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Auguste Comte (1788 - 1857)

Go BackGerman Philosophy, Founder of Positivism
See Also: Positivism
Auguste Comte by Mary PickeringAuguste Comte: An Intellectual Biography by Mary Pickering

This book constitutes the first volume of a projected two-volume intellectual biography of Auguste Comte, the founder of modern sociology and a philosophical movement called positivism. Volume One offers a reinterpretation of Comte's "first career," (1798-1842) when he completed the scientific foundation of his philosophy. It describes the interplay between Comte's ideas and the historical context of post-revolutionary France, his struggles with poverty and mental illness, and his volatile relationships with friends, family, and colleagues, including such famous contemporaries as Saint-Simon, the Saint-Simonians, Guizot, and John Stuart Mill. Pickering shows that the man who called for a new social philosophy based on the sciences was not only ill at ease in the most basic human relationships, but also profoundly questioned the ability of the purely scientific spirit to regenerate the political and social world.

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Auguste Comte: Biography
Online biography by Peter Landry at


Comte, a French philosopher, was the founder of Positivism. Positivism is a philosophical system of thought maintaining that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena experienced, not to question whether it exists or not. Comte sought to apply the methods of observation and experimentation, as was beginning to be used in the hard sciences, to a field that we now know as sociology. He believed that the solution of persistent social problems might be had by the application of certain hierarchical rules; he believed in the progress of mankind toward a superior state of civilization by means of the science of sociology, itself. (Marx and Hitler had similar notions.) In his later years Comte became involved in mysticism, to the point where Positivism became, in spite of its earlier claims to its scientific approach, more of a religion, than anything else.

"M. Comte, in particular, whose social system, as unfolded in his Systeme de Politique Positive, aims at establishing (though by moral more than by legal appliances) a despotism of society over the individual, surpassing anything contemplated in the political ideal of the most rigid disciplinarian among the ancient philosophers." (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.)


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