Positivism The thoughts of Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who coined the term sociology, while dated and riddled with weaknesses, continue in many ways to be important to contemporary sociology. First and foremost, Comte's positivism — the search for invariant laws governing the social and natural worlds — has influenced profoundly the ways in which sociologists have conducted sociological inquiry. Comte argued that sociologists (and other scholars), through theory, speculation, and empirical research, could create a realist science that would accurately "copy" or represent the way things actually are in the world. Furthermore, Comte argued that sociology could become a "social physics" — i.e., a social science on a par with the most positivistic of sciences, physics. Comte believed that sociology would eventually occupy the very pinnacle of a hierarchy of sciences. Comte also identified four methods of sociology. To this day, in their inquiries sociologists continue to use the methods of observation, experimentation, comparison, and historical research. While Comte did write about methods of research, he most often engaged in speculation or theorizing in order to attempt to discover invariant laws of the social world. Comte's famed "law of the three stages" is an example of his search for invariant laws governing the social world. Comte argued that the human mind, individual human beings, all knowledge, and world history develop through three successive stages. The theological stage is dominated by a search for the essential nature of things, and people come to believe that all phenomena are created and influenced by gods and supernatural forces. Monotheism is the ultimate belief of the theological stage. The metaphysical stage is a transitional stage in which mysterious, abstract forces (e.g., nature) replace supernatural forces as the powers that explain the workings of the world. The positivist stage is the last and highest stage in Comte's...
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