Auguste Comte (Father of Sociology)
Isidore Auguste Marie Francois Xavier Comte (1798 – 1857) born in France was the first thinker who realized the need for a distinct science to study human society. The term
Sociology' was coined by Auguste Comte in his book 'The course of Positive Philosophy' in 1838. He is regarded as the ‘father of sociology’ not because of his significant contributions to the subject but because of creating sociology as a science of society or ‘science of human group behavior’.
Although he believed that the scientific method should be applied to Sociology but did not apply it himself.
Major Works of Comte:
- Positive Philosophy (1830-42)
- System of Positive Polity (1851 -54)
- The Religion of Humanity (1856)
Contributions of Auguste Comte to Sociology
The term “Positivism” was first coined by Saint Simon and was later popularized in the first half of the 19th Century by the French sociologist and philosopher, Auguste Comte. He revealed his idea of positivism in his books ‘The Course in Positive Philosophy’ and ‘A General View of Positivism.’
So, he is also the founder of positivism. In the second half of the 19th century, Positivism began to spread throughout the rest of Europe and to the United States.
According to Auguste Comte, human thinking and society have evolved successively into more progressive forms as he calls three stages; the theological stage, the metaphysical stage, and the scientific (also called “positivist”) stage.
The last stage of human progress (i.e. progress in human thinking) was dominated by the belief that any social phenomena, human social behavior, and the way society functions can be studied using scientific methods such as observation, experimentation, statistics used by natural science which means that instead of just believing on supernatural being (or God), the reasoning came into prominence and this belief or thought is known as ‘positivism’.
The Law of Social Evolution (the “law of three stages” or “evolutionary theory”)
Auguste Comte gave birth not only to a specific methodology of studying knowledge (called `positivism’) but also analyzed the evolution of human thinking, human society, and its various stages which is known as the “law of social evolution”.
This law mentions that not only does the world go through this process but groups, societies, sciences, individuals, and even minds go through the same three intellectual stages. These three stages are as follows:
Stage 1 – Theological or Fictitious Stage
This is the stage before 1300 A.D. when man’s thinking was guided by theological dogmas and therefore activities of men were guided and governed by supernatural power i.e. concrete God. It was marked by a lack of logical thinking and therefore was characterized as an unscientific outlook.
Excess or absence of rain was believed to be due to godly pleasure or displeasure. Magic and totemism were given emphasis. This stage was dominated by priests. In the theological stage, all phenomena are attributed to some supernatural power.
Auguste Comte divided this stage into four sub-stages:
i. Fetishism: In this sub-stage men thought that in every object or thing God resided. Fetishism is a kind of belief that there exists some living spirit in non-living objects.
ii. Anthropomorphism: In this sub-stage, there was gradual change or development that occurred in human thinking which resulted in the development of this stage.
iii. Polytheism: In this sub-stage, as there were many things or many objects, the number of Gods multiplied. Humans believed that each God had some specific function and his area of action or operation was determined. So, humans classified Gods. For e. g. Hinduism
iv. Monotheism: With time, the human mind further develops and there occurred a change and development in the form of thinking. This sub-stage replaced the earlier belief in many Gods with the belief in one God. ‘Mono’ means one. It implied that one God was supreme who was responsible for the maintenance of the system in the world. This type of monotheistic thinking marked the victory of human intellect over irrational thinking. E.g. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc.
Stage 2 – Metaphysical or Abstract Stage
This is the second stage which occurred roughly between 1300 – 1800 A.D. This stage was an improved form of the theological stage. In this stage, it was believed that an abstract power or force guided and determined all the phenomena (events) of the world and discarded the belief in concrete God or supernatural beings.
Stage 3 – Scientific or Positive Stage
This is the final stage of human thinking or the human mind. Instead of believing in irrational, illogical thinking, people had the belief in science. People now tended to give up the search for concrete God or Natural force but rather concentrated on observation of the social and physical world in the search for the laws governing and guiding the events of the earth. Another contribution of Auguste Comte was the distinction between:
- social statics- the study of social stability and order
- social dynamics- the study of social change