Chapter 26. "Positive Philosophy" by August Comte

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Cours de Philosophie Positive
The Reading Selection Cours de Philosophie Positive
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

August Comte, Thoemmes

About the author…

August Comte (1798-1857), a founder of sociology, believes aspects of our world can be known solely through observation and reason. Although he rejects the existence of theoretical entities, he believes all explanation and prediction are based on lawful succession—not causality, for he thought causality was not reducible to observation. In his view, each of the individual sciences has unique features and, just like social processes, pass through three stages: the theological based on supernatural powers, the metaphysical based on abstract ideas, and the positive (or scientific) based on relationships among empirical facts. His development of positivism not only interested J. S. Mill but also influenced the development of twentieth century logical positivism.

About the work…

In his Cours de Philosophie Positive,[1] Comte explains how societies evolve in accordance with natural law. The three stages discussed here, the theological-military, the metaphysical-transitional, and the scientific-industrial, he argues, progress according to a law of social development. Furthermore, he advocates a historical method of study for social science based on empirical methods.

Ideas of Interest from Cours de Philosophie Positive

  1. Explain Comte's three laws of development.

  2. According to the law of the three stages, how does the metaphysical state differ from the religious state of understanding? Is it possible for a person to understand the world two different ways?

  3. Clarify as precisely as possible Comte's description of the third stage of knowledge. Do you think Comte would endorse "the quest for certainty"?



August Comte. Cours de Philosophie Positive. Trans. Paul Descours and H. G. Jones, 1905.