August Comte believed in the power of positivity. Success can come in virtually any form and anyone can achieve their own definition of success. He believed that a society operated under its own set of laws, just like nature, so it should be studied in the same way. By using mathematics and physics, Comte proposed that we could look at the world through social sciences as well. His sociology theory would become the first scientific look at human social behaviors.
Socialism and the Sociology Theory
In his younger years, Comte was heavily influenced by a utopian socialist theorist by the name of Henri de Saint-Simon. He worked for several years with Saint-Simon as a secretary and a collaborator, eventually parting ways over an authorship dispute.
Once on his own, the influence of Saint-Simon remained. He began to see that society could be utopian in nature, but it would require human intervention in order for it to be achieved. To discover the places where interventions would need to occur, Comte realized that the structures of society could be viewed through the same research lens as other areas of science.
This realization led Comte to develop the idea of positivism. It is the fundamental concept that is offered in his six-volume work published under the title Course of Positive Philosophy.
What Is Positivism in the Sociology Theory?
Comte believed that positivism was an idea that could only come from scientific knowledge. If you can experience something, then you have the opportunity to find a specific truth. He felt that the same laws which governed the natural world would govern the sociological world in some way. This led him to develop the law of three stages.
All knowledge, according to Comte, developed through three successive stages.
1. Theological Stage.
2. Metaphysical Stage.
3. Positivist Stage.
Everything starts at the theological stage. In this form of knowledge, people assign events or circumstances that are beyond their comprehension to certain deities. This is why many of the ancient cultures, according to Comte, had multiple gods. It is a stage that is dominated by the idea that gods create and control everything. A society is ready to transition to the next stage when it comes to a monotheistic perspective, assigning all duties to a singular God instead of multiple gods.
The second stage is a transitional stage. It’s a place where society recognizes that there are still mysterious forces that are at work, but that there may be a natural force (instead of a supernatural force) that is in charge of the mystery. By studying the unknown, it becomes possible to solve the mysteries and learn more about the workings of the world or the universe.
The final stage is the highest stage of the sociology theory from Comte. In this stage, society looks for invariant laws that govern the forces that were once a mystery. By creating definition, one creates science.
And when science is discovered, truth will be there.
How Did Sociology Theory Contribute to Modern Science?
August Comte may have been the first person to coin the term “sociology,” but his work to prove the existence of positivism is what stands out still today. This is because Comte identified three basic methods that could be used to find the invariant laws that societies would strive to find in his final stage. Those methods are observations, experimentation, and comparison.
This means social scientists would be bound to their studies through what they could discover with their senses. This information, once verified by the truths that data can only provide, could then be used to encourage social changes at any cultural level. People, argued Comte, are more willing to adapt to change when it has a basis in fact instead of a basis in the supernatural.
We can understand the natural world. It is impossible to understand the supernatural world.
Comte also took a unique approach to how he saw the structures of a societal system. Instead of looking at individuals, he felt that the true social unit in any society was the family. A family would join other families to create a tribe. Tribes would then work together to form nations.
Social Statics vs Social Dynamics in the Sociology Theory
Comte separated statics from dynamics in his approach to sociology and this is, perhaps, his greatest contribution to modern sociology. Statics are defined as the components of a social system or structure that interacts with other systems or structures. It also looks at the structure of the relationships between each part of the system and how it relates to the entire system as a whole. Comte often discounted statics in favor of dynamics when developing his sociology theory.
Dynamics, or the social changes which occur within a society, follow a system of progressive evolution so that people, as a group, become more intelligent over time. Eventually egoism is suspended in favor of altruism. Most importantly, according to Comte, this is a process that people can control on their own, accelerating or decelerating it based on their unique perspectives.
When the final stage of sociology was achieved, the stage of positivism, Comte believed that it could change the way people lived their lives. Yet there were unique personal influences within the theory he developed which would ultimately create weaknesses that his critics could exploit.
The goal of this separation was to create a society that was based on naturalistic science. In Comte’s view, it would be able to explain how humans developed in the past, giving those living in the present an opportunity to predict the future course of civilization. This knowledge would provide the circumstances that could provide for social stability in any culture at any time. Progress and order would put people together, working toward a common goal of mutual betterment.
The Issues with Comte’s Sociology Theory
Comte didn’t believe in gender equality. He believed that men were smarter and that women were more altruistic and affectionate. This meant that men were more practical, making them better in the supervision of change. Women, he declared, where better suited to being the conscience of the men.
This is likely because of how Comte view the social structures that existed within society. He saw the family unit as one structure, which meant each person within that structured had to play a specific role in order for it to survive.
He also believed in the power of the working force, what we would call the Middle Class today. The wealthy class, Comte felt, were too conservative to advocate for the changes that he was proposing. It was through the division of labor, focused on the gifts and talents that each laborer could provide to the greater good, that could bring about the utopia where knowledge was the pursuit of everyone.
And through his sociology theory, he proposed a number of ideas that, according to him anyway, would improve society in numerous ways.
Here are just a few of the ideas that Comte suggested societies should do through his work.
- Families would consist of a father, mother, paternal grandparents, and three children. No more and no less.
- Libraries would consist of just 100 books, with each of them being personally selected because of their positivist influence.
- A religious influence that included positivist priests and temples for worship, despite the fact that he didn’t really believe in the value of religion in terms of knowledge acquisition.
- Societies would place a greater emphasis on industrialists, bankers, farmers, and manufacturers than other roles.
Some of these ideas are more likely a reflection of the state of his mental health. There was a pause of more than a decade in the presentation of his work due to being hospitalized for his mental health issues. Yet there are still those who are influenced by these ideas, which have been loosely dubbed the “Brave New World.”
Are we better off together than we are alone? In Comte’s theory, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
What Can We Take from Sociology Theory Today?
What made the sociology theory such a radical proposition for its time was the fact that it looked at society as being interconnected. Families were connected to each other. Families were connected to organizations and social structures. When everything could work together in harmony, then the whole system could push forward to increase the standards of how people lived.
Because of the interconnectedness that existed, Comte also realized that societal structures were only as good as their weakest links. Manners and ideas would always be connected with politics and social structures and each would need to be present at full strength in order for a society to achieve the final stage of positivity.
Societal reform was an integral component of August Comte’s life, as he got to experience the French Revolution in an up-close and personal way. His conclusions may not seem realistic, but his ideas about society through his sociology theory still have the ring of truth to them still today.