What Is the Main Contribution That Auguste Comte Made to Sociology?

Max Dereta/Stone/Getty Images

Auguste Comte is best known for coining the term “sociology.” Comte was born in France shortly after the French Revolution. In response to the social upheaval and alienation of the period, he devoted himself to the study of society, which he called sociology.

Comte divided sociology into two main branches: social statics, which is the study of forces holding society together, and social dynamics, which is the study of forces causing social change. Comte’s observations and analyses were based on scientific principles. He believed that because society operates according to its own set of laws, similar to the way the physical world operates according to physical laws, it should be studied as a social science. He called this approach positivism. According to positivism, sociologists should focus only on what they can observe with their senses so they can acquire reliable, valid knowledge about how society works. They can then use that knowledge to stimulate social change and improve the human condition.

Comte was a major influence on other writers and thinkers of the 19th century, including George Eliot, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. Comte’s ideas and methods also advanced the field of sociology in general, especially modern academic sociology, which emphasizes practical and objective social research.