Theories of Auguste Comte ? Theory Of Law Of Three Stages and Positivism


Auguste Comte was a French thinker and philosopher. He is considered as founder of sociology: he changed the name of social physics and renamed it as sociology. He was primarily a reformer, and his goal was society in which individuals and nations could live in harmony and comfort. He believed that sociology could unite all sciences and improve society.

Theories Of Auguste Comte

(1) Theory Of Law Of Three Stages

(2) Positivism

(1) Theory Of Law Of Three Stages

Auguste Comte gave theory of law of three stages. In fact, these three stages were stages of social evolution:

  • (a) Theological stage
  • (b) Metaphysical stage
  • (c) Positive stage

(a) Theological Stage

Theological stage was the first stage:

  • (a-i) Duration
  • (a-ii) Military
  • (a-iii) Social unit
  • (a-iv) Domestic order
  • (a-v) Sentiments
  • (a-vi) Belief in supernatural being or power
  • (a-vii) Three stages

(a-i) Duration

It characterizes the world prior to 1300AD.

(a-ii) Military

Human being started establishing military during this stage: the powerful dominated the society during this stage.

(a-iii) Social Unit

Family was social unit during this stage.

(a-iv) Domestic Order

There was domestic order during this stage.

(a-v) Sentiments

Affection and attachment were the prevailing sentiments during this stage.

(a-vi) Belief In Supernatural Being Or Power

There was a belief in supernatural being or power during this stage.

 (a-vii) Three Stages

There were further three stages during this stage:

  • (x) Fetishism
  • (y) Polytheism
  • (y) Monotheism

(x) Fetishism

Fetishism was the primary stage of theological stage. Animism dominated during this stage. Followings were the main beliefs of animism:

  • (x-i) Spiritual beings
  • (x-ii) Spirit or soul
  • (x-iii) Concept Of Good & Bad Spirits or Souls

(x-i) Spiritual Beings

Non-human entities are spiritual beings.

(x-ii) Spirit Or Soul

Natural living or non-living objects have spirit or soul.

(x-iii) Concept Of Good & Bad Spirits or Souls

There is concept of good and bad souls in animism, and good or bad spirits or soul influence events in society:

  • (p) Good spirits or souls
  • (q) Bad sprits or souls
  • (r) Worship, sacrifices & rituals

(p) Good Spirits Or Souls

Pacified spirits or souls are good spirits or soul, and they maintain balance in the society and shower blessings.

(q) Bad Sprits Or Souls

Bad spirits or soula are easily offended, and they cause natural disasters, minor and major troubles and imbalance in the society.

(r) Worship, Sacrifices & Rituals

Humans beings must worship good and bad spirits or souls and offer sacrifices and rituals to appease the spirits so as to receive the good favor of the good spirits or souls and to escape the wrath of bad spirits or souls.

(y) Polytheism

Polytheism was the second stage of theological stage. Polytheism is a belief in more than one God: it believes in many gods or goddesses.

(z) Monotheism

Monotheism was the last stage of theological stage. Monotheism is a belief in one God.

(b) Metaphysical Stage

Metaphysical stage was the second stage:

  • (b-i) Duration
  • (b-ii) Laws
  • (b-iii) Social unit
  • (b-iv) Collective order
  • (b-v) Sentiments
  • (b-vi) Supernatural force

(b-i) Duration

It lasted from 1300AD to 1800AD.

(b-ii) Laws

The days of power ended as legislation started during this stage.

(b-iii) Social Unit

State was social unit during this stage.

(b-iv) Collective Order

There was collective order during this stage.

(b-v) Sentiments

Awe and respect were the prevailing sentiments during this stage.

(b-vi) Supernatural Force

Supernatural being was replaced by supernatural force: supernatural force determines happening of all events on earth. And God does not stand directly behind every event.

(c) Positive Stage

Positive stage is the third stage, and is also known as positivism:

  • (c-i) Duration
  • (c-ii) Industrial & scientific age
  • (c-iii) Social unit
  • (c-iv) Universal order
  • (c-v) Sentiment
  • (a-vi) Thoughts

(c-i) Duration

This stage started with the beginning of nineteen century.

(c-ii) Industrial & Scientific Age

It was industrial and scientific age: It was stage of industrial revolution. Society has been established on the basis of industries, and was dominated by businessmen and technologists.

(c-iii) Social Unit

Race or humanity is social unit of this stage.

(c-iv) Universal Order

There is now universal order during this stage

(a-v) Sentiment

Benevolence is the prevailing sentiment during this stage.

(a-vi) Thoughts

Following thoughts dominated this stage:

All phenomena

All phenomena were subject to natural laws that could be investigated by observations and experimentation.

All imaginary clarifications

All imaginary clarification were discarded and rejected.

Positive or scientific knowledge

Positive or scientific knowledge are based on facts that are gathered by observation and experience.

(2) Positivism

Auguste Comte is acknowledged father of positivism:

(a) Meaning

(a-i) Doctrine

Positivism refers to the doctrine, which Auguste Comte formulated and which asserts that the only true knowledge is scientific knowledge (observable phenomena).

(a-ii) Sociological Approach

Positivism is any sociological approach that operates on the general assumption that methods of physical science search for law) can be carried in social sciences.

(a-iii) Philosophy Of Science

Positivism is philosophy of science.

(b) Explanation

Auguste Comte’s concept of positivism can be explained in the following words:

  • (b-i) Positivism as doctrine
  • (b-ii) Positivism as method
  • (b-iii) Observation & classification of data
  • (b-iv) Impact of positivism
  • (b-v) Criticism against positivism

(b-i) Positivism As Doctrine

Positivism as a doctrine can be explained in the following words:

  • (x) Way Of Thinking
  • (y) Philosophical position
  • (z) Methods of physical science

(x) Way of thinking

Positivism is a way of thinking. It is possible to observe social law and establish reliable and valid knowledge. Such knowledge can be used to change and improve social condition.

(y) Philosophical Position

As a philosophical position, positivism states that knowledge can be derived only from sensory experience.

(z) Methods Of Physical Science

Methods of physical science are the only accurate of obtaining knowledge.

(b-ii) Positivism As Method

Positivism as a method can be explained in the following

  • (w) Scientific method
  • (x) Careful observation
  • (y) Experimental
  • (z) Social life

(w) Scientific Method

Scientific method is used to understand society and changes.

(x) Careful Observation

Society must depend on careful observation that is usually based on statistical measures.

(y) Experimental

Sociology can be less experimental.

(z) Social Life

Social life is government by underlying laws and principles that can be discovered by means of methods as in physical sciences.

(b-iii) Observation & Classification Of Data

Auguste Comte gave importance to observation and classification of data: positivism is purely an intellectual way of looking at the world, and mind must focus on observation and classification of phenomena.

(b-iv) Impact Of Positivism

Positivism focuses on the use of scientific method in social science. Therefore, it has its own impact on social thinking.

(b-v) Criticism against Positivism Positivism is criticized:

  • (x) Human motives
  • (y) Problem of verification
  • (x) Human Motives

Positivism is criticized because methods of physical science cannot be used in each and every case of social sciences. For instance, such methods cannot be used to observe human motives because human motives are different in different situations.

(y) Problem Of Verification

Positivism is criticized because there is problem of verification. In physical sciences, everything is verified and its verification remains same all the time. But it is not possible in social sciences. If two persons study the same social topic, there are chances that they will give different observations. Therefore, it is difficult in social science to give similar observation every time.


It can be finally stated that Auguste Comte was not religious. Rather he was rational thinker. He was a positivist who argued that sociology must have a scientific base and must be objective. And he theorized a three-stage development of society.

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