Definitions

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte

[kawnt; Fr. kawnt]
Comte, Auguste, 1798-1857, French philosopher, founder of the school of philosophy known as positivism, educated in Paris. From 1818 to 1824 he contributed to the publications of Saint-Simon, and the direction of much of Comte's future work may be attributed to this association. Comte was primarily a social reformer. His goal was a society in which individuals and nations could live in harmony and comfort. His system for achieving such a society is presented in his Cours de philosophie positive (1830-42; tr. The Course of Positive Philosophy, 1896 ed.). In this work Comte analyzes the relation of social evolution and the stages of science. He sees the intellectual development of man covered by what is called the Law of the Three Stages—theological, in which events were largely attributed to supernatural forces; metaphysical, in which natural phenomena are thought to result from fundamental energies or ideas; and positive, in which phenomena are explained by observation, hypotheses, and experimentation. The sciences themselves are classified on the basis of increasing complexity and decreasing generality of application in the ascending order: mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology. Each science depends at least in part on the science preceding it; hence all contribute to sociology (a term that Comte himself originated). A sociology developed by the methods of positivism could achieve the ends of harmony and well-being which Comte desired. Another work, Le Système de politique positive (1851-54; tr. System of Positive Polity, 1875-77), placed religion above sociology as the highest science; it was, however, a religion shorn of metaphysical implications, with humanity as the object of worship. For a modern edition of part of this work see A General View of Positivism (1957). Important among his other writings are Catechisme positiviste (1852, tr. 1858) and Synthèse subjective (1856). Published posthumously were his Testament (1884) and his letters (1902-05).

See F. S. Marvin, Comte, the Founder of Sociology (1937, repr. 1965).

Auguste Comte (full name: Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte; 17 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) was a French thinker who is generally credited for having coined the term "sociologie" (French, meaning "sociology") (from the Latin: socius, "companion"; and the suffix -ology, "the study of", from Greek λόγος, lógos, "knowledge"). It has recently been discovered that the term had already been introduced in 1780, albeit with a different meaning, by the French essayist Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (1748-1836).

Life

Comte was born at Montpellier, in southern France. After attending the University of Montpellier, one of the oldest European universities, Comte was admitted to the École Polytechnique in Paris. The École Polytechnique was notable for its adherence to the French ideals of republicanism and progress. The École closed in 1816 for reorganization, however, causing Comte to leave and continue his studies at the medical school at Montpellier. When the École Polytechnique reopened, he did not request readmission.

Following his return to Montpellier, Comte soon came to see unbridgeable differences with his Catholic and Monarchist family and set again for Paris, earning money by small jobs. In August 1817 he became a student and secretary for Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, who brought Comte into intellectual society. In 1824, Comte left Saint-Simon, again because of unbridgeable differences.

Comte now knew what he wanted to do - work out the philosophy of positivism. This plan he published as Plan de travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société (1822) (Plan of scientific studies necessary for the reorganization of society). But he failed to get an academic position. His day-to-day life depended on sponsors and financial help from friends.

He married Caroline Massin, but divorced in 1842. In 1826 he was brought into a mental health hospital, but left without being cured – only stabilized by Massin – so that he could work again on his plan. In the time between this and their divorce, he published the six volumes of his Cours.

From 1844, Comte was involved with Clotilde de Vaux, a relationship that remained platonic. After her death in 1846 this love became quasi-religious, and Comte saw himself as founder and prophet of a new "religion of humanity". He published four volumes of Système de politique positive (1851 - 1854).

He died in Paris on 5 September 1857 and is buried at the famous Cimetière du Père Lachaise. His apartment from 1841-1857 is now conserved as the Maison d'Auguste Comte.

Legacy

One universal law that Comte saw at work in all sciences he called the 'law of three phases'. It is by his statement of this law that he is best known in the English-speaking world; namely, that society has gone through three phases: Theological, Metaphysical, and Scientific. To the last of these he also gave the name "Positive," because of the polysemous connotations of that word.

The Theological phase was seen from the perspective of 19th century France as preceding the Enlightenment, in which man's place in society and society's restrictions upon man were referenced to God. Man blindly believed in whatever he was taught by his ancestors. He believed in a supernatural power. Fetishism played a significant role during this time. By the "Metaphysical" phase, he referred not to the Metaphysics of Aristotle or other ancient Greek philosophers. Rather, the idea was rooted in the problems of French society subsequent to the revolution of 1789. This Metaphysical phase involved the justification of universal rights as being on a vauntedly higher plane than the authority of any human ruler to countermand, although said rights were not referenced to the sacred beyond mere metaphor. This stage is known as the stage of investigation, because people started reasoning and questioning although no solid evidence was laid. In the Scientific phase, which came into being after the failure of the revolution and of Napoleon, people could find solutions to social problems and bring them into force despite the proclamations of human rights or prophecy of the will of God. Science started to answer questions in full stretch. In this regard he was similar to Karl Marx and Jeremy Bentham. For its time, this idea of a Scientific phase was considered up-to-date, although from a later standpoint it is too derivative of classical physics and academic history. Comte's law of three stages was one of the first theories of social evolutionism.

The other universal law he called the 'encyclopedic law'. By combining these laws, Comte developed a systematic and hierarchical classification of all sciences, including inorganic physics (astronomy, earth science and chemistry) and organic physics (biology and, for the first time, physique sociale, later renamed sociologie). Independently from Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès's introduction of the term in 1780, Comte re-invented 'sociologie', and introduced the term as a neologism, in 1838. Comte had earlier used the term 'social physics', but that term had been appropriated by others, notably Adolphe Quetelet.

This idea of a special science—not the humanities, not metaphysics—for the social was prominent in the 19th century and not unique to Comte. The ambitious—many would say grandiose—way that Comte conceived of it, however, was unique. Comte saw this new science, sociology, as the last and greatest of all sciences, one which would include all other sciences and integrate and relate their findings into a cohesive whole. It has to be pointed out, however, that there was a seventh science, one even greater than sociology. Namely, Comte considered "Anthropology, or true science of Man [to be] the last gradation in the Grand Hierarchy of Abstract Science".

Comte’s explanation of the Positive philosophy introduced the important relationship between theory, practice and human understanding of the world. On page 27 of the 1855 printing of Harriet Martineau’s translation of The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, we see his observation that, “If it is true that every theory must be based upon observed facts, it is equally true that facts can not be observed without the guidance of some theories. Without such guidance, our facts would be desultory and fruitless; we could not retain them: for the most part we could not even perceive them.

He used the word "altruism" to refer to what he believed to be a moral obligation of individuals to serve others and place their interests above one's own. He opposed the idea of individual rights, maintaining that they were not consistent with this supposed ethical obligation (Catechisme Positiviste).

In Comte's lifetime, his work was sometimes viewed skeptically, with perceptions that he had elevated Positivism to a religion and had named himself the Pope of Positivism. Comte is generally regarded as the first Western sociologist (Ibn Khaldun having preceded him in the East by nearly four centuries). Comte's emphasis on the interconnectedness of social elements was a forerunner of modern functionalism. Nevertheless, as with many others of Comte's time, certain elements of his work are now viewed as eccentric and unscientific, and his grand vision of sociology as the centerpiece of all the sciences has not come to fruition.

His emphasis on a quantitative, mathematical basis for decision-making remains with us today. It is a foundation of the modern notion of Positivism, modern quantitative statistical analysis, and business decision-making. His description of the continuing cyclical relationship between theory and practice is seen in modern business systems of Total Quality Management and Continuous Quality Improvement where advocates describe a continuous cycle of theory and practice through the four-part cycle of plan, do, check, and act. Despite his advocacy of quantitative analysis, Comte saw a limit in its ability to help explain social phenomena.

Three Stages

"The law is this: -that each of our leading conceptions, -each branch of our knowledge, -passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the Theological, or fictitious; the Metaphysical, or abstract; and the Scientific, or positive." -Comte

  1. Theological Stage
    1. Fetishism
    2. Polytheism
    3. Monotheism
  2. Metaphysical or Abstract Stage
  3. Positive Stage

See also

Bibliography

  • Henri Gouhier, La vie d'Auguste Comte, Gallimard, 1931 ;
  • Jean Delvolvé, Réflexions sur la pensée comtienne, Félix Alcan, 1932 ;
  • Laurent Fedi, Comte, Les Belles Lettres, 2000, réédition 2005 ;
  • Laurent Fedi, L’organicisme de Comte, in Auguste Comte aujourd’hui, M. Bourdeau, J.-F. Braunstein, A. Petit (dir), Kimé, 2003, pp. 111-132 ;
  • Laurent Fedi, Auguste Comte, la disjonction de l’idéologie et de l’Etat, Cahiers philosophiques, n°94, 2003, pp. 99-110 ;
  • Laurent Fedi, Le monde clos contre l’univers infini : Auguste Comte et les enjeux humains de l’astronomie, La Mazarine, n°13, juin 2000, pp. 12-15 ;
  • Laurent Fedi, La contestation du miracle grec chez Auguste Comte, in L’Antiquité grecque au XIXè siècle : un exemplum contesté ?, C. Avlami (dir.), L’Harmattan, 2000, pp. 157-192 ;
  • Laurent Fedi, Auguste Comte et la technique, Revue d’histoire des sciences 53/2, 1999, pp. 265-293 ;
  • Henri Gouhier, La jeunesse d'Auguste Comte et la formation du positivisme, tome 1 : sous le signe de la liberté, Vrin, 1932 ;
  • Henri Gouhier, La jeunesse d'Auguste Comte et la formation du positivisme, tome 2 : Saint-Simon jusqu'à la restauration, Vrin;
  • Henri Gouhier, La jeunesse d'Auguste Comte et la formation du positivisme, tome 3 : Auguste Comte et Saint-Simon, Vrin, 1941 ;
  • Henri Gouhier, Oeuvres choisies avec introduction et notes, Aubier, 1941 ;
  • Georges Canguilhem, « Histoire des religions et histoire des sciences dans la théorie du fétichisme chez Auguste Comte », Études d'histoire et de philosophie des sciences, Vrin, 1968 ;
  • H.S. Jones, ed., Comte: Early Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, 1998;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Auguste Comte et la théorie sociale du positivisme, Seghers, 1972 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Auguste Comte, la science sociale, Gallimard, 1972 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Le projet anthropologique d'Auguste Comte, SEDES, 1980, réédition L'Harmattan, 1999 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, L'anthropologie positiviste d'Auguste Comte, Lib. Honoré Champion, 1980 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Entre le signe et l'histoire. L'anthropologie positiviste d'Auguste Comte, Klincksieck, 1982, réédition L'Harmattan,1999 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Le positivisme, Coll."Que sais-je?", PUF, 1982 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Le concept de science positive. Ses tenants et ses aboutissants dans les structures anthropologiques du positivisme, Méridiens Klincksieck, 1983 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Le positivisme d'Auguste Comte, L'Harmattan, 2006 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Auguste Comte et la science politique, in Auguste Comte, Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiserla société, L'Harmattan, 2001;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Auguste Comte et l'histoire générale, in Auguste Comte, Sommaire appréciation de l'ensemble du passé moderne, L'Harmattan, 2006 ;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Auguste Comte et la science politique, L'Harmattan, 2007;
  • Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Le kaléidoscope épistémologique d'Auguste Comte. Sentiments Images Signes, L'Harmattan, 2007;
  • Pierre Macherey, Comte. La philosophie et les sciences, PUF, 1989 ;
  • Gertrud Lenzer, Auguste Comte: Essential Writings (1975), New York Harper, Paperback, 1997 ;
  • Raquel Capurro, Le positivisme est un culte des morts: Auguste Comte, Epel, 1999 (traduit en français en 2001) : l'étude la plus récente sur la vie d'Auguste Comte, la vision sans complaisance d'une psychanalyste de l'école de Lacan ;
  • Auguste Comte, Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, Part I (1855), translated by Harriet Martineau, Kessinger Publishing, Paperback, 2003 ; Also available from the McMaster Archive for the History of Economic Thought, Volume One Volume Two Volume Three
  • Pierre Laffitte (1823-1903): Autour d'un centenaire, in Revue des Sciences et des Techniques en perspective, 2ème série, vol. 8, n°2, 2004, Brepols Publishers, 2005 ;
  • Zeïneb Ben Saïd Cherni, Auguste Comte, postérité épistémologique et ralliement des nations, L'Harmattan, 2005 ;
  • Mary Pickering, Auguste Comte: An Intellectual Biography, Cambridge University Press (1993), Paperback, 2006 ;
  • James Hetfield, Auguste Comte: An Intellectual Biography, Cambridge University Press (1989), Paperback, 2007 ;

Notes

The following footnotes may refer to reference works.

External links

Search another word or see Auguste Comteon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;