Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Physicalism asserts that all propositions about existence or 'fact' can be formulated as statements about observable physical objects and activities.

explanatory context

This idea was developed by the logical positivists drawing on Hume's distinction between propositions stating only the 'relations of ideas' and those stating 'matters of fact and real existence'.

analytical review

Stoljar (2009) states:

Physicalism is the thesis that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on, or is necessitated by, the physical.

Otto Neurath who coined the term physicalism is widely quoted as follows, although there is no identified source in Neurath's work for this quote:

According to physicalism, the language of physics is the universal language of science and, consequently, any knowledge can be brought back to the statements on the physical objects

associated issues


related areas

See also

logical positivism



Stoljar, D., 2009, 'Physicalism', in Zalta, E.N. (Ed.) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 Edition), available at, accessed 23 March 2013, still available 12 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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