Comte Study Questions.doc

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Dan Silver

Comte Study Questions p. 57-58: What does Comte mean by “positivity” and the “scientific spirit”? Positivism is the application of the scientific method to the analysis of society. Comte felt that sociology could be used to inspire social reforms and generally make a society a better place for its members. Positivity: Human beings now understand the scientific laws that control the world. What does Comte mean by the “theological” and “metaphysical” polities? What are their main attributes? Theological: In this stage human beings rely on supernatural agencies to explain what they can't explain otherwise. The Theological, which is the original and spontaneous form of thought, regards the facts of the universe as governed not by invariable laws of sequence, but by single and direct volitions of beings, real or imaginary, possessed of life and intelligence. In the infantile state of reason and experience, individual objects are looked upon as animated. The next step is the conception of invisible beings, each of whom superintends and governs an entire class of objects or events. The last merges this multitude of divinities in a single God, who made the whole universe in the beginning, and guides and carries on its phaenomena by his continued action, or, as others think, only modifies them from time to time by special interferences. Metaphysical: In this stage human beings attribute effects to abstract but poorly understood causes. Metaphysical, accounts for phenomena by ascribing them, not to volitions either sublunary or celestial, but to realized abstractions. In this stage it is no longer a god that causes and directs each of the various agencies of nature: it is a power, or a force, or an occult quality, considered as real existences, inherent in but distinct from the concrete bodies in which they reside, and which they in a manner animate. Instead of Dryads presiding over trees, producing and regulating their phenomena, every plant or animal has now a Vegetative Soul. Why do political ideas remain metaphysical longer than others? Because it requires abstract reasoning, critical thought typical to the legal and professional class. p. 60: Why do some politicians believe that social phenomena can be modified at will? Because they believe that the human race has no spontaneous impulses but are instead always ready to yield to any influence of the legislator whether spiritual or temporal provided that they are invested with a sufficient authority. Society regards legislators as the organ of a supernatural and absolute power. p. 61: What does Comte mean by “prevision”? What three conditions does a scientific, predictive, account of social phenomena suppose? Prevision = envision, expect, foresight In order for man to transform his nonhuman environment to his advantage, he must know the laws that govern the natural world, "For it is only by knowing the laws of phenomena, and thus being able to foresee them, that we can . . . set them to modify one another for our advantage. . . . Whenever we effect anything great it is through a knowledge of natural laws. . . From Science comes Prevision; from Prevision comes Action." It supposes that we have: - abandoned metaphysical ideals and instead focus on observed realities via systematic subordination of imagination to observation - Political conceptions have ceased to be absolute and become relative to the variable state of civilization so that theories following natural course of facts may admit our foreseeing them - Permanent political action is limited by determinate laws since if social events were always exposed to disturbance by accidental intervention of legislator (human/divine), no scientific prevision would be possible p. 62: Explain the distinction between “order” and “progress.” What does it mean to say that the distinction is “not between two classes of facts, but between two aspects of a theory?” (182) Order in a positive sense is a permanent harmony among the conditions of social existence. Progress is social development and the conditions in the one case and the laws of movement in the other which constitute the statics and dynamics of social physics. p. 63: In what does the statical study of sociology consist? Consists in the investigation of the system of laws and reaction of the different parts of the social system apart from the fundamental movement which is always gradually modifying them. p. 64: What does it mean to relate political institutions and social organizations to the “total system of civilization.” Great thinkers recognize the mutual relation between political institutions and the rational agreement of system of institutions with the total system of civilization. They therefor admit a constant mutual connection between the political and civil power which means in scientific language that social forces always end in assuming the direction of society. p. 65: What is the “scientific principle of the relation between the political and social condition”? There must always be a spontaneous harmony between the whole and the parts of the social system, the elements of which must inevitably be sooner or later, combined in a mode entirely conformable to their nature p. 66: In what does the value of any political system consist? It consists of regulating the spontaneous expansion so as to best direct it towards its determinate end. p. 67: What is the link between the interconnectedness of organic phenomena and the “master thought” of social interconnection? All artificial and voluntary order is simply a extension of the natural and involuntary order to which all human society tends, every rational political institution must rest upon an exact elementary analysis of corresponding tendencies, which alone can furnish a sufficiently solid basis. In brief it is our business to contemplate order so that we may perfect it and not to create it which would be impossible. p. 69: What is the “master thought” of dynamical sociology? What does “dynamical” mean? It is in other words the master thought of continuous progress or rather the gradual development of humanity. What is the “true general spirit of social dynamics”? Consists of conceiving each other the consecutive social states as the necessary result of the preceding and the indispensable mover of the following according to the maxim of Leibnitz. In this view, the object of science is to discover the laws which govern this continuity and the aggregate which determines the course of human development. Essentially, social dynamics studies the laws of succession while social existence inquiries into those of co-existence. p. 71: According to Comte, why are “men of genius” not the real engines of social progress? p. 73: Comte believes that social development also generates social progress. What is his evidence for this claim? He cautions to regard it like as a subject like the development itself to limits, general and special which science will be found to prescribe. For instance, in the Middle Ages the progress was political. Taking the human race as a whole and not as any one people, it spears that human development brings after it ever growing social progress first in the radical condition of MAN, which no one disputes, and next in his corresponding faculties which is a view much less attended to. p. 76: What sorts of modifications of social phenomena are possible? Impossible? Modifications act upon the intensity and secondary operation of phenomena but without affecting their nature or their filiation. Any possible variation can affect only the intensity of the different tendencies belonging to each social situation without any way hindering or producing or changing the nature of those p. 77: According to Comte, what are the three main sources of social variation? Which is most important? They are race, climate and political action in its whole scientific extent. The most important is the political influences because they are the only ones open to intervention. p. 78: What is the proper relation between social theory and social practice, for Comte? While dissipating all ambitious illusions about the indefinite action of man on civilization the principle of rational limits to political action establishes the true point of contact between social theory and practice. Although science may be powerless during wild disorder and extravagance it may abridge the crises by understanding their character and foreseeing their issue and by more or less intervention whenever possible. p. 79: What is the function of social science? It regards man as the subjects of observation, it contemplates each phenomenon in its harmony with co-existing phenomena and in its connection with foresight and human development, it endeavors to discover from both points of view the general relations which connect all social phenomena, each of which is explained in the scientific sense of the world. p. 80: What is the difference between “direct” means of investigation and “indirect” means? Direct refers to those which are peculiar to itself and indirect means of investigation that arise from the connection of sociology with other sciences. What are the direct means of investigation in sociology? Observation, Experiment and Comparison What are the two obstacles to establishing observation as a means of investigation in sociology? 1. Uncertainty of human testimony 2. Observations rest upon the testimony of the original investigators p. 83: What is the role of experimentation in Social Science? To examine cases unhappily too common in which natural laws of either harmony or succession are disturbed by any causes, special/general, harmony/succession are disturbed by any causes special/general, accidental/transient as in revolutionary times, especially in our own. These disturbances are analogous to diseases in the individual organism. p. 84: What does Comte believe are the chief benefits of comparing human society to animal societies? It allows us to estimate the social state of the higher orders of mammals allowing us to see and understand the importance of studying individual life in regards to intellectual and moral phenomena. Comparisons of human with animal societies will give up precious clues to "the first germs of the social relations" and to the borderlines between the human and the animal. Yet comparisons within the human species are even more central to sociology. The chief method here "consists in a comparison of the different co-existing states of human society on the various parts of the earth's surface--these states being completely independent of each other. By this method, the different stages of evolution may all be observed at once." Though the human race as a whole has progressed in a single and uniform manner, various populations "have attained extremely unequal degrees of development" from causes still little understood. p. 86: What are the two chief methods of comparing human societies that Comte recommends? Comparison of social forms with those of lower animals, with coexisting states and past systems generate considerable insight into the operation of the social universe. By comparing elements that are present and absent, similar or dissimilar or even knowledge about the fundamental properties of the social would can be achieved. p. 88-90: What are the chief benefits of the historical method? "The historical comparison of the consecutive states of humanity is not only the chief scientific device of the new political philosophy . . . it constitutes the substratum of the science, in whatever is essential to it." Historical comparisons throughout the time in which humanity has evolved are at the very core of sociological inquiry. Sociology is nothing if it is not informed by a sense of historical evolution. p. 90: What is the chief danger to proper application of the historical method? Reducing history to a mere accumulation of unconnected delineations in which all idea of the true filiation of events is lost amidst a mass of confused descriptions. p. 92: Comte is trying to situate sociology in relation to “organic philosophy” (biology) and inorganic philosophy (physics, chemistry). What does he see as the primary points of contact between sociology, biology, and physics? p. 94-95: What are some examples of the contributions biology can make to social science? The order of biological organisms with their interdependent parts and processes of self- maintenance offered Comte a vision of how social order should be constructed. In what ways does Comte think biology is limited in its contribution to social sciences? Biology tends to exalt their own science in lieu of showing regard for that which follows it. They lose sight of historical observation all together and represent sociology as a mere collar of the science of the man. If you neglect historical comparison, you can understand nothing of social evolution. What are some examples of inappropriate biological explanations of social phenomena? Incorrect belief that social modifications proper to certain periods are supposed to be inherent to human nature and therefore indestructible. For instance, supposing that the military tendencies of mankind are immutable notwithstanding the historical evidence that warlike disposition diminishes as human development proceeds. What is the chief phenomenon of sociology, for Comte? What is “original” about this phenomenon? p. 96: In what ways to inorganic phenomena affect social phenomena? Why are the effects of inorganic phenomena on social life more apparent than their effects on individual biological life? Sociology studies phenomena that distinguish it from the lower inorganic phenomena as well as from the higher organic science of biology. Although it is an organic science, sociology will be independent and study phenomena that exhibit in even a higher degree the complexity, specialization and personality which distinguish the higher phenomena of the individual life. Social phenomena cannot be understood apart from their environment that those of individual life. All exterior disturbances wh
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