SCMA*1090 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Auguste Comte, Mania, Statics
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T 117-124; B 4-15!
Auguste Comte and Positivism
•Comte’s met important intellectual inﬂuence came from his association with Saint-Simon,
whose ideas he embraced and expanded, and with whom he worked as a personal secretary
until they separated in ‘bitter animosity’!
•Early on it was evident that the anarchy and absence of order Comte saw in the world at
large was painfully echoed in his mental illness!
•By 1826, Comte’s mental instability was becoming recognizable as mania and he lapsed for a
time into a state of psychosis !
•Comte wrote the Course of Positive Philosophy, which proclaimed the founding of the
science of society !
•In 1838, he had another breakdown but with an appearance of bipolarity !
•Was turned down for academic reappointment and was denied recognition position!
•Convinced he possessed intellectual genius and the moral energy to save society from its
illnesses, Comte’s ﬁnal break with most of his intellectual contemporaries, as well as with his
wife, was a conscious act of martyrdom !
•Later on, after 45, Comte emphasized the importance of spirituality and emotions, as
opposed to the excessively rational and masculine side of social life !
•Comte’s theory appears to have evolved from positivism to theology — exactly the opposite
direction he theorized for society as a whole !
Three States of Knowledge
•In Giddens’ view, Comte developed one strain of thought that emerged from Saint-Simon by
abandoning concern with revolutionary social transformation and developing a science of
society that reconciled progress with order !
•Comte believed he had discovered a fundamental laws to which the development both of
society and of though, or ideals, was subject!
•Comte was ﬁnding a system within society — or imposing system upon it !
•In the ﬁrst, ‘theological or ﬁctitious’ stage, humans believe that all phenomena are controlled
by actions of supernatural agents or gods and by a single divine power !
-In this stage, people seek answers to unanswerable questions, such as the purpose of the
universe and the ﬁrst cause and the ﬁnal end of existence, or they try to understand the
invisible essence inside things that make them what they are!
•The theological stage eventually give rise to a transitional stage, which he labelled the
metaphysical or abstract stage, during which people still seek to discover the hidden
essence of all phenomena, but for a supernatural deity they substitute an abstraction such as
•This transitional stage prepares the ground for the development of the third and highest state
of knowledge, the scientiﬁc or positive stage!
-He held that this ﬁnal stage, foreshadowed by the works of Aristotle and the medical Arabic
scholars, began to supplant the ﬁrst two stages during the revolution in natural science led
by Newton and Galileo !
•Positive science was based on concrete observations of phenomena, seeking the regularities
and therefore the laws of cause and eﬀect in each area of physical science !
•Diﬀerent branches so stages are not identical !
-The ﬁrst branch is positivism and the last one is astronomy !
•Comte said the most pressing need of time was to develop a science of human society to ﬁll
this large most diﬃcult gap in knowledge - sociology !
•Comte -society ultimately rests on ideas which govern and revolutionize the world !
•You need to construct a genuine social order!
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