The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte Analysis

Auguste Comte

Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Auguste Comte had two distinct aims in writing The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. The first and “special” aim was to put the study of society on a positive foundation like those on which the natural sciences rested. The second and “general” aim was to review the natural sciences in order to show that they are not independent of one another but are “all branches from the same trunk.” The two aims are inseparable.

Comte divided the study of society—sociology or “social physics,” as he called it—into two parts, following a distinction that he believed runs through all the sciences: social statics and social dynamics. The former seems not to have interested him especially. He maintained that in its broader aspects, at least, it was deducible from human physiology, which demands that people live in society, that they form families, and that they obey political authorities. On these grounds, he held that woman is inferior to man and bound to subservience, and that some people and races are constitutionally suited to obey and others to command.

However, Comte dealt with these matters only in passing. His interest was not so much in the generic traits that are found in all human societies as in the laws that govern the transition of a society from one condition to another. This is what he intended by the term “social dynamics.” His work was to be nothing less than a science of history. History, said Comte, had compiled many facts but had been unable to contribute anything of importance to understanding humankind’s condition because, like the data of meteorology, its facts needed a law to become significant. Comte thought that he had discovered that law; he called it the “law of the three stages.”