Sociologist in Focus: Auguste Comte
As part of a new series of blog posts, 'Sociologist in Focus' each post will contain a summary of a key sociologist's work and how they have influenced the world of sociology. These summaries could help form part of an introduction to Theory and Methods.
Auguste Comte was born in France in the 19th century and was a child of the Enlightenment. His ideas were rooted in a period known as the ‘Age of Reason’ where it was believed that society could be studied with an objective and rational eye. The scientific method greatly influenced Comte and he argued that people and society should be studied using scientific principles such as through formal observations.
Comte adopted ‘positivist philosophy’ and said that a good social science, like sociology, should use hypotheses to guide our study of society. He identified three stages of progress in our understanding of the world:
- Theological stage – early human society and this would come to an end with the Enlightenment
- Metaphysical stage – this where focus shifts from the divine (such as God) to the human
- Scientific stage – the final stage is where science provides explanations of how society operates (present day)
Although some of Comte’s work has been criticised by other sociologists, he was the first philosopher/sociologist to argue that sociology is a discipline in its own right, much like chemistry or physics, and perhaps the one of the best ways to highlight the importance that Comte attributed to sociology is that he described it as the ‘Queen of sciences’.