DU SOL BA 3rd Year History of Social Thought Notes Chapter 1 Auguste Comte (1798—1857)
Examine Comte’s theory of social progress.
Discuss Comte’s theory of evolution and progress.
What is the law of three stages formulated by Auguste Comte ? Discuss.
Theory of Evolution and Progress. Comte held that division of labour and population growth are twin factors of intellectual evolution—the predominant principle of social developement. He believed “as did many at that time, that the evolution of the human mind parallels that of the development of the individual’s intellect—i.e. phylogeny (development of the species) recapitulates ontogeny (development of the individual). In other words, individual mind, human activity and society pass through successive stages of historical evolution leading to some final stage of perfection.” Thus he devised the stages of social evolution and progress.
The Law of Three Stages. Sociology is a true science. It is, thus always in search of social laws to be applied to society in such a way that society’s past can be understood and its future predicted. ‘Of those laws discovered in social physics, Comte considered his law of the Three Stages based upon belief in social evolution to be the most important. “Each of our leading conceptions”, Comte said in Politique Positive, “each branch of our knowledge, passes Successively through three different theoretical conditions the theological or fictitious the metaphysical or abstract; and the’ scientific or positive.” As individuals develop from childhood superstitions and fears of supernatural powers also grow, so do societies develop from primitive religion to more advanced philosophical idealism to modern scientific mentalities. Thus evolution from stage to another is in the stages.
(1) The Theological or Fictitious Stage. This Stage is -dominated by priests and the military. It is the period in which man seeks the essential nature of all beings, first and final causes, origins and purposes of all effects, and overriding belief that all things are -caused by supernatural beings. Comte points out that in. this stage “all theoretical conceptions, whether general or special, bear a supernatural impress.” The individual’s mind invokes gods and goddesses and tries to explain phenomena by ‘ascribing them to beings comparable to man himself.’
(2) The Metaphysical or Abstract Stage. Churchmen and lawyers chlorinated this stage and it was a stage in which mind presupposes ‘abstract forces, veritable entities and personified abstractions capable of producing all phenomena.’ “It forms h link and is mongrel and transitional.” According to Comte, the metaphysical stage started about 1300 A.D. and was short-lived because of various forces acting against it.
(3) The Positive or Scientific Stage. Auguste Comte found that the dawn of the nineteenth century ‘marked the beginning of the positive stage.’ In this era “observation predominates over imagination” and all theoretical concepts have been rendered positive character. This final stage, ‘as Comte puts, it is, dominated by industrial administrators and scientists, the nature of human mind has given up its childish and vain search for absolute notions, origins and destinations of the universe and its causes but seeks to establish scientific principles governing phenomena.’
Aujuste Comte brings out three stages (epochs) of society corresponding to the three stages of mental progress. These are :
The theological and metaphysical stages dominated by military values ; however, the former is characterized by Conquest and the latter by Defence. The positive stage makes the beginning of Industrial society. Thus, Comte identified two major types of societies : ‘the Theological Military society, which was dying, and the Scientific Industrial society, which war being born during his lifetime. The former is characterized by the predominance of theological thinking and military activity. Priests were Endowed with intellectual and spiritual power while the military exercised temporal authority.’ The priests and theologians are replaced by scientific industrial society who represent the new moral and intellectual power. The military activity becomes out of date with the growth of scientific thinking and effective organization of production, the leaders in industry dominate the major activities of society.
On the basis of his generalisations Comte came to conclusion that the new scientific industrial society will become the society of all mankind.’ Calling it the ultimate stage in a’ series of successive transformations in all of these human race goes through and each stage is certainly superior to the previous one. ‘The new system is built upon the destruction of the old,’ once the evolutionary process sets in progress and the emancipation of the human mind is achieved
This discussion makes it clear that Comte’s theory of progress, is unilinear theory of evolution, involving the development of the human race to a single design the culmination of the individual mind, the human mind, and the human society in an ultimate state of positivism. Human history is the history of a single people, Comte reasons, because the progress of the human mind gives unity to the history of society.
Discuss Comte’s concept of Positivism
Critically discuss Comte’s Methodology.
“Write a note on Comte’s application of positive method of study to the social phenomena.
Auguste Comte’s Methodology. Comte laid emphasis upon historical analysis ‘as an indispensable component in socio-logical methodology’. Sociology not informed by a sense of historical evolution was useless for Comte. In order to legitimize the utility of the new science of human society, Comte stressed that it be “positive”, i.e., scientific in methods of analysis and diagnosis. Sociology ‘must use the “positive” method, implying the sub-ordi- nation of concepts to facts and the acceptance of the idea that social phenomena are subject to general laws-Goeiil laws. It was pointed out by Comte again and again that owing to the complexity of human relationships, attitudes, and behaviours, these social laws are necessarily less rigid than biological laws. And most importantly, Comte wanted his disciples to understand that social science must not be simply identified with’ mathematics and statistics, as helpful as they are in sociological analysis’.
Comte explained that “The idea of treating social science as an application of mathematics in order to give it a positive character had its source in the metaphysical prejudice that outside of mathematics there can be no real certainty”. To Comte, this bias is identifiable with the times of prepositive science, and as being now pre-empted by the higher science of complex social life. “This prejudice”, he continues, ‘was natural at the period when all positive knowledge lay within the sphere of applied mathematics. But since the rise of the great positive sciences such a prejudice is entirely inexcusable”.
Three-step Methodology. According to Comte, positive knowledge is to be gained by sociology in employing a three-step methodology feedback by historical analysis: (i) Observation, which must be guided by a theory of social phenomena, (ii) experimentation, which in sociology means controlled observation and the (iii) Careful scrutiny of what Comte called “pathological cases” as the true scientific equivalent in sociology of pure experimentation and comparison, which included human to animal, society to society, like to unlike etc. Stating the core of the problem, Comte wrote, “Central to sociology is the comparison oi the different coexisting states of human society on the various parts of the earth’s surface…” By this this method, he explained, the different stages of evolution may all be observed at once, these conventional methods of science – observation, experimentation and comparison must be used in combination with the historical method”.
The historical comparison of the consecutive states to humanity is not only the chief scientific device of the new political philosophy, it constitutes the sub-stratum of the science, in whatever is essential to it.” The historical method comprised the search for general laws tackling the transformations of humanity through fixed, but limited number of stages – Comte insisted that we could no understand a particular social phenomena unless ‘we restore it o its social context. To understand the significance of a religion one should understand the entire social and cultural context, Comte believed that “The chief phenomena in society – the gradual and continuous influence and generations upon each other would be disguised or unnoticed for want of the necessary key, viz., his cal analysis”.
Comte suggested that mind and society interaction be discussed in their historical setting as processes of human development. For Comte sociological method assured the scientific quality of “social physics”. In it, though the precision was short of pure mathematics, the quality of its analysis into the complexities of social life catapulated the science of humanity to the top rung in scientific ladder’. Comte argued for the indispensability of these natural laws to be discovered by sociology – “We shall find that there is no chance of order and agreement but in subjecting social phenomena, like all others, to invariable natural laws, which shall as a whole, prescribe for each period, with entire certainty, the limits, and character of social action”.
Thus Auguste Comte deeply thought over the superiority of the application of scientific or positive approach to the study of social phenomena. He also pointed out the utility of historical method in compilation of relevcnt ‘settings’ leading to evolution and progress in the society.
Discuss Comte’s concept of Social Statics and Social Dynamics.
Auguste Comte, in his study of social progress and t human development, (i.e. the progress of mind and society through history), came across two components at work. These were called as (i) Social Statics and (ii) Social Dynamics.
He pointed out that social statics is the study of the existing condition of society at a given time. He wrote, ‘the statical study of sociology consists in the investigation of the laws of action and reaction of the different parts of the social system – apart, for the occasion, from the fundamental movement which is always gradually modifying them.” Social dynamics is the study of continuous movements in social phenomena through time by means of a theory of social progress.
It has been found that ‘throughput his writings, Comte wrestled with the dialectical tension he saw in the socio-political activities of his time between order and progress within society. A true science of humanity, of social life, must discover those laws making both order and progress possible’. In his Positive Philosophy, (Vol. II) Comte wrote, “The distinction is between two aspects of theory.
It corresponds with the double conception of order and progress for order consists in a permanent harmony among the conditions of social existence, and progress consists in social development.” It was his idea that by studying order, sociologists come to a better understanding of those components essential to the existence of society; and also by studying Progress a better application of social movements is made. He held both as essential for better and complete study.
According to Comte, a basic concept of consensus Universalis, emerges and this means ‘a universal agreement among all societies of the dialectically creative role of order and progress, Such a consensus exists in all realms of life but reaches its climax in human society. Between all social components of human life science, art, politics, values, idea – the consensus universalis is the foundation of solidarity in a society’.
Comte discussed the study of individuals, in this context of analysis on the ground that socio-logy is the study of social systems consisting of homogeneous- elements. He argued that ‘the family is the basic social unit, though he never completely excluded his work from the constant plague of” individual versus social issues. Social statics consisted of the analysis of society’s structure at a given moment, on the one hand, and on the other, Of the analysis of the element(s) which at any given moment determine the consensus, which makes the collection Of individuals into a society, the plurality of institutions into a unity’.
From this discussion it transpires that social statics, is particularly helpful in understanding the nature of social order.
Relationship between Statics and Dynamics. Comte subordinates social dynamics to social statics. It ‘consists merely of the description of the successive and necessary’ stages in the development of mind and society incorporating historical analysis. Furthermore, social dynamics is history devoid of individual names, history of a scientific character in search of an abstract order of’ social laws operative in mind and society through historical progression. Fully and quite articulately affirming that progressive development in the evolution of society does not advance in a straight line contrary to the Comte antagonists who have for decades falsely accused him of being a unilateralist in social evolution.
Comtes did believe that the study of social dynamics must rightfully begin with human development and social progress’. As already stated, Comte held that two casual corollaries of progress were’ population increase and the growth of human mental abilities. He wanted us to- believe that children of each society develop in quantity and speed commensurate with their society’s corporate development’.
For him, progress, ‘is observable in all aspects of society – physical, moral, intellectual, political. The intellect is fundamental and most conspicuous since history is dominated by the development of ideas. And, concomitantly, intellectual development stimulates material development. Among these lines, Comte suggested by way of explanation that the differential velocity of progress so blatantly evidenced in Europe and the world was traceable to such variables as race, geography, and political system’.
Division of the Concept of Statics. Comte using logical derivations divided statics into two parts, i.e. (i) The study of the Structure of human nature on the one hand, and, (i) the study of structure of social nature, on the other’. The concept of dynamics, comprises the theory of progress, the law of three stages and the inevitable evolutionary development of order. “In short, social dynamics- studies the laws of succession, while social statics enquires into- those of coexistence, so that the use of the first is to furnish the true service in regard to order, and this suitability to the needs of modern- society is a strong confirmation of the georaphical character of such a combination”.
Auguste Comte held social sciences at this apex of hierarchy of sciences. What arguments he put forward for this opinion ?
Discuss Comte’s idea about the hierarchy of sciences.
What is the true science of humanity according to Auguste Comte ?
Auguste Comte believed like individuals, sciences too pass through the same stages. He, in order to prove his point, indicated that as Astronomy advanced from m stical speculation to—philosophical musings finally to scientific method, similarly sociology ‘has now arrived at a point in which some religious notion or metaphysical cause but scientific observation and analysis tell man and who and what he is and the true nature of all human relationships in society’. “As long as men believe that social events were always exposed to distrubances by the accidental intervention of the legislator”. In his positive Philosophy, he argued “human or divine, no scientific provisions of them would be possible”.
Auguste Comte believed that a hierarchy is formed by the abstract and theoretical sciences and in it the more concrete” and complex sciences succeed the more general and abstract sciences. He pointed out that the hierarchy, determined by the natural law of mental progress, is based on the order-in which positive method comes to be adopted in the disciplines. The base of the hierarchy, is mathematics, followed by astronomy, because these are the sciences in which the positive method comes to be adopted first. In time, they are followed by mechanics, physics, chemistry, much later biology, and finally sociology’. Thus sociology acquires the apex position.
It was stressed by Comte that social sciences are at the ape of the hierarchy as they have “all the resources of the anterior sciences” and offer “the attributes of a completion of the positive method. All others are preparatory to it. Here alone can the general sense of natural law be decisively developed in the most difficult case of all”. He further advocated that the positive method which has triumphed in all abstract sciences must essentially prevail in history and politics, and culminate in the founding of a ‘positive science of society, namely sociology, which is, in a word, the roof of ail sciences. Therefore, sociology which enjoyed the hierarchy of ‘the long line of positive sciences, was the crowning glory of man’s ability to analyze, describe, and prognosticate, and the most difficult in view of the complexity of the human phenomena which it focused upon’.
Establishment of Hierachy. Comte distinguished the methodological characteristics, of the various disciplines. While establishing the hierarchy, ‘beginning with the biology, the discipline that immediately precedes social sciences in the hierarchy, there is a decisive reversal in methodology – the sciences have become holistic in character. Sciences are no longer analytic but essentially and necessarily synthetic. Unlike physics and chemistry, which analyze elements of inorganic matter and proceed to establish laws among isolated phenomena, biology takes a holistic approach and proceeds from the study of organic whole’.
“In the inorganic sciences, the elements are much better known to us than the whole which they constitute so that in that case we must proceed from the simple to the compound. But the reverse method is necessary in the study of Man and Society Man and Society as a whole being better known to us, and more accessible subjects of study, than the .parts which constitute them’’. Comte pointed out that as biology fails to explain an organ or a function apart from the organism as a whole, sociology cannot explain social phenomena without reference to the total social context.
This idea of organic unity or the primacy of the system over element has important theoretical implication. Comte has repeatedly asserted that ope element of social entity could be understood only in terms of the entity as a whole similarly, any particular moment in the historical evolution of this entity is to be understood only in terms of the total process of historical’ evolution as a whole. August Comte stressfully argues, “There can be no scientific study of society either in its conditions or its movements, if it is separated into portions, and its – divisions are studied apart”.
What is the true science of humanity ?
Augute Comte, in his effort to point out the true science of humanity, objected, to the characteristic optimism of the scientific, community about the nature of human development having inclination towards supremacy of man’s rational capabilities. Comte argued that ‘As opposed to reason being the pivotal factor in human behaviour, rather that man will never be prompted by anything stronger and more fundamental than his own emotions. Feelings rather than reason rule the mind. The goal of man, therefore, if he is to better his society is to be governed more and more unselfish feelings and less by egotistical instincts. It is the scientific mind that can govern the feelings most effectively. The scientist is not necessarily more rational than other men ; he is more likely, however, to govern his emotions more constructively for the corporate good. Comete dismissing all preconceptions wrote – “Man is to act by emotion and to think in order to act”.
It was believed by Auguste Comte that man cannot be by instinct a positivist because his emotions are more likely to be ‘governed by superstition and fear than by cool analysis and logical description. Man is not by nature a positivist. Comte was never tired of saying- he is not naturally scientific. He becomes so gradually, through the evolution and progress of society and the human mind. To be a positivist (or later to be called scientist, is to discover the laws governing phenomena, and time is required to clean such understanding from observation and experimentation’. Here again the importance of History was noted as necessary so thatf^Uusoasr intelligence-may attain its intrinsic end, may realize its peculiar vocation, which is human progress and societal evolution under the supremacy of sociology.
Auguste Comte found a direct correlation between the progress of the human mind and the evolution of human society, He opined that as ‘one develops, so does the other. It is no accident, so the intimation-is, that those societies which are the most advanced in-complexity of associations and refinements of interaction are like wise the same societies in which the greatest intellectual development amongst individuals has occurred’. Comte wrote “I mean the relational coordination of the fundamental sequence of the various events of human history according to a single design” constituted the key to conceptual sociology. According to Comte, the “true science of the human mind is the sociology of knowledge”.
Consisting of observation and comprehension of the capabilities of the human mind as they are revealed to us through their progressions in the course of history. The mind is both a social and an historical entity, and in each age, the mind of the scientist functions in a social matrix’. Through his discussion, the object of Comte was to establish a naturalistic science of society which could explain the past development of mankind as well as predict its future advancement.
According to Comte, ‘new science of sociology was the study of the totality of human intellect and its resulting social actions through time.? Mind, society and history converged, in the new discipline. Later, realizing the need to more adequate circumscribe the legitimate parameters of the science of society, Comte qualified his earlier definition suggesting that sociology was not the study of the intellect as such but of the cumulative results of the activity of the human mind’.
It was cherished goal of Comte to establish sociology as the abstract theoretical science. In this context, ‘Comte’s greatest battle with the intellectual bastions of his day was over the nature and function of this new science, originally and preferably called “social physics” by Ooitrte but owing to an unfortunate coincidence of the term appearing in the title of a “mere” statistical study by a Belgian scientist by the name of Quetelet, Comte was forced, happily now in retrospect to concoct a neologian term “sociology”, combining the Latin word soeius (society) and Greek word logis (study of).
This science, for him, was to be the culmination of all sciences. In system of Positive Policy, he explained thus we already possess ciestial physics (astronomy), terrestrial physics (geology and geography), mechanical and chemical (Engineering and chemistry) vegetable physics (botany), animal physics (zoology). We still need one physical science social physics (sociology)in order to complete the natural sciences, (parenthesis added)”. Stressing the parameters of new science he wrote, “I understand Social Physics to mean’ that science which occupies itself with the study of social phenomena, considered in the same light as astronomical, physical, chemical and physiological phenomena, that is to say, as being subject to- natural and invariable laws the discovery of which is the special object of its researchers”.
Comte pointed out time and again that the primary aim of sociology’ was to discover by what necessary chain- of successive transformations the human race, starting from a condition barely superior to that of a society of great apex, has been gradually led up to the present stage of European civilization. It has been pointed out (it was believed by Comte) that within this hierarchy of sciences, wherein the analysis and description of systems become increasingly complex beginning with stellar and ending in social constellations, all sciences will converge upon the culmination of their mutual enterprises in the advancement of man kind, sociology in the lead.”
Write briefly about Comte’s scientific theory of morality.
What is scientific theory of Morality ? Explain briefly.
Comte, in his later writings sought to point out moral and realigions consideratious possibly with the view to create a new social order. Comte sought to establish a new social order based on moral unity and a new religion of humanity. The supernatural religion based on relation is to be replaced by a demonstrated religion based on the scientific synthesis of human intellect, action and feeling. With the ascendance of positivism and moral unity, will come the gradual elimination of egoism and the triumph of altruism.’ All elements and processes of society “will cooperate willingly in perfecting the order of the world”. Comte pointed out that best stage of evolution was the golden age of positivism, where a new civilisation characterized by the homogeneity of beliefs and emotions and allowing the fullest expression of individual talent and action but yet tempered by education and moral training,’ was to emerge.
The golden age. According to Comte in his golden age of the future, ‘The new positive society, which Comte labelled as Sociocracy, will be an organic, hierarchic society based on the natural talents of individuals. While personal ownership of property is necessary and inevitable, it will be exercised only as a collective function and a social duty The goal of every individual will be to rise in the spiritual hierarchy of merit and moral worth, not the temporal hierarchy of wealth and power. The industrial order assigned each man a position commensurate with his merit the only hierarchy that counts in the positive sociocracy is the hierarchy of merit and of the heart.’ The new society shall last because it is tempered and regulated by a moral and spiritual power. He further minted but that the accumulation of wealth is independent of the creation of large states through military conquest, wars have outlived their purpose, Comte reasoned; ‘wealth depended on the scientific organization of labour in the industrial enterprise.’ This would create a highest quality of social order.
In his golden age, Comte assigned great prestige and responsibility sociologists in his society of the future. The sociologists must constitute an academy of secular priests endowed with the spiritual power of the new ‘positive religion. These scientific sociologist priests would act as the moral guides and censors of the community and the directors of education. Having acquired positive knowledge of what is good and evil, they would be able to judge abilities of each member of society and hold men to their collective duty by means of education and moral training.’
Thus the new age (golden age or socio age) will be based on order and its aim would be to attain progress.