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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 149

Comte's Positive Philosophy is a text which develops an early notion of sociology: the analytical framework and methodology for understanding how societies evolve and organize. The main contribution of Comte's text is the concept of scientific positivism. Positivism represents a scrupulous commitment to empirical study, under the assumption that scientific observation will furnish progressively precise knowledge about the way the world works. Positivism is an epistemological concept, meaning that it tries to define the limits of what humans can "know" and "do."

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The work's second biggest contribution is Comte's thesis that human knowledge-making will progress from the physical, mechanical realm to the social realm. He believed that most physical phenomena are strictly external to human bodies, minds, and societies, rendering them the starting point for empirical knowledge-seeking. He contends that, as science advances, it will gradually find tools for looking inward towards the ultimate object of science—humans themselves.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 294

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.”

The Law of the Three Stages

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 818

According to this law, in the first, or theological , stage, people invent gods in order to explain the world to themselves, and in so doing, they create the conditions that make possible the specifically human kind of society. Belief in gods gives people some purpose in living beyond the satisfaction of mere bodily wants. At first, the gods are merely tribal fetishes, which do not demand much by way of social organization. As these are exchanged for astral deities, and eventually for a single god, discipline and order are imposed on the whole community. Authority characteristically comes to be vested in a priesthood. A military caste arises, with responsibility for defense, and agricultural labor becomes the foundation of the economy. From the sociological point of view, it...

(The entire section contains 3259 words.)

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