CHAPTER III
THE CLASSIC AGE OF BRITISH EMPIRICISM

I HAVE so far loosely linked the terms 'empiricism' and 'positivism' to express a general philosophic, or allegedly philosophic, attitude. Plato, aptly foreshadowing the television screen in the well-known simile of Republic VII, describes it allegorically but with striking accuracy. 'Suppose', he says, "that the prisoners had had among themselves a system of honours and commendations, that prizes were awarded to the man with the keenest eye for the passing objects and the best memory for which usually came first, which second, and which together, and who could most effectively conjecture from them what was likely to come in the future....'1 Here precisely is the economic observer. It will be remembered that the prisoners, chained by the legs and neck, can see nothing but the shadows thrown on the cave wall in front of them by the invisible fire behind them, shadows of themselves and of each other, and shadows of human and animal images and of miscellaneous artifacts which the passers by hold up above the level of a wall crossing the cave between the fire and the backs of the prisoners; 0and that the prisoners hear only echoes of the voices of the passers by, which (together, clearly, with the sounds of their own voices) they attribute to the anthropoid shadows on the wall in front of them.

The Oxford English Dictionary explains philosophical empiricism as 'the theory which regards experience as the only source of knowledge'. It defines 'positivism', a name invented by Comte about a hundred years ago, as 'a system of philosophy which recognizes only positive facts and observable phenomena, with the objective relations of these and the laws which determine them, abandoning all inquiry into cause or ultimate origin'. Once more we meet the economic observer.

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1
Republic, 516 C and D.

-48-

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