Auguste Comte (1798-1857) – notes

  • Context for Auguste Comte’s life: France was in a social crisis in the first half of the 19th century—roughly Comte’s lifetime. There was class conflict in the context of industrialization. The country was divided between enlighteners/revolutionaries and conservatives. Throughout the 19th century France flip-flopped between governments.
  • Comte was dismayed at the restoration of the monarchy in 1814. He saw that the old France was dying and knew the nation had to progress but thought that the radicals did not have the answers and proposed more moderate reforms instead.
  • Comte’s positivism was based on the notion of a progressive development from theological and metaphysical views. Positivism = facts, but facts made coherent by a unifying analysis.
  • Comte thought that positivism would influence human sciences in order of difficulty with sociology—basically “human affairs” as opposed to hard sciences—coming last. For Comte, sociology was the sum of all sciences.
  • Comte approached society as a realm of social interaction, rules and institutions, not individuals. Comte asked: given the turn to individualism, how is social order and stability maintained?
  • If sociology could outline the underlying principles of social order it could be used to guide social reforms. This was Comte’s logic and the first premise of sociology.

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