Comte, Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier (1798–1857)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC016-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

Article Summary

Auguste Comte was one of the most important French philosophers of the nineteenth century. He founded positivism, sociology, the history of science, and the Religion of Humanity. Born during the French Revolution, which upset monarchical and religious authorities, he committed himself to using science to solve the social and political problems it left behind, especially as institutional and governmental reforms seemed to him ineffective. He sought to bring people together by means of an intellectual and affective consensus. Ideas as well as feelings had to be reordered to restore social and political stability. His major work, the Cours de philosophie positive (Course of Positive Philosophy) (1830–42) outlined the main tenets of his scientific system of philosophy called positivism. It considered as valid only knowledge based on the observations of phenomena; such factual observation should result in scientific laws that explained how, not why, phenomena operated. Positivism was meant to counter religious and metaphysical ways of thinking and subject all fields of thought to scientific rigour. After reviewing the history of the sciences, the Cours explained that it was time to apply the scientific method to social phenomena. Comte coined the term ‘sociology’ to refer to this new social science, which made society part of nature. Knowing the scientific laws of society, he believed, would facilitate its reform. To shape people’s emotions, his second main work, the Système de politique positive (System of Positive Politics) (1851–4) introduced his secular religion, the Religion of Humanity, and a new science of morality, based on love. People should not only study Humanity but love it and act to improve it. To him, an intellectual revolution would lead to a moral regeneration, which in turn would result in a final social and political restructuring – a restructuring that would decrease class conflict, ensure social justice, and end war. He hoped his approach would satisfy the Left’s call for progress and the Right’s insistence on order. Comte’s ideas influenced the scholarly world and political systems in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. They also left their mark on modern consciousness.

Citing this article:
Pickering, Mary. Comte, Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier (1798–1857), 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC016-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.