Auguste Comte

French philosopher, founder of the school of philosophy known as positivism, which gave rise to the use of scientific method in the study of society during the 18th century. It was Comte who coined the term "sociology," borrowing concepts from social physics and the natural sciences (e.g., statics and dynamics). His intellectual development owed its root from his association with Comte Saint-Simon during 1818 to 1824, until they fell out of grace with each other. Curiously, his scientific inclination is tighly woven with his desire to see progress in society, making him an ardent reformer. He saw society as one in which individuals "could live in harmony and comfort," a utopia also espoused by French socialism at that time.

Comte's intellectual life stands in contrast with his checkered personal history. He lived and died as a miser, experienced insanity, was divorced from his first marriage and became a widow during his remarriage with another woman (making him feel more insane), and was regarded as arrogant, violent and fiery.

Comte, Auguste (ogüst' kôNt) , 1798–1857, His system for achieving "progress" in society is presented in his Cours de philosophie positive (1830–42; tr. The Course of Positive Philosophy, 1896 ed.). In this work Comte analyzes the relation of social evolution and the stages of science. Like others of his time, Comte was very much influenced by the analysis of change in stage-like fashion. For example, he sees the intellectual development of man in three stages (1)theological, in which events were largely attributed to supernatural forces; (2) metaphysical, in which natural phenomena are thought to result from fundamental energies or ideas; and (3) positive, in which phenomena are explained by observation, hypotheses, and experimentation. Here, Comte looks at positivism as the last stage of human development. He classified the sciences themselves on the basis of "increasing complexity and decreasing generality of application in the ascending order:" mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology. Each science depends at least in part on the science preceding it; hence all contribute to sociology (a term that Comte himself originated). A sociology developed by the methods of positivism could achieve the ends of harmony and well-being. Another work, Le Système de politique positive (1851–54; tr. System of Positive Polity, 1875–77), placed religion above sociology. His view of religion, however, is shorn of metaphysical implications. He placed humanity as the object of worship. (Comte's spirituality baffles many as Comte is an avowed "atheist," although he was raised in a family known for its devotion to Catholicism.) For a modern edition of part of this work see A General View of Positivism (1957). Important among his other writings are Catechisme positiviste (1852, tr. 1858) and Synthèse subjective (1856). Published posthumously were his Testament (1884) and his letters (1902–05).

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