Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Comte notes that "[n]o idea can be properly understood apart from its history." Evaluate whether or not Comte's description of the laws of development commits the genetic fallacy.[1]

  2. Consider some of the concepts used in some of our reading selections: the "Great Mystery" of the Sioux, the "Idea of the Good" of Plato, the "Allah" of Islam, and the "science" of Comte. Relate each of these ideas to a stage of development and state your reasoning. What does the claim mean that "science has become God in the contemporary world"?

  3. Recognizing that there is no absolute truth, Comte notes that in the third stage of knowledge, reason and observation discover "invariable relations of succession and likeness." Are scientific laws, according to Comte, the same thing as necessary connections in nature? Explain Comte's view on the possibility of scientific knowledge.

  4. Briefly discuss how the discipline of ethics is viewed under each of the three states of knowledge Comte explains.

  5. If all three stages of understanding, the theological, the metaphysical, and the scientific, are all systems of conceiving phenomena, even though as Comte remarks they are mutually inconsistent, might not the terms used in each system be functionally structured much like terms in the other systems? For example, are the notions of "God," "the Absolute Idea," and "Nature" functionally equivalent. Do other ideas serve similar purposes in the different states of knowledge? (Interestingly enough, Comte, in this regard, sought a religion of humanity for his own time.)



In brief, the genetic fallacy is an error in reasoning committed by basing or supporting the truth of a conclusion on an account of its history or origin.