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:
(i) the Law of three stages; and
(ii) 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:
(a) the theological;
(b) the metaphysical; and
(c) the positive.
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