CRITICALLY DISCUSS AUGUSTE CONTE CONCEPT OF POSITIVISM
Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte (19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857), better known as Auguste Comte (French: [oɡyst kɔ̃t]), was a French philosopher. He was a founder of the discipline of sociology and of the doctrine of positivism. He is sometimes regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.
Influenced by the utopian socialist Henri Saint-Simon, 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.
Positivism is a way of thinking developed by Auguste Comte and is based on the assumption that it is possible to observe social life and establish reliable, valid knowledge about how it works. This knowledge can then be used to affect the course of social change and improve the human condition. Positivism also argues that sociology should concern itself only with what can be observed with the senses and that theories of social life should be built in a rigid, linear, and methodical way on a base of verifiable fact. It has had relatively little influence on contemporary sociology, however, because it is argued that it encourages a misleading emphasis on superficial facts without any attention to underlying mechanisms that cannot be observed.
Positivism is the philosophy of science that information derived from logical and mathematical treatments and reports of sensory experience is the exclusive source of all authoritative knowledge, and that there is valid knowledge (truth) only in this derived knowledge. Verified data received from the senses are known as empirical evidence. Positivism holds that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws. Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected. Although the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought, the modern sense of the approach was developed by the philosopher and founding sociologist Auguste Comte in the early 19th century. Comte argued that, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other absolute laws, so also does society.
Positivism is part of a more general ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry, notably laid out by Plato and later reformulated as a quarrel between the sciences and the humanities, Plato elaborates a critique of poetry from the point of view of philosophy in his dialogues Phaedrus 245a, Symposium 209a, Republic 398a, Laws 817 b-d and Ion. Wilhelm Dilthey popularized the distinction between Geisteswissenschaft (humanities) and Naturwissenschaften (natural science).
The consideration that laws in physics may not be absolute but relative, and, if so, this might be more true of social sciences, was stated, in different terms, by G. B. Vico in 1725. Vico, in contrast to the positivist movement, asserted the superiority of the science of the human mind (the humanities, in other words), on the grounds that natural sciences tell us nothing about the inward aspects of things
Auguste Comte (1798–1857) 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 1844 work, A General View of Positivism (published in French 1848, 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 emphasized 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. 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 View of Positivism therefore set-out to define the empirical goals of sociological method.
In philosophy, generally, any system that confines itself to the data of experience and excludes a priori or metaphysical speculations. More narrowly, the term designates the thought of the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857).
As a philosophical ideology and movement, positivism first assumed its distinctive features in the work of Comte, who also named and systematized the science of sociology. It then developed through several stages known by various names, such as empiriocriticism, logical positivism, and logical empiricism, and finally, in the mid-20th century, flowed into the already existing tradition known as analytic philosophy (also called linguistic philosophy).
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’. The idea bears some similarity to Marx’s belief that human society would progress toward a communist peak.This is perhaps unsurprising as both were profoundly influenced by the early Utopian socialist, Henri de Saint-Simon, who was at one time Comte’s mentor. Comte intended to develop a secular-scientific ideology in the wake of European secularisation.
Comte’s stages were (1) the theological, (2) the metaphysical, and (3) the positive. The theological phase of man was based on whole-hearted belief in all things with reference to God. God, Comte says, had reigned supreme over human existence pre-Enlightenment. Humanity’s place in society was governed by its association with the divine presences and with the church. The theological phase deals with humankind’s accepting the doctrines of the church (or place of worship) rather than relying on its rational powers to explore basic questions about existence. It dealt with the restrictions put in place by the religious organization at the time and the total acceptance of any “fact” adduced for society to believe. Comte describes the metaphysical phase of humanity as the time since the Enlightenment, a time steeped in logical rationalism, to the time right after the French Revolution. This second phase states that the universal rights of humanity are most important. The central idea is that humanity is invested with certain rights that must be respected. In this phase, democracies and dictators rose and fell in attempts to maintain the innate rights of humanity.
The final stage of the trilogy of Comte’s universal law is the scientific, or positive, stage. The central idea of this phase is that individual rights are more important than the rule of any one person. Comte stated that the idea of humanity’s ability to govern itself makes this stage inherently different from the rest. There is no higher power governing the masses and the intrigue of any one person can achieve anything based on that individual’s free will. The third principle is most important in the positive stage. Comte calls these three phases the universal rule in relation to society and its development. Neither the second nor the third phase can be reached without the completion and understanding of the preceding stage. All stages must be completed in progress.
Comte believed that the appreciation of the past and the ability to build on it towards the future was key in transitioning from the theological and metaphysical phases. The idea of progress was central to Comte’s new science, sociology. Sociology would “lead to the historical consideration of every science” because “the history of one science, including pure political history, would make no sense unless it was attached to the study of the general progress of all of humanity”. As Comte would say: “from science comes prediction; from prediction comes action.” It is a philosophy of human intellectual development that culminated in science. The irony of this series of phases is that though Comte attempted to prove that human development has to go through these three stages, it seems that the positivist stage is far from becoming a realization. This is due to two truths: The positivist phase requires having a complete understanding of the universe and world around us and requires that society should never know if it is in this positivist phase. Anthony Giddens argues that since humanity constantly uses science to discover and research new things, humanity never progresses beyond the second metaphysical phase.
Comte’s fame today owes in part to Emile Littré, who founded The Positivist Review in 1867. As an approach to the philosophy of history, positivism was appropriated by historians such as Hippolyte Taine. Many of Comte’s writings were translated into English by the Whig writer, Harriet Martineau, regarded by some as the first female sociologist. Debates continue to rage as to how much Comte appropriated from the work of his mentor, Saint-Simon. He was nevertheless influential: Brazilian thinkers turned to Comte’s ideas about training a scientific elite in order to flourish in the industrialization process. Brazil’s national motto, Ordem e Progresso (“Order and Progress”) was taken from the positivism motto, “Love as principle, order as the basis, progress as the goal”, which was also influential in Poland.
In later life, Comte developed a ‘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). The system was unsuccessful but met with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species 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”).
The early sociology of Herbert Spencer came about broadly as a reaction to Comte; writing after various developments in evolutionary biology, Spencer attempted (in vain) to reformulate the discipline in what we might now describe as socially Darwinistic terms.
Positivism states that all authentic knowledge allows verification and that all authentic knowledge assumes that the only valid knowledge is scientific. Enlightenment thinkers such as Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825), Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827) and Auguste Comte (1798–1859) believed the scientific method, the circular dependence of theory and observation, must replace metaphysics in the history of thought. Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) reformulated sociological positivism as a foundation of social research.
Positivism states that all authentic knowledge allows verification and that all authentic knowledge assumes that the only valid knowledge is scientific. Enlightenment thinkers such as Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825), Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827) and Auguste Comte (1798–1859) believed the scientific method, the circular dependence of theory and observation, must replace metaphysics in the history of thought. Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) reformulated sociological positivism as a foundation of social research. 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.
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