Who was Auguste Comte, and what were some of his theories?

Auguste Comte was a French philosopher in the nineteenth century who is known for founding sociology and positivism. He theorized that external social forces define human behavior and that the study of society should thus employ a scientific approach. He’s also famous for the “the law of three stages,” in which he theorized a common pattern to humanity’s intellectual development, and for classifying the scientific disciplines.

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Auguste Comte was a nineteenth-century French philosopher who founded the field of sociology as well as the positivism movement. Comte theorized that if the systematic methods applied in scientific fields were also applied to evaluating society, then true social order could be achieved.

One of his most famous theories was “the law of three stages.” This was a general theory of history and social progress. This “law” stated that humanity goes from a theological stage to a metaphysical stage to a positive stage. It essentially stated that humanity had a general pattern of intellectual development. This theory was critiqued by other up-and-coming sociological scholars of the time, like Durkheim, because a law of history seemed to many to contradict the scientific approach of sociology.

Another one of Comte’s well-known theories was “the law of the classification of the sciences.” His way of organizing the sciences in this theory is still common today. He arranged the sciences from “abstract” to “particular.” He claimed that sociology was “the final science” because it resulted from all the others and coordinates all human interaction and knowledge.

Perhaps Comte’s most well-known legacy is that of positivism. Positivism is the perspective that society shapes individuals, and that individual people’s actions are purely the reaction to external social forces. As a result, positivists emphasize the importance of quantitative research for making accurate discoveries about the laws of the social world. In particular, Comte identified the importance of observation, experimentation, and comparison for researching society.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 7, 2020
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