Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In his magnum opus, the six-volume Course of Positive Philosophy (1830-1842), Auguste Comte theorized that, because of the nature of the human mind, each science or field of knowledge passes through three major states of development: the theological or fictitious state, the metaphysical or abstract state, and the scientific or positive state. At the theological stage, all phenomena are naïvely explained by appealing to the will of some deity or deities. At the metaphysical stage, events are explained with reference to fixed, abstract philosophical categories. In the final, scientific stage of epistemological evolution, any attempt to arrive at absolute causes is relinquished in favor of empirical explanations as to how events interrelate, arrived at not inductively, by some a priori conceptual fiat, but deductively, through careful observation of real world events.

Comte further posits that each of these epistemological stages can be correlated to political stages of development in human history. The theological stage is manifest is such notions as the divine right of kings. The metaphysical stage is reflected in such Enlightenment concepts as democratic government, social equality, and the social contract. The positivist stage, which Comte hoped to inaugurate, would involve a rigorously scientific or “sociological” approach to political organization, conceived and managed by a scientific elite.

In theme and structure...

(The entire section is 467 words.)