What were Auguste Comte's views on social change?

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
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    Comte's Assumptions

    society presents a sue generis reality: a real existence in which it manifests properties other than and separate from those of individuals - social determinism

    all social organisms evolve: they go through a process of gradual, cumulative, and determinable change from an infant state to a mature state

    social development is understood in terms of the manner in which individuals interpret their world

    society is conceptualized statically, as a social organism composed of integrated parts, and dynamically, in terms of interpretive evolutionary stages

    a teleological stance: society has an innate tendency to develop in a certain direction (towards more complexity)

    individuals are mere abstractions and have no existence outside of the society which gave birth to them

    individuals mature in much the same way societies do: through theological, metaphysical, and positive forms of thought

    men are the intellectual superiors to women but women are more important to society overall

    sociology should be a positivistic science

    sociology should try to predict future events in order to create a more harmonious society

    social order cannot be based on reasoned self-interest and free association-individuals are governed by emotions not reason

    liberal democracy would not produce a harmonious society

    opposed socialism because of its focus on equality - he believed in innate inequalities between individuals

    favored a society under the control of sociologists! Imagine that.

    Auguste Comte

    Comte's View of Society

    Comte's most fundamental assumption: sui generis social reality.

    Sui Generis

    society exhibits a real existence with properties other than and separate from those manifested by individuals or aggregates - it is alive.


    organic structure

    systematic properties

    determinate patterns change

    definite and predictable variations

    evolutionary sequence of stages (teleology)

    Comte felt that "individuals" were the products of society.

    At any given point in time a society's parts are related to one another in specifiable and scientific relations.

    Biological Analogy

    The social organism is like a biological organism. Each part of the social organism is engaged in different but mutually supportive functions. The most fundamental unit of society is the family. Comte saw societies as more or less complex.

    families produce individuals

    families produce cities

    cities produce society

    within the city the families serve as functional parts in accomplishing necessary tasks

    ultimately all societies would merge into an even greater entity: the "great being."

    Social Dynamics

    All societies go through a process of gradual, cumulative, and determinable change from a state of social infancy to one of maturity. This is the biological analogy again. As organisms grow and mature so do societies.


    The stages are understood mentalistically: in terms of how the world is generally or collectively understood and acted toward. Each stage is represented by a change in the understanding of the world.

    Theocratic Stage

    Events are explained in terms of the will or action of humanlike gods, spirits, demons, ghosts, and other supernatural beings.

    Lacking sophisticated theoretical concepts its easy to understand how people could reify objects and nature. Take the example of a hunting-gathering-and fishing society living by the bank of a river. Modern people know that rivers meander and frequently flood. But this is because of their more sophisticated understanding of the mechanics of nature and rivers. When the river floods and and tribal members loose their belongings and even some lives the river's action may seem to be an artifact of agency - the river seems to have life and will. Thus, the tribe may offer sacrifices to appease the river and prevent it from flooding again.

    The theocratic stage has three substages.

    Fetishistic Stage

    the earliest period in human mental and social activity

    every object in existence is alive and has humanlike spiritual, motivational, and affective qualities

    supernaturalism permeates all spheres of social activity

    rocks, trees, rivers, etc., have the ability to act willfully to help or hinder human activity

    absence of analytical thought and daily encounters with supernatural beings and forces would negate any priestly hierarchy or organization arising - each individual would have a personal relationship with the spirits inhabiting the world and not be in need of a priest to interpret these interactions

    social bonds were simple - family/kin

    progress in fetishistic stage included the domestication of animals, agriculture, military organization, commerce, and currency

    lack of abstract thought would do little to create broadly shared collective values or a sense of overall collective unity

    The point is this: thought itself at this stage is fetishistic, not analytical. Without analytical thought a more complex social development is impossible.

    But Comte conflates analytical thought with positivistic thought, accepting uncritically the notion that positivism has the only true answers.

    Comte saw the development of a priestly caste as indicative of a higher form of social organization and development.

    Star Worship

    The highest form of fetishism according to Comte was "star worship." This phase of social development served as the transitional phase to the polytheistic period of the theological stage.

    Thought as to how the stars affect people's lives provided the foundation for a conception of deities who concerned themselves with human affairs. It also gave birth to systematic observation and the beginnings of science.

    Polytheistic Stage

    Objects of the world were no longer perceived as having their own spirits, but were viewed as lifeless and inert. However, they could be manipulated by the gods

    Contemplation of the relationships between the actions of deities on worldly events focused theorizing about reality more closely

    this observation and theorizing laid the foundation for scientific analysis in later social evolution

    Polytheistic period was the longest:


    organized priestly groups

    aggressive/expansionist warfare


    development of art and aesthetic expression

    Priestly groups devoted much time to theorizing about deities and their effects upon human events:

    nascent scientific research

    technological innovation

    aesthetic and practical arts

    Aggressive warfare led to an infusion of militaristic moral ideas throughout society.

    The polytheistic Stage has three stages.

    Egyptian Polytheism

    caste society

    upper priestly caste

    lower position of collective servitude

    Greek Polytheism

    rise of intellectual investigation



    Roman Polytheism


    increased organization and social development

    The Greeks and Romans believed in a hierarchy of gods under the control of a single most powerful god. This is the transitional phase prior to monotheism.


    Society reaches the stage where all phenomena are explained by reference to a single deity.

    monotheism involved explaining external reality in terms of the actions of a single god

    Social organization:

    the church: religious/moral authority

    the state: secular/political authority

    The openness of the church to entrants from all levels of society ended the upper-caste dominance of theological speculation.

    feudal organization

    slavery replaced by serfdom

    relations of power replaced by feudal mutual obligation and duty

    advances in music, art, and industry

    the formation of proto-social-evolutionary theories in the form of "universal histories" laid the foundations for sociological thought

    Metaphysical Stage

    The metaphysical stage was to be understood as a transitional stage between theological and positivistic stages. It was essentially a "negative stage," characterized by disharmony, conflict and chaos.

    Protestant Stage

    Protestantism was a negative philosophy which undermined the doctrine and organization of the Catholic church. This negative tone stems from Comte's stance on individualism - which he felt was socially disruptive. This is a theme which will continue to appear in the debates between the theorist. Too much individualism is socially disruptive. Protestantism stressed that one could have a personal relationship with the Lord - i.e. an individual relationship. Catholicism, on the other hand, stresses that one needs to have the Lord's will interpreted by a Priest, or other official of the church. For Comte, collectivism, not individualism, is the hallmark of an more advanced society.

    In this period national churches replace the international moral authority of the Catholic church.

    Secular political thought is freed from the restraints of a larger moral social authority.

    The decentralized feudal system, in turn, disintegrated without the support of the international organized church

    Nation-States arise: single monarchs, standing armies, centralized ministries, etc.

    The clergy is subordinated to secular authorities which makes possible metaphysical doctrines which developed in the deistic period of the metaphysical stage.

    Deistic Period

    Rational critique of theistic doctrines

    assertions of the right to free intellectual inquiry and criticism

    attempts to reorganize social order in terms of inherent natural rights of individuals

    God is replaced by nature

    Positivistic Stage

    Events in the world are no longer explained in terms of either supernatural agencies or intimate natural rights, but instead in terms of scientific observation of the relationships of events.

    Science of society (sociology) would find sociology laws which would lead to the foundation of a modern, harmonious industrial social order.


    Society is a social organism made up of interrelated parts which can be studied.


    Mentalistically oriented evolutionary stages and substages.

    The Individual in Society

    Fundamental Assumptions about Human Nature

    During the course of maturation individuals develop intellectual abilities in a manner parallel to the way society as a whole develops.

    Without social control, self-centered emotions would dominate altruistic or socially oriented feelings.

    Too much individualism is socially destructive and individuals so constituted would not be able to have self-control, socially generated restraints and controls are necessary.

    Comte would absolutely hate today's society, why?


    Egoistic Instincts

    Egoistic instincts are biologically innate propensities from which behaviors aimed at self-gratification arise

    Preservation=nutritive instinctual instinct, sexual instinctual drive, maternal instinctual drive.

    Improvement=destructive (military, competition); constructive (productive through mutual effort)

    Intermediate Instincts

    oriented toward social goals

    Pride=love of power, creates leadership abilities, aids in the achievement of collective ends

    Vanity=love of self

    Social Instincts

    Innate propensities that allow one to live in society by subordinating oneself to the demands and concerns of the greater social organism.


    Bonds the individual to the other.


    Individual is capable of self-scracifice that benefits the group and community.

    Universal Love

    Sacrifices aimed at benefiting humanity.

    Cognitive Abilities

    Faculties of Conception


    The passive reception of ideas


    The active construction of thoughts based on received ideas.

    Synthetic Contemplation

    Concerned with concrete objects

    Analytical Contemplation

    Concerned with events

    Inductive Mediation

    The products of comparisons that lead to a static generalization about reality

    Deductive Mediation

    The coordination of generalizations to produce dynamic systematic generalizations

    Dr. Taylor's Evaluation of Comte


    Comte commits the classic logical sin: he implies that there is a universal order of development through which all societies pass. More, the order cannot be changed - all societies must pass through them as he has outlined. Additionally, there is some perfect end stage or utopia. This notion of end state is abhorrent to dialecticians. Comte, unfortunately, borrows from the emerging sciences of chemistry, physics, and especially biology, in spite of good reasons not too. Is there some reason to believe that every society has universal stages of development as opposed to each society being unique?


    Comte is the quintessential positivist. Nevertheless there is a dialectic in his theory. Namely, the idea of contradiction and negation. Each stage of development has inherent contradictions which, when they can no longer be sublimated, emerge full blown into conflicts. In a dialectic sense, then, each stage of development contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. This allows movement to the next stage. Each new stage, while distinct from those which passed before, contains some elements of the old thesis and antithesis.

    Importance of Population in Comte's Theory


    The complexity of social relations and the division of labor. This really refers to the "stock of knowledge." In less-advanced societies, particularly those of hunters and gathers, all that there is to know about reality is knowable by the subjects. As societies move toward pastoral and agriculture the stock of knowledge becomes so large that specialists are needed. This is related to the division of labor. People become specialists and can no longer know everything about reality which there is to know (in spite of what some students may think, or even faculty!). Social density refers to the fact that as the stock of knowledge grows so does the number of people specializing in one aspect of it or another. This is one idea of Comte's which I believe has lots of merit. Comte is differentiating between societies which are quite large in terms of the number of people and those which are more complex in terms of their stock of knowledge.

    Significance of Comte

    He provided a vision of what a social science should be based on, whether everyone agrees or not. Sociology, according to Comte, must seek fundamental principles by which patterns of social organization are created, maintained, and changed.

    Comte's work would provide the impetus for the functional sociology of Spencer and Durkheim. His organic analogy is popular ever to this very day. More than a few sociologists analyze the functions of institutions and what positive benefits they provide society or how they have become dysfunctional.

    Comte's Stages of Evolution

    Stage Period Phase

    Theological - understanding based on ascription of events to wills of supernatural agencies




    Pre-star worship (fetishistic)

    Star worship (fetishistic)

    Egyptian (polytheistic)

    Greek (polytheistic)

    Roman (polytheistic)

    Metaphysical - understanding based on assumption of essences, first causes and teleological predisposition's



    Positive - understanding based on observation of relationships between events

  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    Auguste Comte Sociology Theory

  • 4 years ago

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