and with beneficial results.

Post-positivism was a reaction to the excessive arrogance of scholars in accepting the results of science, and reported that it made them more modest and cautious in confirming facts, and more understanding of the partial and temporary nature of scientific knowledge, and the influence of unconscious cultural assumptions in guiding research results. It contributed to a greater openness that technical knowledge may not contain all the answers required when formulating policy decisions. Finally, these contributions formed the development of an “alternative theory of knowledge” or the basis for critical realism.

Physics and metaphysics : Physics and in particular “quantum mechanics” provided a powerful tool for attacking post-positivism, and they rejected the denial of causation, continuity and the objective nature of truth, which are the matters that post-positivism wasted.

Critical Realism:

Its main features as a postural development:

1- Knowledge is one of the linguistic and numerical categories that express the nature of truth.

2- Science includes concern for the logical structure of the statements and their coherence, and science is used to achieve the goals of humanity.

3- It is based on the assumption that – despite the multiplicity of truth and the limitations of human ability to observe and understand it – the truth can be known through the limits of the senses and the human mind. The truth “we know” is not absolute, but error-prone, intuitive and conditional.

4- Science is largely cumulative, and even scientific leaps “revolutions” contain many of the current discoveries.

5- Science faces a credibility threat due to cultural biases that distort the truth.

6- Science faces threats to its credibility due to the researcher’s personal and social biases.

7- Science contains research theories and traditions that can overlap and appear as contradictory among themselves, but can be tested critically.

8- Science includes new, continuous or discontinuous ideas from what preceded them. But it goes along in its tracks.

9- Science may include a basic unit of science.

A cash shield assumes that there is truth, and our ideas about it can be tested correct or wrong. It also realizes the existence of intuition and the limited knowledge of certainty.

Positivism – and its derivation by critical realism – makes the understanding of society itself problematic , and thus calls into question prevailing definitions of social reality. Public debate is resolved by appealing to facts.

Critical realism realizes that every science has preconceived assumptions and qualitative judgments, and that it has a historical context that affects science, that science is a social process, and that reasonableness is sometimes the best results that we may obtain in science, which can be achieved in different ways, and can be strengthened using approaches And multiple procedures and approaches, and that science encourages imagination, creativity, intuition and insight. And that science does not recognize the uncertainty.

Realism and epistemology:

Critical realism includes the idea that “although observational sayings are fallible, they relate to the outside world, not merely subjective experiences.” In order for there to be sound knowledge, not just an opinion, three conditions must be met:

1- The belief that some assumptions are correct.

2- The assumption must be correct.

3- That one should be able to justify the validity of the assumption. The belief is reasonable if it is justified or confirmed.

If knowledge means only a valid, justified belief, then we will not possess certain knowledge. But it does include skepticism. Or it is an “intuitive knowledge” that accepts the intuition being wrong.

For realists, knowledge : is for a person to have reason to believe in the validity of an assumption. Consequently, intuitive knowledge may be wrong, and error is based on “belief” and not on knowledge.

Critical realists adopt the approach of “ trying to show error of belief ,” that if we find that there is reason to believe that an assumption is wrong, then our belief in it is not justified. But if we fail to find criticism, that is, there is no reason to assume that the belief is wrong, then the belief in it is justified.

Therefore, when critical realists say that the proof supports a hypothesis, this does not mean that it “proves” it, or even “makes it more probable.” They mean he fails to refute.

Existential realism : is the “belief that the world we believe to know exists independently of our knowledge of it.” Critical realism assumes that “causation exists outside the human mind.” Reality exists outside human structures. Consequently, the senses have their place because they are the source of “reasonable belief”. Our beliefs are reasonable because they stand up to criticism. Assumptions that are not refuted are believed to be believed.

Realism is critical here , because it assumes that the emotional and intellectual capacity of the human being is incomplete, and therefore it fails to accurately perceive causal relationships. It also assumes that all truth claims are equal and subject to testing. There is no “authority” that possesses or expresses the truth.

Science in critical realism is a more general concept than quantitative measurement. It includes the humanities and models of standard verification, the search for truth openly and the use of all possible evidence.

Knowledge development :

Critical realism is evolutionary, as it links the survival of humankind to the development of knowledge. It also believes that the growth of knowledge is an evolutionary “change, purification, and retention,” whereby diverse ideas about reality are presented and selected with the aim of approaching the truth. The ability to pick precisely the correct sayings about cause and effect is a mental process that contributes to the encounter and development of individuals and groups. Appraisal of factual observation is part of the problem-solving procedures that make social life possible.

The difference between reality and text as reality : the representations of reality represent a reality in and of themselves, and the statements and theories that claim to represent or embody some reality are a reality in and of themselves. Therefore, building reality models is part of a new reality, and therefore it is legitimate to study these new facts.

Distortions of reality : The more accurate we have of “maps” or perceptions about the nature of reality, the more successful we can be in achieving our goals. Hence, the assumption that “the consequences of our beliefs about reality may be real, whether or not these beliefs themselves are real” is a valid assumption. It can also be said that “the wrong belief about reality may be destructive.”

Among the distortions is lying and dishonesty, which destroy trust and make social life impossible. And there must be a belief in the existence of truth and its accessibility for social interactions to continue.

Critical realism and the future:

If intuitive knowledge is possible, if the justification for an assumption makes it correct, and if the belief in the validity of the assumption that can be justified is reasonable, and therefore there is a slight difference between beliefs in the facts of the past and the present and belief in the future. Therefore critical realism is presented as being capable of providing beliefs about the future.

It remains problematic that observational inference does not apply to future observations, which are described as unscientific predictions until they are tested with new “future” observations. There is an attempt to solve this problem by replacing “potential” with certainty and absolute. It applies differential occurrences of probability based on a time series of past events.

In the end, there is no prediction or belief on non-observation that is more reasonable than others, just that we jump in conclusions to regulate future behavior. We are thinking deductively.

Theses : It is a saying that we treat as true, although we do not know if it really is. It contains quotes about the future. The thesis is the most likely outcome for the future. Futurists develop alternative possibilities for the future, whether possible or otherwise, and try to assess the likelihood and significance of the impact of each.

The thesis is treated as correct on the “as if” and “what if” rules for contingent planning actions or alternative actions. For futurists, the thesis is an argument about the possibility of the future and an estimate of its likelihood, regardless of where it is located.

Alternative knowledge : the lack of information or informational error about the present or the past is a “cognitive deficiency,” while the information that constitutes a coherent alternative to barriers to future knowledge is known as “alternatives to knowledge,” which are propositions that have withstood serious attempts to mistake them , and thus represent intuitive knowledge. It is also constantly subject to reviews.

Presumably correct versus definitively correct expectations:

The prediction depends on circumstances that may change, and so a perfectly correct prediction may turn out to be false. This same expectation may contribute to changing circumstances, as in the case of self- altering predictions . Whereas, the decision maker needs to know the results of a forecast to help him make the final decision. Therefore, a distinction can be made between “correct / wrong prediction by default and permanently correct / wrong prediction”.

A hypothetically correct prediction is future assertions that have been evaluated and subjected to refutation before the time that the forecast deals with. It is hypothetically correct predictions that have withstood attempts at refutation. The definitively correct predictions are those that have been evaluated through apparent observation after the advent of time that deals with predictions.

But if a decision is designed to alter the course of a prediction, conditions are transformed into a new reality that favors a prediction that was less likely but desirable. The first prediction was correct by default, but not definitively specified, while the other was a hypothetical error while it was definitively correct.

False predictions may be made intentionally to guide people, to gain support about specific plans or decisions, or to justify an action. That is, “self-altering predictions” that lead to a change in circumstances and whoever is in the same prediction.

Once the prediction is reached and transmitted to others, it becomes himself part of reality, as in the “road map”, where predictions become part of the real cultural environment with which people interact.

There is no doubt that the observation of the present reality itself may include speculations about the past or predictions about the future. Since observations of the past may be built on wrong foundations, the future may be based on observations of the present with wrong foundations as well.

Prediction leads to domination , and the opposite: some social phenomena are “unchanging”, while others are deliberately designed through human action. Most human life is intentionally designed or engineered. People tend to make predictions through control. Predictions are part of social governance and control mechanisms and are linked to results and feedback.

The tools of social action – institutions and systems – are designed to achieve a goal, and they develop through the interactions of everyday life. Future research aims to increase human control by increasing the accuracy of predictions. Thus, increasing human control over the regulation of behavior increases the accuracy of predictions.

Here, we show the importance of hypothetically correct predictions because they lead to human control, although they lead to permanently becoming false predictions, because control modified conditions to avoid them.

SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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