Auguste Comte

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Comte first described the epistemological perspective of positivism in The Course in Positive Philosophy, a series of texts published between 1830 and 1842. These texts were followed by the 1848 work, A General View of Positivism (published in English in 1865). The first three volumes of the Course dealt chiefly with the physical sciences already in existence (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology), whereas the latter two emphasised the inevitable coming of social science. Observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science, and classifying the sciences in this way, Comte may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.[1] For him, the physical sciences had necessarily to arrive first, before humanity could adequately channel its efforts into the most challenging and complex "Queen science" of human society itself. His View of Positivism would therefore set-out to define, in more detail, the empirical goals of sociological method.

Comte offered an account of social evolution, proposing that society undergoes three phases in its quest for the truth according to a general 'law of three stages'. The idea bears some similarity to Marx's view that human society would progress toward a communist peak. This is perhaps unsurprising as both were profoundly influenced by the early Utopian socialist, Henri de Saint-Simon, who was at one time Comte's teacher and mentor. Both Comte and Marx intended to develop, scientifically, a new secular ideology in the wake of European secularisation.

Comte's stages were (1) the theological, (2) the metaphysical, and (3) the positive.[6] The Theological phase was seen from the perspective of 19th century France as preceding the Enlightenment, in which man's place in society and society's restrictions upon man were referenced to God. Man blindly believed in whatever he was taught by his ancestors. He believed in a supernatural power. Fetishism played a significant role during this time. By the "Metaphysical" phase, he referred not to the Metaphysics of Aristotle or other ancient Greek philosophers. Rather, the idea was rooted in the problems of French society subsequent to the revolution of 1789. This Metaphysical phase involved the justification of universal rights as being on a vauntedly higher plane than the authority of any human ruler to countermand, although said rights were not referenced to the sacred beyond mere metaphor. This stage is known as the stage of investigation, because people started reasoning and questioning although no solid evidence was laid. The stage of investigation was the beginning of a world that questioned authority and religion. In the Scientific phase, which came into being after the failure of the revolution and of Napoleon, people could find solutions to social problems and bring them into force despite the proclamations of human rights or prophecy of the will of God. Science started to answer questions in full stretch. In this regard he was similar to Karl Marx and Jeremy Bentham. For its time, this idea of a Scientific phase was considered up-to-date, although from a later standpoint it is too derivative of classical physics and academic history. Comte's law of three stages was one of the first theories of social evolutionism.

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