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Chapter 9

SOAN 2111 Chapter Notes - Chapter 9: Auguste Comte, Social Philosophy, Social Order

Sociology and Anthropology
Course Code
SOAN 2111
Linda Hunter

of 2
Chapter 9: Auguste Comte (1798-1857)
- Comte fought against the heritage of the Philosophes and in the process formed
his own philosophy
- Comte saw a ‘deplorable state of anarchy’ in this time, and he believed that his
‘social physics’ bearing directly upon the ‘principal needs and grievances of
society’ would help bring order out of chaos.
- He hoped to call this science to the attention of statesmen who ‘profess to
devote themselves to the task of resolving the alarming revolution constitution
of modern societies’
- Order and progress must be united once and for all
- The principle of order was derived form the Catholic-feudal state of social
- The principle of progress was derived from the critical tendencies of the
reformation and the enlightenment
- Comte (like Saint Simon) appreciated certain aspects of the feudal-theological
order and did not reject it altogether
- It had facilitated the development of modern society
- Comte (unlike Bonald) believed it was impossible to restore the old order
- The declined of the old is no temporary Comte argues, a synthesis of the
opposing ideas, order and progress, must be achieved, because only through
intellectual unity and harmony can social unity be restored
- The principles of the ‘metaphysicians’ (Comte’s term for the Enlightenment
thinkers) were essentially critical and revolutionary
- The contributed to progress but only in a negative sense
- The metaphyiscal stage was necessary because it broke up the old system and
paved the way for the next stage the positive one that would put an end to the
revolutionary period by the formation of a social order uniting the principles of
order and progress
- Comte insists that unity and unanimity will be essential in the new organic
- Social order, he writes ‘must ever be incompatible with a perpetual discussion
of the foundations of society’
- Comte also finds particularly objectionable Rousseau’s “metaphysical notion of
a supposed state of nature”
- Comte despised intellectual anarchy and regarded it as the main cause of moral
- True moral order is incompatible with the existing vagabond liberty of
individual minds if such license were to last; for the great social rules which
should become customary cannot be abandoned to the blind and arbitrary
decision of an incompetent public without losing all their efficacy
- Comte feared and disliked social criticism and its disorganizing results
- Comte also feared the contemporary emphasis on material’ considerations and
regarded it as fatal to progress
- He had great confidence in the ascendancy of the positive doctrine. Its perfect
logical coherence and its social function assured success
- “if there are (As I doubt not there are) political evils which, like some personal
sufferings, cannot be remedied by science, science at least proves to us that they
are incurable, so as calm our restlessness under pain by the conviction that it is
by natural laws that they are rendered insurmountable. “
- Comte’s real target is the revolutionary school whose ‘doctrines will be
absorbed by the new philosophy, while all its anarchical tendencies will be
- For Comte, what distinguishes the scientific spirit is its steady subordination of
imagination to observation, of reason to ‘facts’.
- prediction or prevision as he calls it, will facilitate social control, a primary or
even exclusive aim of his positive doctrine
- order and progress are the static and dynamic aspects of a society
- order refers to the harmony that prevails among the various conditions of
existence, where are progress refers to the society’s orderly development
according to natural social laws
- Comte stresses that the scientific method requires that society be studied as a
whole and not separated into its component parts.
- Social dynamics refers ot the study of the patterns of evolutionary progress in
which the sequences of development are necessary and inevitable. Social
dynamics then, is really dynamic order proceeding according to natural, orderly,
and necessary laws.
- He emphasized such techniques as observation, experiment and comparison.
o Observation is impossible without theory, first to direct is and then to
interpret what is observed
- He considers the individual, the family, and society the ‘last comprehending in a
scientific sense, the whole of the human species, and chiefly the whole of the
white race’
- Comte argues the organic inferiority of woman and attempts to provide a
‘scientific’ rationale for the same state of affairs that the theological school
regarded as determined by Providence