1. AUGUSTE COMTE (1798-1857)
The foundation of classical sociological theory was laid by persons with formal training outside sociology, for the simple reason that there was no sociology before this foundation was laid. In generations hitherto, attempts to understand human life on earth were expressed in religious rather than sociological terms.
Auguste Comte was among the first thinkers to apply scientific methods to understand society. In the process, he came up with the first known sociological theory, a theory with two related propositions:
the Law of three stages; and
proposition that theoretical sciences form a hierarchy in which sociology is located at the top.
A. THE LAW OF THREE STAGES
(i) The Law
The law of three stages amounts to saying that each branch of knowledge passes through three periods of development:
the metaphysical; and
Lewis Coser had quoted Comte as follows:
“Each of our leading conceptions – each branch of knowledge, passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: The Theological or fictitious; the Metaphysical or abstract; and the Scientific or positive…In the theological state, the human mind, seeking the essential nature of beings, the first and final causes (the origin and purpose) of all effects… suppose all phenomena to be produced by the immediate action of supernatural begins. In the metaphysical state…the mind supposes…abstract forces, veritable entities (that is personified abstractions)…capable of producing all phenomena……In the final, the positive state, the mind has given over the vain search after absolute notions, the origin and destination of the universe, and the causes of phenomena, and applies itself to the study of their laws – that is, their invariable relations of succession and resemblance” (In Coser, 1971, p7).
Comte saw that for along time human beings interpreted life around them in terms of objects which were worshiped and thought to have powers over people and nature. These objects or fetishes were many. In due course, the multiplicity of fetishes were found to be confusing and this, some how, gave way to the birth of polytheism (worship of many gods).
The resulting gods represented different aspects of life. There fod of love, god of hate, god of wind etc. Later, according to Comte, the existence of too many gods produced contradictory interpretations among the believers. In this way, polytheism became mentally unsatisfactory and worship of only one god, the God Almighty, developed. This worship which came to be known as monotheism marked the climax off the theological type of thinking.
Auguste Comte argued that just as each sub-stage of theological thinking grew out of the proceeding one, the rise of the metaphysical stage did not occur until the potentialities of the theological stage to explain phenomena were exhausted. In the process, people began to lose faith in religious explanations. Many of them started to feel that blind faith in those explanations was not appropriate for understanding social and natural phenomena. So, they increasingly emphasized questioning and reasoning. It was the increasing emphasis on rationalism that brought about the metaphysical stage of thinking. Phenomena came to be explained in terms of non-religious forces which were assumed to exist in nature and humans society.
Later, metaphysical thinking too became unsatisfactory. Reliance on pure reasoning appeared unsatisfactory. More and more people called for concrete proof of support explanations arising out reasoning. The final result was birth of the scientific or positive stage of thinking.
Comte’s analysis of types of thinking was based on a biological analogy. This is particularly clear from his view that just as a person (a person being an organism) starts by being a believer in childhood, becomes a critical rationalist of...
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