- Comte, Auguste
- (1798–1857)French philosopher and social theorist. Born in Montpellier, France, Comte was educated at the École Polytechnique, and became Secretary to Saint-Simon in 1817; after 1826 he supported himself by teaching mathematics and giving private lectures. He believed that human society goes through stages such as the theological/military, and the scientific/industrial, as well as a transitional or metaphysical stage, which was where he conceived the Europe of his own time to be. He also delineated three stages, the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive, in the evolution of each science. Against the rationalism of Descartes he believed that each science has its own method, and that its development is contingent on the historical level which it has achieved; Comte therefore stands as a figurehead for thinkers who value the historical and empirical study of science above an a priori or rationalistic attempt to dictate the way sciences ought to be. Although Comte is regarded as the founder of positivism, in his hands it had less to do with empiricism, than with a positive, i.e. affirmative, attitude to the study of social relations: it was Comte who coined the term ‘sociology’. After his six-volume Cours de philosophie positive (1830–42, trs. and condensed by Harriet Martineau as The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, 2 vols., 1853), Comte suffered a nervous breakdown, although he also managed to write the four-volume Système de politique positive (1851–4, trs. as The System of Positive Polity, 1875–7). In his later years he devoted his efforts to establishing a religion of humanity, with a calendar of saints including Adam Smith, Frederick the Great, and himself as Pope.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.