The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte

by Auguste Comte

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Often called the father of modern sociology, August Comte formulated laws of scientific classification into which the social sciences could have equal footing with the natural sciences.

Comte was concerned with the need for overarching theory that would be applied equally to every fact; he sought to systematize social knowledge using empirical methods, the same as for physical scientific knowledge.

[T]here can be no real knowledge but that which is based on observed facts…. If it is true that every theory must be based upon observed facts, it is equally true that facts cannot be observed without the guidance of some theory.

He understood human intelligence as capable of comprehending and applying three distinct methods, which were mutually exclusive.

The human mind, by its nature, employs in its progress three methods of philosophizing, the character of which is essentially different, and even radically opposed: viz., the theological method, the metaphysical, and the positive. Hence arise three philosophies, or general systems of conceptions on the aggregate of phenomena, each of which excludes the others.

The theological method was a “point of departure” necessary for subsequent human understanding. The positive method is the “fixed and definitive state” of understanding, while the metaphysical method is just a transitional state.

Comte strongly believed that positivism, as applied to all branches of social analysis, would reduce the revolutionary fervor that gripped society in his day and contribute to political and social stability.

[W]henever the necessary agreement on first principles can be obtained, appropriate institutions will issue from them, without shock or resistance; for the causes of disorder will have been arrested by the mere fact of the agreement. It is in this direction that those must look who desire a natural and regular, a normal state of society.

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