Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte

French philosopher and sociologist
Date of Birth: 19.01.1798
Country: France

  1. Biography of Auguste Comte
  2. Main Ideas
  3. Philosophy
  4. Political Views

Biography of Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte was a French philosopher and sociologist, known as the founder of positivism and sociology. He was born as Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte on January 19, 1798, in Montpellier, France. He came from a family of a minor tax official who were devout Catholics and supporters of the monarchy. Comte received his education at the Lyceum in Montpellier. In 1814, he entered the Polytechnic School in Paris, which was a breeding ground for scientific enthusiasts. Comte's entire life was associated with this educational institution.

In 1817, Comte became the secretary of the eccentric social reformer A. Saint-Simon, who had a significant influence on him. However, the extent of this influence is still debated among their respective followers. Comte broke ties with Saint-Simon in 1824 and subsequently criticized him whenever possible.

Main Ideas

Comte intended to present the main ideas of his future six-volume masterpiece, "Course of Positive Philosophy" (Cours de philosophie positive, 1830–1842), in a series of lectures to a select audience in Paris in 1826. However, after the first two lectures, his nervous strength was exhausted, and the course had to be interrupted. Apparently, Comte never fully recovered from the illness and spent the following years living a strange life, consumed by obsessive ideas. His second major work, the four-volume "System of Positive Politics" (Système de politique positive, ou Trait de sociologie instituant la religion de l'humanité, 1851–1854), is one of the most confusing works in the history of philosophy. While many of his former students, such as J.S. Mill, claimed that Comte's later mysticism sharply differed from the rationalism inherent in his Course, other prominent scholars saw all the symptoms present in the Positive Politics already in the Course. In 1829, Comte made a successful attempt to deliver the intended course of lectures. The subsequent years were dedicated to the creation of the Course of Positive Philosophy and then the System of Positive Politics. From 1832 to 1845, Comte earned a living as a teacher and examiner in mathematics at the Polytechnic School. After losing this position, he lived the rest of his life on the funds provided by his English students (among whom was D.S. Mill). Following the death of his wife, Comte's only romantic attachment in life was Clotilde de Vaux, whom he deified according to his "religion of humanity" after her death from tuberculosis in 1846. Comte died in Paris on September 5, 1857.


Comte's most famous theory, at least partially borrowed from Saint-Simon and Turgot (1750), is the renowned "law of the three stages" applicable, according to Comte, to the history of civilization, individuals, and each science. The first, or theological, stage is characterized by fetishism: everything is explained by the action of supernatural forces, gods, and spirits. The second, or metaphysical, stage is transitional, replacing supernatural agents with abstract agents like "ideas," "forces," and "ultimate essences." The third, or positive, stage - into which, according to Comte, European civilization is only beginning to enter - involves the intellect recognizing the futility of investigating causes and essences. Instead, humans focus on observing phenomena and formulating descriptive laws (or coordinating phenomena). They are no longer concerned with why things happen, but only how they occur. The distinguishing feature of positive knowledge is its ability to make successful predictions and, within certain limits, create the possibility of managing events. The theological stage is characterized by the belief in the absolute power and divine right of kings, associated with a militaristic social structure dominated by the warrior class. In the metaphysical stage, the power of kings and priests is replaced by the rule of law. Finally, in the positive stage, industrial society develops.

According to Comte, natural science has already entered the positive stage, while the social sciences lag far behind. He advocated for a "social physics" in which humans would achieve the same importance as atoms in physics or planets in astronomy, occupying a strictly defined and unambiguous place in the process of determination. Comte proposed to name this science of society "sociology." Sociology could also serve as the science that synthesizes all other areas of knowledge, with the practical goal of reorganizing society based on the knowledge obtained about it. Comte also introduced the division of sociology into social statics and social dynamics, with progress as its central concept. In Comte's numerous works, a significant place is occupied by the classification of sciences according to the law of the three stages ("hierarchy of sciences"). The sciences were arranged in descending order of generality and increasing complexity as follows: mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, physiology (or biology), social physics (or sociology). Later, ethics, which Comte understood as more of a social psychology in its contemporary sense, was added to this list.

Political Views

Due to his early connections with Saint-Simon and the common misclassification of him as a socialist of the Saint-Simonian type, Comte is often mistakenly regarded either as a liberal or a socialist. In reality, he was an extreme conservative. Two months before his death, he wrote, "Since my youth, I have always preferred government to opposition." Comte completely rejected the ideals of the French Revolution and considered "the supremacy of the people" as a deception in the name of repression and "equality" as an unworthy lie. Even Napoleon III was seen by him as a dangerous figure of left-wing orientation. In envisioning a future society, Comte believed that freedom of thought was as useless for citizens of his "positivist dictatorship" as it is for astronomers or physicists engaged in registering scientific data. Power should belong to scientists and positivist philosophers, and the fundamental reality and value of social life should be humanity, not the individual with their selfish interests. The highest form of morality is love for humanity and service to it. Positivism replaces God with the "Grand Being." Comte proposed to replace traditional religion with the "religion of humanity," complete with its saints, temples, rituals, and so on. In Comte's utopia, the citizen should see "dignity in obedience, happiness in obedience, and freedom in self-sacrifice." Comte's former student J.S. Mill had no choice but to conclude that his doctrine was "the most complete system of spiritual and secular despotism ever produced by the human mind, with the exception, perhaps, of Ignatius Loyola's teachings." Among Comte's other works are "Discourse on the Spirit of Positivism" (1844); "Discourse on Positive Positivism" (1848); "Positivist Catechism" (1852); "Subjective Synthesis" (1856).