Biography of Augusto Comte | French thinker, founder of positivism and sociology.

(Auguste Comte; Montpellier, 1798 – Paris, 1857) French thinker, founder of positivism and sociology. With the publication of its course of positive philosophy (1830-1842), Augusto Comte sponsored a new cultural movement that would be perceived as initiator and highest representative: the positivism. Such power would dominate almost all the 19th century controversy and sometimes in commitment to the antagonist trend, idealism. Like all the great spiritual movements, positivism not left easily pigeonhole labels of a strict and precise definition. In sense very lato, arguably is a revaluation of the naturalistic and scientific spirit against the tendencies declared and openly metaphysical and religious idealism.


Breaking with the monarchist and Catholic tradition of his family, Augusto Comte turned during the time of the restoration to agnosticism and revolutionary ideas. After a first closed and rebellious youth, he entered in 1814 at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, where, in contact with the exact sciences and engineering, he was attracted strongly, along with many classmates, towards that kind of "technical revolution" who was preaching the count of Saint-Simon.

Augusto Comte
Dissolved the Polytechnic by the reactionary Government of 1816, Comte, against the opinion of parents, remained in Paris to complete his studies self-taught, earning a livelihood with tutoring in mathematics, which during almost all of the rest of his life were his main source of income. From 1817 he joined Saint-Simon, for which worked Secretary until his break in 1824. That year a work of Comte (Plan of the scientific work necessary to reorganize society) was reproached by his master.
The reason for the discord was much deeper: Saint-Simon and Comte had shared for a long time the concept of a reorganization of human society through the direction of the positive Sciences, and together formed the plan to completely renew the culture to raise it to the level of such Sciences; but Saint-Simon wanted to pass scientific plans to the practical organization of the "priesthood" who would head the new company, while still the Comte considered not complete theoretical developments.
The publication of his account of that work earned him the friendship and appreciation of numerous historians, politicians and scientists (Guizot, A. von Humboldt, the Duke of Broglie), feeling stimulated Comté for his great work, the encyclopedia of the positive sciences which would then be the course of positive philosophy (1830-1842). Meanwhile, without the approval of his parents, he had joined in civil marriage with a young and cultured Lady of Paris, women of eminent qualities, intellectual, energetic and devoted to her husband, but perhaps not so tender and submissive as he would have liked. Precisely because of that time (1826-1827) your first access of madness; suffered Comte the parents had wanted out, but his wife knew how to hold it next to another with great energy and cure it.
Already spare, Comte concentrated their energies on the course of positive philosophy (1830-1842). Discovered under the influence of Saint-Simon the social problem, Comte devoted its efforts to devise a way to solve it, closing the crisis opened by the French Revolution and its consequences. He found the answer in science, toward which established a true worship: objective knowledge provided by science should be applied to the management of the political, economic and Social Affairs, surpassing the ideologies based on imagination, interests or feelings.

Augusto Comte (detail of a)
Portrait of Louis Jules Etex)
Against the freedom of thought, origin of moral anarchy which attributed to the revolution, was not religious dogma or the principles of the tradition, but «positive science"which, by sticking to the facts as they are, provided - according to him - the only point of support on which you could build a future of"order and progress". Contrary to the individualism and democracy, was confident in a world governed by knowledge, in which producers and bankers would exercise a kind of dictatorship.
Such ideas, Foundation of positivist thought, would be a great success in Western countries since the mid-19th century, providing a secular creed for the world of liberal capitalism and the triumphant industry. However, Comte lived a miserable life: overwork him produced psychiatric problems, a suicide attempt and the abandonment of his wife. His rebellion and its intransigence prevented him from entering the academic world.
At the time who wrote the course of positive philosophy, Augusto Comte founded with former comrades in the Escuela Politécnica Polytechnic Association, aimed at the spread of positivist ideas, and, despite huge achieved fame, not never achieved a solid official position; He came to teach at the Polytechnic since 1832, he failed to obtain in her chair, but was expelled in 1844.
This hectic life, the constant mental concentration, the worsening of relations with his wife, which ended with the separation (1842), and finally a new love senile and shared only fleetingly by Clotilde Devaux, provoked to 1845 a new mental crisis, whose effects can be seen in his later works, the system of positive policy (1851-1854) and the Catechism positivist (1852). The latter, which explained the Gospel of the new positivist religion of humanity, offers puzzling nuances in many respects and in their language.
To promote the new positivist spirit had also, founded in 1845, a kind of Cenacle in which friends and disciples gathered, but this harbinger of contemporary scientific philosophy had then lost all contact with the live science of his time, focused only on their subjective meditations. Only economic aid of some fans (such as Émile Littré or John Stuart Mill) saved her from misery. However, the best of his thinking, reflected in the famous course of positive philosophy (1830-1842), was intended to exert a great influence on the most different branches of knowledge (philosophy, medicine, history, sociology) and various (including the reactionary thought of Maurras) political currents.


Augusto Comte took the term positivism that had been his teacher, Saint-Simon, responsible for its coinage from the expression "positive science", which appeared in the 18th century. In the history of philosophy, refers with this word the current of thought initiated by Comte; Thus arose in France in the first half of the 19th century, soon it would develop in all Western countries during the remainder of the century.
But means the positivism as philosophy opposed to the idealism and, in particular, to the figure of Hegel (1770-1831), positivism and Hegelian idealism have points in common. Both currents are based on Kant (1724-1804), although they develop different aspects: idealism, Kant's idea of the creative activity of consciousness; positivism, the need for data and denial of metaphysical knowledge can overcome the scientist. As Kant, Comte believed unattainable object of metaphysics because human knowledge can not go beyond experience, and, like Hegel, deals with the conception of universal history as a unitary, evolutionary and rewarding process.
Despite the finding of such points of agreement, in the configuration of the philosophy of positivism also influenced other various currents away from the idealism: the English empiricism represented by John Locke (1632-1704) and David Hume (1711-1776), materialism as (denial of spiritual substances) and only recognition of the existence of bodily substances and the skepticism of 18th-century French.

Positivist philosophy

The purpose of showing that the trend that follows the philosophy is-induced of end up being absorbed by the science, Augusto Comte focused its study to the knowledge of the facts and of society, irrespective of any type of prepending any philosophical doctrine. Thus, convinced that the object of the science were undoubtedly progress and peace, traditional metaphysics (which described as speculative by recreation in insoluble polemics) was the target of his criticism, though not as a defense of a philosophical position or elaborate thesis, but as an inescapable conclusion: the end of metaphysics was the natural result of the maturity that humanity was reaching in its evolutionary process.
Positivism of Comte is a complex discourse that includes at least one theory about knowledge, an interpretation on the meaning of history and a political position in the society. As for the first thing, positivism asserts that, strictly speaking, knowledge is only verifiable data "facts" (i.e. of phenomena whose regularity can be contrasted to the mode, for example, a physical or chemical law) and that all knowledge, in addition to some (no doubt, exact) and systematic, it must be useful, i.e., must translate not into theories , but an increase in the capacity of control and technological intervention on the phenomena.
What characterizes the advent of a science is the passage of a theological explanation (the causes of the phenomena are attributed to deities), or well metaphysics (the causes of the phenomena are personified abstractions), to a positive explanation. A positive knowledge is knowledge that establishes a relationship between the facts and renounce the absolute explanation; It does not seek the essence or the causes of things but the laws that govern them. Positive science aspires to know only what is possible to know; It is an attitude of thinking that replaces the question "why?" with the question "how?".

Augusto Comte
Story-wise, Augusto Comte considered that humanity progresses towards general well-being and happiness putting scientific and technological development as an engine and goal of that process. It is the so-called law of the three States, according to which mankind had already gone through two stages, called himself Comte "theological" and "metaphysics".
In the theological stage, natural phenomena are explained by causes extrinsic to the nature and supernatural interventions (for example, gods or mythological beings); in the metaphysical stage, supernatural forces were replaced in the explanation with essences, causes or forces immanent nature but hidden, which could only be entrusted to abstract thinking (for example, the concept of gravity in Physics). The contemporary period corresponds, in his opinion, a third stage: the "scientific" or "positive". In the "positive" status eventually erased the vestiges of the previous stages, and the abstract and deductivista thinking will be replaced by experimental verification.
For that same reason, philosophy will become "positive", and your property will be that you will recognize that the true human knowledge is in the Sciences (already developed autonomously a math, physics, chemistry or biology); such philosophy, alien to any attempt to define essences, will address, on the other hand, the establishment of the facts and the laws that regulate them. In his later years, however, Comte established a subjective synthesis of his previous approach summarized in the concept of "religion of humanity", severely criticized by his disciple Émile Littré as a return to the theological spirit.
Finally, the positivism of Comte understands the social problems as organic disorders of the system and proposes as a solution reforms (executed by the power and strength, if necessary) that functionally integrate all members of society, to the whole of humanity. Comte considered that social progress is parallel to the development of the positive Sciences, warning an inversely proportional relationship between the degree of complexity and the scope of science. So, the first science would be math, applicable to all fields, but of reduced complexity. Then would come the physics, chemistry, etc., up to the more complex science of all and whose sole scope would be human society: sociology. The ultimate goal of Sociology would control the social system by establishing relations between its various phenomena in a positive and useful.


By ideas contained in the previous paragraph is considered to Augusto Comte, the founder of sociology. To Comte, the creation of an independent sociology is directed by the law of the evolution of the human spirit. To undertake the famous classification of Sciences, Comte lists six of them, classified in increasing order of complexity, from the more General to the more specific: mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and sociology.
But the latter still has to be created. Hence the constant theme of the thought of Augusto Comte: scientific progress is nothing if not culminates in a social science, and social science cannot be set if the sciences that precede it in the classification have not been developed sufficiently. Comte imagined this sociology still not constituted (by the enormous difficulty that entails explaining the complexity of the social behavior) as a "physical" customs"or"social Physics"that would uncover the laws of human associations and would make it possible to formulate a practical reform of society, regulating its ethical and political destiny.
Comte understands sociology as a science of human acts, and according to the already above, it is evident that human facts are inscribed in the history. Studying them from the point of view of its evolution is to study the social dynamics. This branch of Sociology is the law of the progress of mankind, i.e., the law of three States that constitutes the philosophy of the history of Comte, in which the political State is conditioned by the intellectual State and the beliefs of a time.
It should be pointed out however that, for Comte, the evolution of humanity is not broken: the passage from one State to another is advertised by signs, and always remain, in each State, vestiges of the condition precedent. So, the disorder of the minds that culminated in 1789 was preparing from the 14th century (decline of spiritual power). Organic once it expires as another prepares.
But progress leads to the order: all evolution ends in a State of equilibrium which is object of social statics (which is dedicated system of positive policy, while the course of positive philosophy aims at the social dynamics). What is the basis of the balance of a positive society? Providence (theological idea), not the positive discovery that every individual is only what is by reference to a vast whole, mankind. Starting from this issue, Augusto Comte built a theory of the State founded in the religion of humanity, a religion in which the Chief priests should be the sages and philosophers; such a religion, in the formulation of Comte, contained a number of elements less picturesque, and was rejected by many positivists.

Its influence

Positivism spread throughout Europe in life of Comte and after his death. It should be noted the heavy development of positivism in England, where its highest representative was John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). To cultivate the "positive philosophy", Mill adopted a psychological orientation, both undertaken research and the method used, in direct connection with the classic English empiricism. Author of works of morality, which joined with the English utilitarianism positivism, devoted much of his work to the scientific epistemology and other much logic.
More speculatively, but keen to progress as Comte, was the positivism of Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), convinced defender of evolutionism applied to social life Darwinian. Against the positivism of Comte, English positivism became with Spencer in the ideological expression paradigmatic of a social class, the bourgeoisie, and, as such, in a doctrine of individualistic, liberal and radical enemy of socialism.
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