Auguste Comte

Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (pronounced [oɡyst kɔ̃t] (listen); 19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857)[4] was a French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is sometimes regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.[5] He is also regarded as the founder of the academic discipline sociology.[6]

Influenced by the utopian socialist Henri Saint-Simon,[4] Comte developed the positive philosophy in an attempt to remedy the social malaise of the French Revolution, calling for a new social doctrine based on the sciences. Comte was a major influence on 19th-century thought, influencing the work of social thinkers such as Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and George Eliot.[7] His concept of sociologie and social evolutionism set the tone for early social theorists and anthropologists such as Harriet Martineau and Herbert Spencer, evolving into modern academic sociology presented by Émile Durkheim as practical and objective social research.

Comte's social theories culminated in his "Religion of Humanity",[4] which presaged the development of non-theistic religious humanist and secular humanist organizations in the 19th century. Comte may have coined the word altruisme (altruism).[8]

Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte by Tony Touillon
Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte

19 January 1798
Died5 September 1857 (aged 59)
Paris, France
Alma materUniversity of Montpellier
École Polytechnique
Spouse(s)Caroline Massin (m. 1825–1842)
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Notable ideas
Sociological positivism, law of three stages, encyclopedic law, altruism


Auguste Comte was born in Montpellier,[4] Hérault on 19 January 1798. After attending the Lycée Joffre[9] and then the University of Montpellier, 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, and Comte continued 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 off again for Paris, earning money by small jobs. In August 1817 he found an apartment at 36 rue Bonaparte in Paris' 6ème (where he lived until 1822) and later that year he became a student and secretary to Henri de Saint-Simon, who brought Comte into contact with intellectual society and greatly influenced his thought therefrom. During that time Comte published his first essays in the various publications headed by Saint-Simon, L'Industrie, Le Politique, and L'Organisateur (Charles Dunoyer and Charles Comte's Le Censeur Européen), although he would not publish under his own name until 1819's "La séparation générale entre les opinions et les désirs" ("The general separation of opinions and desires"). In 1824, Comte left Saint-Simon, again because of unbridgeable differences. Comte published a 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 post. His day-to-day life depended on sponsors and financial help from friends. Debates rage as to how much Comte appropriated the work of Saint-Simon.[1]

Comte married Caroline Massin in 1825. In 1826, he was taken to a mental health hospital, but left without being cured – only stabilized by French alienist Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol – so that he could work again on his plan (he would later attempt suicide in 1827 by jumping off the Pont des Arts). In the time between this and their divorce in 1842, he published the six volumes of his Cours.

Comte developed a close friendship with John Stuart Mill. From 1844, he fell deeply in love with the Catholic Clotilde de Vaux, although because she was not divorced from her first husband, their love was never consummated. After her death in 1846 this love became quasi-religious, and Comte, working closely with Mill (who was refining his own such system) developed a new "Religion of Humanity". John Kells Ingram, an adherent of Comte, visited him in Paris in 1855.

He published four volumes of Système de politique positive (1851–1854). His final work, the first volume of La Synthèse Subjective ("The Subjective Synthesis"), was published in 1856.

Comte died in Paris on 5 September 1857 from stomach cancer and was buried in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery, surrounded by cenotaphs in memory of his mother, Rosalie Boyer, and of Clotilde de Vaux. His apartment from 1841–1857 is now conserved as the Maison d'Auguste Comte and is located at 10 rue Monsieur-le-Prince, in Paris' 6th arrondissement.


Comte's positivism

Comte first described the epistemological perspective of positivism in The Course in Positive Philosophy, a series of texts published between 1830 and 1842. These texts were followed by the 1848 work, A General View of Positivism (published in English in 1865). The first three volumes of the Course dealt chiefly with the physical sciences already in existence (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology), whereas the latter two emphasised the inevitable coming of social science. Observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science, and classifying the sciences in this way, Comte may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.[10] Comte was also the first to distinguish natural philosophy from science explicitly. For him, the physical sciences had necessarily to arrive first, before humanity could adequately channel its efforts into the most challenging and complex "Queen science" of human society itself. His work View of Positivism would therefore set out to define, in more detail, the empirical goals of sociological method.

Comte offered an account of social evolution, proposing that society undergoes three phases in its quest for the truth according to a general 'law of three stages'.

Comte's stages were (1) the theological stage, (2) the metaphysical stage, and (3) the positive stage.[11] (1) The Theological stage was seen from the perspective of 19th century France as preceding the Age of 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. (2) By the "Metaphysical" stage, Comte 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 French Revolution of 1789. This Metaphysical stage 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. The stage of investigation was the beginning of a world that questioned authority and religion. (3) In the Scientific stage, 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 stage 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.

Comte's Theory of Science
Comte's Theory of Science – According to Comte, the whole of the sciences consists of theoretical and applied knowledge. Theoretical knowledge can generally be divided into physics and biology, which are the object of his research and can be further partitioned into subfields such as botany, zoology or mineralogy. Comte's ranking of scientific fields - in order, mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and sociology - symbolizes a decreasing range of research and complexity of theoretical tools, but a growing complexity of the phenomena under investigation. Each field in this ranking depends upon those that came before it; for instance, our understanding of chemistry depends upon our understanding of physics, as all chemical phenomena are more complicated than the physics that underlie them, and although the laws of chemistry are affected by the laws of physics, the converse is not true. Similarly, sciences that appear earlier in Comte's hierarchy are considered to be older and more advanced than those which come later.

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 by Adolphe Quetelet.

The most important thing to determine was the natural order in which the sciences stand — not how they can be made to stand, but how they must stand, irrespective of the wishes of any one....This Comte accomplished by taking as the criterion of the position of each the degree of what he called "positivity", which is simply the degree to which the phenomena can be exactly determined. This, as may be readily seen, is also a measure of their relative complexity, since the exactness of a science is in inverse proportion to its complexity. The degree of exactness or positivity is, moreover, that to which it can be subjected to mathematical demonstration, and therefore mathematics, which is not itself a concrete science, is the general gauge by which the position of every science is to be determined. Generalizing thus, Comte found that there were five great groups of phenomena of equal classificatory value but of successively decreasing positivity. To these he gave the names: astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology.

— Lester F. Ward, The Outlines of Sociology (1898)

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. It has recently been discovered that the term "sociology" (as a term considered coined by Comte) had already been introduced in 1780, albeit with a different meaning, by the French essayist Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (1748–1836).[12] The ambitious (or many would say 'grandiose') way that Comte conceived of this special science of the social, 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 he noted 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."[13]

Flag of Brazil
The motto Ordem e Progresso ("Order and Progress") in the flag of Brazil is inspired by Auguste Comte's motto of positivism: L'amour pour principe et l'ordre pour base; le progrès pour but ("Love as a principle and order as the basis; Progress as the goal"). Several of those involved in the military coup d'état that deposed the Empire of Brazil and proclaimed Brazil to be a republic were followers of the ideas of Comte.[14]

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."[15]

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 (TQM) and Continuous Quality Improvement where advocates describe a continuous cycle of theory and practice through the four-part cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA, the Shewhart cycle). Despite his advocacy of quantitative analysis, Comte saw a limit in its ability to help explain social phenomena.

The early sociology of Herbert Spencer came about broadly as a reaction to Comte; writing after various developments in evolutionary biology, Spencer attempted to reformulate the discipline in what we might now describe as socially Darwinistic terms.

Comte's fame today owes in part to Émile Littré, who founded The Positivist Review in 1867. Debates continue to rage, however, as to how much Comte appropriated from the work of his mentor, Henri de Saint-Simon.

Comte influenced the Young Turks political movement.[16]

The religion of humanity

Templo positivista
Positivist temple in Porto Alegre

In later years, Comte developed the 'religion of humanity' for positivist societies in order to fulfil the cohesive function once held by traditional worship. In 1849, he proposed a calendar reform called the 'positivist calendar'. For close associate John Stuart Mill, it was possible to distinguish between a "good Comte" (the author of the Course in Positive Philosophy) and a "bad Comte" (the author of the secular-religious system).[10] The system was unsuccessful but met with the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) to influence the proliferation of various Secular Humanist organizations in the 19th century, especially through the work of secularists such as George Holyoake and Richard Congreve. Although Comte's English followers, including George Eliot and Harriet Martineau, for the most part rejected the full gloomy panoply of his system, they liked the idea of a religion of humanity and his injunction to "vivre pour autrui" ("live for others"), from which comes the word "altruism".[17]

Law of three stages

Comte was agitated by the fact that no one had synthesized physics, chemistry, and biology into a coherent system of ideas, so he began an attempt to reasonably deduce facts about the social world from the use of the sciences. Through his studies, he concluded that the growth of the human mind progresses in stages, and so must societies. He claimed the history of society could be divided into three different stages: theological, metaphysical, and positive. The Law of three Stages, an evolutionary theory, describes how history of societies is split into three sections due to new thoughts on philosophy. Comte believed that evolution was the growth of the human mind, splitting into stages and evolving through these stages. Comte concluded that society acts similarly to the mind.[18]

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.

— A. Comte[19]

The Law of Three Stages is the evolution of society in which the stages have already occurred or are currently developing. The reason why there are newly developed stages after a certain time period is that the system "has lost its power" and is preventing the progression of civilization, causing complicated situations in society. 10.[20] The only way to escape the situation is for people within the civilized nations to turn towards an "organic" new social system. Comte refers to kings to show the complications of re-establishment on society. Kings feel the need to reorganize their kingdom, but many fail to succeed because they do not consider that the progress of civilization needs reform, not perceiving that there is nothing more perfect than inserting a new, more harmonious system. Kings fail to see the effectiveness of abandoning old systems because they do not understand the nature of the present crisis. But in order to progress, there needs to be the necessary consequences that come with it, which is caused by a "series of modifications, independent of the human will, to which all classes of society contributed, and of which kings themselves have often been the first agents and most eager promoters".[20] The people themselves have the ability to produce a new system. This pattern is shown through the theological stage, metaphysical stage, and positive stage.

  1. Theological Stage
    1. The first stage, the theological stage, relies on supernatural or religious explanations of the phenomena of human behavior because "the human mind, in its search for the primary and final causes of phenomena, explains the apparent anomalies in the universe as interventions of supernatural agents".[21] The Theological Stage is the "necessary starting point of human intelligence", when humans turn to supernatural agents as the cause of all phenomena.[22] In this stage, humans focus on discovering absolute knowledge. Comte disapproved this stage because it turned to simple explanation humans created in their minds that all phenomena was caused by supernatural agents, rather than human reason and experience. Comte refers to Bacon's philosophy that "there can be no real knowledge except that which rests upon observed facts", but he observes that the primitive mind could not have thought that way because it would have only created a vicious circle between observations and theories.[22] "For if, on the one hand, every positive theory must necessarily be founded upon observations, it is, on the other hand, no less true that, in order to observe, our mind has need of some theory or other".[22] Because the human mind could not have thought in that way in the origin of human knowledge, Comte claims that humans would have been "incapable of remembering facts", and would not have escaped the circle if it were not for theological conceptions, which were less complicated explanations to human life.[22] Although Comte disliked this stage, he explains that theology was necessary in the beginning of the developing primitive mind.
    2. Fetishism
    3. Polytheism
    4. Monotheism
  2. Metaphysical or Abstract Stage
The second stage, the metaphysical stage, is merely a modification of the first because a supernatural cause is replaced by an "abstract entity";[21] it is meant to be a transitional stage, where there is the belief that abstract forces control the behavior of human beings. Because it is a transitional stage between the theological stage and the positive stage, Comte deemed it the least important of the three stages and was only necessary because the human mind cannot make the jump from the theological to the positive stage on its own.
The metaphysical stage is the transitional stage. Because "Theology and physics are so profoundly incompatible", and their "conceptions are so radically opposed in character", human intelligence must have a gradual transition.[22] Other than this, Comte says that there is no other use for this stage. Although it is the least important stage, it is necessary because humans could not handle the significant change in thought from theological to positivity.[18] The metaphysical stage is just a slight modification of the previous stage, when people believed in the abstract forces rather than the supernatural. The mind begins to notice the facts themselves, caused by the emptiness of the metaphysical agents through "over subtle qualification that all right-minded persons considered them to be only the abstract names of the phenomena in question".[20] The mind becomes familiar with concepts, wanting to seek more, and therefore is prepared to move into the positive stage.
3. Positive stage
The last stage – the positive stage – is when the mind stops searching for the cause of phenomena and realizes that laws exist to govern human behavior, and that this stage can be explained rationally with the use of reason and observation, both of which are used to study the social world.[23] This stage relies on science, rational thought, and empirical laws. Comte believed that this study of sociology he created was "the science that [came] after all the others; and as the final science, it must assume the task of coordinating the development of the whole of knowledge"[21] because it organized all of human behavior.

The final, most evolved stage is the positivist stage, the stage when humans give up on discovering absolute truth, and turn towards discovering, through reasoning and observation, actual laws of phenomena.[20] Humans realize that laws exist, and that the world can be rationally explained through science, rational thought, laws, and observation. Comte was a positivist, believing in the natural rather than the supernatural, and so he claimed that his time period, the 1800s, was in the positivist stage.[23] He believed that within this stage, there is a hierarchy of sciences: mathematics, astronomy, terrestrial physics, chemistry, and physiology. Mathematics, the "science that relates to the measurement of magnitudes", is the most perfect science of all, and is applied to the most important laws of the universe.[20] Astronomy is the most simple science, and is the first "to be subjected to positive theories".[22] Physics is less satisfactory than astronomy, because it is more complex, having less pure and systemized theories. Physics, as well as chemistry, are the "general laws of the inorganic world", and are harder to distinguish.[20] Physiology completes the system of natural sciences, and is the most important of all sciences because it is the "only solid basis of the social reorganization that must terminate the crisis in which the most civilized nations have found themselves".[22] This stage will fix the problems in current nations, allowing progression and peace.

It is through observation that humanity is able to gather knowledge. The only way within society to gather evidence and build upon what we do not already know to strengthen society is to observe and experience our situational surroundings. “In the positive state, the mind stops looking for causes of phenomena, and limits itself strictly to laws governing them; likewise, absolute notions are replaced by relative ones,” [24] The imperfection of humanity is not a result of the way we think, rather our perspective that guides the way we think. Comte expresses the idea that we have to open our eyes to different ideas and ways to evaluate our surroundings such as focusing outside of the simple facts and abstract ideas but instead dive into the supernatural. This does not make mean that what is around us is not critical to look out for as our observations are critical assets to our thinking. The things that are “lost” or knowledge that is in the past is still relevant to recent knowledge. It is what is before our time that guides why things are the way they are today. We would always be relying on our own facts and would never hypothesize to reveal the supernatural if we do not observe. Observing strives to further our thinking processes. According to Comte, “‘The dead govern the living,’ which is likely a reference to the cumulative nature of positivism and the fact that our current world is shaped by the actions and discoveries of those who came before us,” [25] As this is true, the observations only relevant to humanity and not abstractly related to humanity are distinct and seen situationally. Situation leads to human observation as a reflection of the tension in society can be reviewed, overall helping to enhance knowledge development. Upon our observation skills, our thinking shifts. As thinkers and observers, we switch from trying to identify truth and turn toward the rationality and reason nature brings, giving us the ability to observe. This distinct switch takes on the transition from the abstract to the supernatural. “Comte’s classification of the sciences was based upon the hypothesis that the sciences had developed from the understanding of simple and abstract principles to the understanding of complex and concrete phenomena.” [26] Instead of taking what we believe to be true we turn it around to use the phenomena of science and the observation of natural law to justify what we believe to be true within society. The condensing and formulation of human knowledge is what Comte drives us toward to ultimately build the strongest society possible. If scientists do not take the chance to research why a certain animal species is going distinct and their facts researched by those in the past is no longer true of the present, how is the data supposed to grow? How are we to gain more knowledge? These facts of life are valuable, but it is beyond these facts that Comte gestures us to look to. Instead of the culmination of facts with little sufficiency, knowledge altogether takes on its role in the realm of science. In connection to science, Comte relates to science in two specific fields in order to rebuild the construction of human knowledge. As science is broad, Comte reveals this scientific classification for the sake of thinking and the future organization of society. “Comte divided sociology into two main fields, or branches: social statistics, or the study of the forces that hold society together; and social dynamics, or the study of the causes of social change,” [27] In doing this, society is reconstructed. By reconstructing human thinking and observation, societal operation alters. The attention drawn to science, hypothesis’, natural law, and supernatural ideas, allows sociology to be divided into these two categories. By combining the simple facts from the abstract to the supernatural and switching our thinking towards hypothetical observation, the sciences culminate in order to formulate sociology and this new societal division. “Every social system… aims definitively at directing all special forces towards a general result, for the exercise of a general and combined activity is the essence of the society,” [28] Social phenomena Comte believed can be transferred into laws and that systemization could become the prime guide to sociology so that all can maintain knowledge to continue building a strong intellectual society.

A mistaken prognostication of Comte

Auguste Comte is well known for writing in his book "The Positive Philosophy" that people would never learn the chemical composition of the planets. This has been called a very poor prediction regarding human limits in science. In thirty years people were beginning to learn the composition of planets through spectroscopy.[29][30]


  • Comte, A.; A general view of positivism [Discours sur l'Esprit positif 1844] London, 1856 Internet Archive
  • Comte, A.; Bridges, J.H. (tr.); A General View of Positivism; Trubner and Co., 1865 (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00064-2)
  • Comte, A.; Congrev, R. (tr.); The Catechism of Positive Religion; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co., 1891 (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00087-1)
  • Comte, A; Martineau, H. (tr.); The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte; 2 volumes; Chapman, 1853 (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00118-2) (but note that C.U.P. say "Martineau's abridged and more easily digestible version of Comte's work was intended to be readily accessible to a wide general readership, particularly those she felt to be morally and intellectually adrift", so this is not really Comte's own writings)
  • Comte, A.; Jones, H.S. (ed.); Comte: Early Political Writings; Cambridge University Press, 1998; ISBN 978-0-521-46923-4
  • Comte, A.; System of Positive Polity; various publishers
  • Comte, A.; Cours de Philosophie Positive, Tome II; Bachelier, Paris, 1835,; scans of the six volumes are at Projet Gallica

When Ernest Renan published his Essais philosophiques, he clearly stated in their preface that all of them were the result of dialogues between his friend Comte and him, with an impossibility to remember who of them said, developed or modified what.


  1. ^ a b Pickering (2006), p. 192ff.
  2. ^ Pickering (2009b), pp. 216 and 304.
  3. ^ Sutton, Michael (1982). Nationalism, Positivism, and Catholicism. The Politics of Charles Maurras and French Catholics 1890–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521228688. esp. Chapters 1 and 2
  4. ^ a b c d Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Comte, Auguste" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 814–822.
  5. ^ "Auguste Comte". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. 2018.
  6. ^ "The Founders of Sociology". Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "altruism (n .)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  9. ^ "Rencontre avec Annie Petit "Auguste Comte"". Montpellier Agglomeration. 19 October 2007. Archived from the original on 15 February 2009. Retrieved 15 October 2008. Né à Montpellier, brillant élève du Lycée Joffre..." Translation: "Born in Montpellier, shining student of the Lycée Joffre ...
  10. ^ a b "Auguste Comte". Stanford Encyclopaedia: Auguste Comte. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. 2018.
  11. ^ Giddens, Positivism and Sociology, 1
  12. ^ Des Manuscrits de Sieyès. 1773–1799, Volumes I and II, published by Christine Fauré, Jacques Guilhaumou, Jacques Vallier et Françoise Weil, Paris, Champion, 1999 and 2007. See also Jacques Guilhaumou, Sieyès et le non-dit de la sociologie: du mot à la chose, in Revue d'histoire des sciences humaines, Number 15, November 2006. Naissances de la science sociale.
  13. ^ 1874 translation of System of Positive Polity, Vol. II, pages 356–347, cited in Urbanowicz, Charles F. 1992. "Four-Field Commentary". Anthropology Newsletter. Volume 33, Number 9, page 3.
  14. ^ BRAZIL: Order and Progress, Ronald Hilton, World Association of International Studies Forum Q&A, 4/27/03
  15. ^ Comte, A. b (1974 reprint). The positive philosophy of Auguste Comte freely translated and condensed by Harriet Martineau. New York: AMS Press. (Original work published in 1855, New York: Calvin Blanchard, p. 27.b)
  16. ^ Hanioglu, M. Sukru (1995). "Ch. 9: The Political Ideas of the Young Turks". The Young Turks in Opposition. Oxford University Press. pp. 200-212.
  17. ^ "Comte's secular religion is no vague effusion of humanistic piety, but a complete system of belief and ritual, with liturgy and sacraments, priesthood and pontiff, all organized around the public veneration of Humanity, the Nouveau Grand-Être Suprême (New Supreme Great Being), later to be supplemented in a positivist trinity by the Grand Fétish (the Earth) and the Grand Milieu (Destiny)" According to Davies (p. 28-29), Comte's austere and "slightly dispiriting" philosophy of humanity viewed as alone in an indifferent universe (which can only be explained by "positive" science) and with nowhere to turn but to each other, was even more influential in Victorian England than the theories of Charles Darwin or Karl Marx.
  18. ^ a b Delaney, Tim. "Auguste Comte". Council for Secular Humanism. Council for Secular Humanism, Oct.-Nov. 2003.
  19. ^ From The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (trans. Harriet Martineau; London, 1853), Vol. I, p. 1.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Comte, Auguste, and Gertrud Lenzer. Auguste Comte and Positivism: The Essential Writings. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. Print.
  21. ^ a b c Bourdeau, Michel. Auguste Comte. Stanford University. [April 28, 2016].
  22. ^ a b c d e f g "Auguste Comte." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2015): 1. MAS Ultra School Edition. Web.
  23. ^ a b Delaney, Tim. Auguste Comte. Council for Secular Humanism, 2003.
  24. ^ Bourdeau, Michel. [ "Auguste Comte"] Check |url= value (help). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved May 22 2019. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  25. ^ Comte, Auguste. [ "Auguste Comte"] Check |url= value (help). Auguste Comte- New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 22 2019. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  26. ^ Fletcher, Ronald. [ "Auguste Comte"] Check |url= value (help). Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 22 2019. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  27. ^ Fletcher, Ronald. [ "Auguste Comte"] Check |url= value (help). Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 22 2019. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  28. ^ Comte, Lenzer, Auguste, Gertrud (1975). Auguste Comte and Positivism. Harper and Row. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  29. ^ How do we know the composition of stars?
  30. ^ BAD PHILOSOPHY @University of Virginia


  • Mary Pickering, Auguste Comte, Volume 1: An Intellectual Biography, Cambridge University Press (1993), Paperback, 2006.
  • Mary Pickering, Auguste Comte, Volume 2: An Intellectual Biography, Cambridge University Press, 2009a.
  • Mary Pickering, Auguste Comte, Volume 3: An Intellectual Biography, Cambridge University Press, 2009b.

Further reading

  • Henri Gouhier, La vie d'Auguste Comte, Gallimard, 1931 lah
  • Jean Delvolvé, Réflexions sur la pensée comtienne, Félix Alcan, 1932
  • John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte and Positivism,[1] Trübner, 1865
  • 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'État, 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
  • Realino Marra, La proprietà in Auguste Comte. Dall'ordine fisico alla circolazione morale della ricchezza, in «Sociologia del diritto», XII-2, 1985, pp. 21–53
  • Pierre Macherey, Comte. La philosophie et les sciences, PUF, 1989
  • Thomas Meaney, The Religion of Science and Its High Priest[1], The New York Review of Books, 2012
  • Jacques Muglioni, Auguste Comte: un philosophe pour notre temps, Kimé, Paris, 1995
  • Annie Petit, Le Système d'Auguste Comte. De la science à la religion par la philosophie, 2016, Vrin, Paris
  • 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 (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
  • Wolf Lepenies, Auguste Comte: die Macht der Zeichen, Carl Hanser, Munich, 2010
  • Oséias Faustino Valentim, O Brasil e o Positivismo, Publit, Rio de Janeiro, 2010. ISBN 978-85-7773-331-6.
  • Jean-François Eugène Robinet, Notice sur l'oeuvre et sur la vie d'Auguste Comte, par le Dr Robinet, son médecin et l'un de ses treize exécuteurs testamentaires, Paris : au siège de la Société positiviste, 1891. 3e éd.
  • Jean-François Eugène Robinet, La philosophie positive: Auguste Comte et M. Pierre Laffitte, Paris : G. Baillière, [ca 1881].

External links

  1. ^ John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte and Positivism at Project Gutenberg
A General View of Positivism

A General View of Positivism (Discours sur l'ensemble du positivisme) was an 1848 book by the French philosopher Auguste Comte, first published in English in 1865. A founding text in the development of positivism and the discipline of sociology, the work provides a revised and full account of the theory Comte presented earlier in his multi-part The Course in Positive Philosophy (1830–1842). Comte outlines the epistemological view of positivism, provides an account of the manner by which sociology should be performed, and describes his law of three stages.

Auguste, comte de La Ferronays

Pierre Louis Auguste Ferron, Count de La Ferronnays (1777–1842) was French Minister of Foreign Affairs from 4 January 1828 to 24 April 1829.

Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam

Jean-Marie-Mathias-Philippe-Auguste, comte de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam (7 November 1838 – 19 August 1889) was a French symbolist writer.

Charles Joseph, comte de Flahaut

Auguste-Charles-Joseph de Flahaut de La Billarderie, comte de Flahaut (21 April 1785 – 1 September 1870) was a French general during the Napoleonic Wars, a statesman, and late in life French ambassador to the Court of St James's.

Course of Positive Philosophy

The Course of Positive Philosophy (Cours de Philosophie Positive) was a series of texts written by the French philosopher of science and founding sociologist, Auguste Comte, between 1830 and 1842. Within the work he unveiled the epistemological perspective of positivism. The works were translated into English by Harriet Martineau and condensed to form The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (1853).

The first three volumes of the Course dealt chiefly with the physical sciences already in existence (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology), whereas the latter two emphasised the inevitable coming of social science. It is in observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science, and classifying the sciences in this way, that Comte may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. For him, the physical sciences had necessarily to arrive first, before humanity could adequately channel its efforts into the most challenging and complex "queen science" of human society itself. His A General View of Positivism (published in English in 1865) would therefore set out to define, in more detail, the empirical goals of sociology.

French philosophy

French philosophy, here taken to mean philosophy in the French language, has been extremely diverse and has influenced Western philosophy as a whole for centuries, from the medieval scholasticism of Peter Abelard, through the founding of modern philosophy by René Descartes, to 20th century philosophy of science, existentialism, phenomenology, structuralism, and postmodernism.

History of sociology

Sociology as a scholarly discipline emerged primarily out of the Enlightenment thought, shortly after the French Revolution, as a positivist science of society. Its genesis owed to various key movements in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of knowledge. Social analysis in a broader sense, however, has origins in the common stock of philosophy and necessarily pre-dates the field. Modern academic sociology arose as a reaction to modernity, capitalism, urbanization, rationalization, secularization, colonization and imperialism. Late-19th-century sociology demonstrated a particularly strong interest in the emergence of the modern nation state; its constituent institutions, its units of socialization, and its means of surveillance. An emphasis on the concept of modernity, rather than the Enlightenment, often distinguishes sociological discourse from that of classical political philosophy.Various quantitative social research techniques have become common tools for governments, businesses, and organizations, and have also found use in the other social sciences. Divorced from theoretical explanations of social dynamics, this has given social research a degree of autonomy from the discipline of sociology. Similarly, "social science" has come to be appropriated as an umbrella term to refer to various disciplines which study humans, interaction, society or culture.

Law of three stages

The law of three stages is an idea developed by Auguste Comte in his work The Course in Positive Philosophy. It states that society as a whole, and each particular science, develops through three mentally conceived stages: (1) the theological stage, (2) the metaphysical stage, and (3) the positive stage.

Louis-Auguste-Victor, Count de Ghaisnes de Bourmont

Louis-Auguste-Victor, Count de Ghaisnes de Bourmont (2 September 1773 – 27 October 1846) emigrated from France soon after the outbreak of the French Revolution. A lifelong royalist, he fought with the counter-revolutionary Army of Condé for two years, then joined the insurrection in France from three more years before going into exile. He was arrested after assisting the Georges Cadoudal conspiracy, but escaped to Portugal.

In 1807 he took advantage of an amnesty to rejoin the French army and served in several campaigns until 1814. He rose in rank to become a general of division. During this period, he was suspected of being an agent of the Comte d'Artois and passing information to France's enemies. Though he was notoriously anti-Napoleon and many officers did not trust him, he was employed again during the Hundred Days. Immediately after the campaign began, he deserted to the Prussian army with Napoleon's plans. King Louis XVIII of France gave him a command in the Spanish expedition of 1823.

Promoted to Marshal of France, he was put in command of the Invasion of Algiers in 1830. However, after the July Revolution, he refused to recognize King Louis-Philippe of France and was sacked. After being involved in a plot against the new government, he fled to Portugal in 1832. He led the army of Dom Miguel in the Liberal Wars, and when the liberals won, he fled to Rome. He accepted another amnesty, this time in 1840, and died in France six years later.

Maison d'Auguste Comte

The Maison d'Auguste Comte, also known as the Musée Auguste Comte, is a private writer's house museum and archive dedicated to positivist philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857). It is maintained by the Association internationale Auguste Comte, located in the 6th arrondissement at 10, rue Monsieur-le-Prince, Paris, France, and open Wednesday afternoons, with a guided tour at 3:30 p.m.; an admission fee is required. The closest Paris Métro station is Odéon.

Comte lived on the 2nd floor of 10, rue Monsieur le Prince from 1841 to his death in 1857, where he wrote the four volumes of Système de politique positive (1851–1854), his last treatise of positivist philosophy. The apartment has subsequently been restored and reconstructed as it was at the philosopher's death. It consists of five main rooms (dining room, living room, study, classroom, bedroom) with vestibule, and contains Comte's writing desk, portraits of Clotilde de Vaux and various disciples, personal effects, and handwritten letters, as well as a library of positivist writings that contains about 600 books in French, including first editions of his works, 250 books in other languages, a thousand brochures, and four collections of periodicals.

Philosophy of social science

The philosophy of social science is the study of the logic, methods, and foundations of social sciences such as psychology, economics, and political science. Philosophers of social science are concerned with the differences and similarities between the social and the natural sciences, causal relationships between social phenomena, the possible existence of social laws, and the ontological significance of structure and agency.


Positivism is a philosophical theory stating that certain ("positive") knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Positivism holds that valid knowledge (certitude or truth) is found only in this a posteriori knowledge.

Verified data (positive facts) received from the senses are known as empirical evidence; thus positivism is based on empiricism.Positivism also holds that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws. Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected, as are metaphysics and theology because metaphysical and theological claims cannot be verified by sense experience. Although the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought, the modern approach was formulated by the philosopher Auguste Comte in the early 19th century. Comte argued that, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other absolute laws, so does society, and further developed positivism into a Religion of Humanity.

Positivist calendar

The positivist calendar was a calendar reform proposal by Auguste Comte in 1849. Revising the earlier work of Marco Mastrofini, or an even earlier proposal by "Hirossa Ap-Iccim" (Hugh Jones), Comte developed a solar calendar with 13 months of 28 days, and an additional festival day commemorating the dead, totalling 365 days.

This extra day added to the last month was outside the days of the week cycle, and so the first of a month was always a Monday. On leap years, an additional festival day (also outside the week cycle), to celebrate holy women, would join the memorial day of the dead. The scheme followed the Gregorian calendar rules for determining which years are leap years, and started on January 1. Year 1 "of the Great Crisis" (i.e. the French Revolution) was equivalent to 1789 in the standard Gregorian system.

Much like Comte's other schemas, the positivist calendar never enjoyed widespread use.

The months were named, in chronological historical order, for great figures in Western European history in the fields of science, religion, philosophy, industry and literature. Each day of the year was named after neither Catholic Saints as in the Gregorian calendar nor after Île-de-France agriculture as in the French Republican calendar but after figures in history in various fields. Weeks and days were also dedicated to great figures in history as a secular version of the concept of saint's days. In all, the Positivist Calendar "contains the names of 558 great men of all periods, classified according to their field of activity." Villains of history were also commemorated in order to be held up for "perpetual execration". Napoleon, according to Comte, was especially deserving of this fate.Months were named:






Saint Paul







BichatIn 1849, Comte wrote that he called his calendar a "breach of continuity" with the old way of thinking, and his Humanistic calendar was part of that breach. He called it, "a provisional institution, destined for the present exceptional century to serve as an introduction to the abstract worship of Humanity."Aside from the religious references the calendar carried, Duncan Steel, author of Marking Time, believes the novelty of the calendar's month names alone helped prevent the wide acceptance of this proposal.

The main reason that his suggestion [for calendar reform] failed to find favor with many people seems to have been that he insisted on naming the months for various notable persons from historical to modern times, ... One must admit that it would seem strange to give the date as the third day of Homer, and with a month named for the bard a reference to "Shakespeare's Twelfth Night" would be ambiguous.

Author Tricia Lootens writes that the idea of naming days after literary figures, as if they were Catholic Saint days, didn't catch on outside the Positivist movement.

Outside of positivist circles, canonization of literary secular saints was nearly always slightly tinged with irony or nostalgia, and positivist circles were never large.

Religion of Humanity

Religion of Humanity (from French Religion de l'Humanité or église positiviste) is a secular religion created by Auguste Comte, the founder of positivist philosophy. Adherents of this religion have built chapels of Humanity in France and Brazil.In the United States and Europe, Comte's ideas influenced others, and contributed to the emergence of ethical societies and "ethical churches", which led to the development of Ethical culture, congregational humanist, and secular humanist organisations.

Religious humanism

Religious humanism is an integration of humanist ethical philosophy with congregational but non-theistic rituals and community activity which center on human needs, interests, and abilities. Self-described religious humanists differ from secular humanists mainly in that they regard the humanist life stance as their religion and organise using a congregational model. Religious humanism is a classic example of a nontheistic religion.

Religious humanists typically organise in the 21st century under the umbrella of Ethical Culture or Ethical Humanism. It remains largely a United States phenomenon; a British ethical culture movement was briefly highly active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but by the 1960s had largely abandoned its "religious" trappings, and asserted humanism less as a religious identity and more as a useful label to describe rational and non-religious attitudes to morality and ethics. Ethical Culture and religious humanism groups first formed in the United States from former Unitarian ministers who, not believing in god, sought to build a secular religion influenced on the thinking of French philosopher Auguste Comte.


Sensualism is the persistent or excessive pursuit of sensual pleasures and interests. In philosophy, it refers to the ethical doctrine that feeling is the only criterion for what is good. In epistemology it is a doctrine whereby sensations and perception are the basic and most important form of true cognition. It may oppose abstract ideas. This ideogenetic question was long ago put forward in Greek philosophy (Stoicism, Epicureanism) and further developed to the full by the English Sensualists (John Locke, David Hume) and the English Associationists (Thomas Brown, David Hartley, Joseph Priestley). In the 19th century it was very much taken up by the Positivists (Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Hippolyte Taine, Émile Littré)


Sociocybernetics is an independent chapter of science in sociology based upon the general systems theory and cybernetics.

It also has a basis in organizational development (OD) consultancy practice and in theories of communication, theories of psychotherapies and computer sciences. The International Sociological Association has a specialist research committee in the area – RC51 – which publishes the (electronic) Journal of Sociocybernetics.

The term "socio" in the name of sociocybernetics refers to any social system (as defined, among others, by Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann).

The idea to study society as a system can be traced back to the origin of sociology when the emergent idea of functional differentiation has been applied for the first time to society by Auguste Comte.

The basic goal for which sociocybernetics was created, is the production of a theoretical framework as well as information technology tools for responding to the basic challenges individuals, couples, families, groups, companies, organizations, countries, international affairs are facing today.

Tranquility Calendar

The Tranquility Calendar is a solar calendar proposal for calendar reform proposed by Jeff Siggins in 1989. It is a derivative of the International Fixed Calendar as well as the earlier Positivist Calendar published in 1849 by French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857), providing for a year of 13 months of 28 days each, with one day at the end of each year belonging to no month or week, and a leap day approximately every 4 years.

Unilineal evolution

Unilineal evolution, also referred to as classical social evolution, is a 19th-century social theory about the evolution of societies and cultures. It was composed of many competing theories by various anthropologists and sociologists, who believed that Western culture is the contemporary pinnacle of social evolution. Different social status is aligned in a single line that moves from most primitive to most civilized. This theory is now generally considered obsolete in academic circles.

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