Auguste Comte – Positivism

Before sharing with you a short biography of Auguste Comte, we return to his ideas in three parts: the central role of science in his philosophy, his conception of positivism which constitutes his philosophy, and the issues that arise from it.

I. The importance of science according to Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte posits a reflection on science before an outline of social reform. Science is a sum of knowledge, but above all it is the global relationship of humanity to the world.

It is a principle, a system of beliefs.

Two formulas define science in the first lesson of his Course: “to know in order to foresee, in order to be able to” and, more importantly, “to know in order to know”. Opposed to science are mysticism and empiricism.

II. Positivism according to Auguste Comte

Positivist philosophy is an affirmation of determinism: “All phenomena whatsoever, inorganic or organic, physical or moral, individual or social, are subject to rigorously invariable laws” (Cours, tome VI), which does not mean that these phenomena are ineluctable.

Positivism stipulates that only the analysis of facts, the study of experience, can build a knowledge of the sensible, of the world.

Some sciences have reached the positive state: mechanics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology. Theology and science are incompatible.

III. The scope of positivism

Science gives man the “power” to act: “All science has for its goal foresight(Cours, tome II)

One of the foundations of Auguste Comte’s doctrine defines three states: the theological (fictitious, childhood of humanity), metaphysical (abstract, adolescence of humanity), and positive (virile state).

“Each branch of our knowledge is necessarily subjected in its march to pass successively by three different theoretical states: the theological or fictitious state; the metaphysical or abstract state; finally, the scientific or positive state” in System of positive politics

Short biography of Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte, born in 1798 into a Catholic monarchist family, distinguished himself as a brilliant student at the Lycée de Montpellier.

During his secondary studies he lost his faith, which was incompatible with science.

Comte became the secretary of Saint-Simon in 1817, with whom he became friends until disputes separated them in 1824.

Auguste Comte married Caroline Massin, whom he wanted to get out of prostitution.

He ran away in 1826, suffered from a depression and tried to commit suicide. The couple separated in 1842.

From 1826 to 1844, he taught the Course of positive philosophy.

Auguste Comte fell deeply in love with Clotilde de Vaux in 1844, whom he would establish as one of the three guardian angels of the positivist religion.

Auguste Comte earns his living thanks to donations from Littré and a hundred or so disciples and admirers.

He announced the foundation of the religion of humanity in 1847, founded the Positivist Society one year later and published the Discourse on the whole of positivism. He died of cancer in 1857.

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2 thoughts on “Auguste Comte – Positivism

  1. @Marie: Hello Marie, you are right, Auguste Comte’s best-known formula is “Knowing to foresee, in order to be able.” The second also exists, we rectify so that there is no ambiguity.

  2. Just to point out a small error in the quote from A. Count: To know in order to foresee in order to be able.

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