Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte


Auguste Comte is widely acknowledged as the founder of the science of sociology and the 'Religion of Humanity'. In this fascinating study, the first major reassessment of Comte s sociology for many years, Mike Gane draws on recent scholarship and presents a new reading of this remarkable figure.

Comte s contributions to the history and philosophy of science have decisively influenced positive methodologies. He coined the term sociology and gave it its first content, and he is renowned for having introduced the sociology of gender and emotion into sociology. What is less well known however, is that Comte contributed to ethics, and indeed coined the word altruism.

In this important work Gane examines Comte's sociological vision and shows that, because he thought sociology could and should be reflexive, encyclopaedic and utopian, he considered topics such as fetishism, polytheism, fate, love, and the relations between sociology, science, theology and culture.

This fascinating account of the birth of sociology is an unprecedented introductory text on Comte. Gane s work is an essential read for all sociologists and students of the discipline.


My interest in conducting research into Comte’s work began after I had written a book on Durkheim’s sociological method in 1988 and decided to examine wider aspects of the work of nineteenth-century theorists, especially their work on gender. This resulted in a book on gender, theory and personal relationships (1993), in which there is a chapter on Comte. In reading Comte for that book I began to see how much of Durkheim’s method was prefigured in earlier writings of the nineteenth century, and how much my earlier essay on Durkheim should have acknowledged this debt. I have tried to remedy this account in my recent study, French Social Theory (2003). Subsequently I have become interested in Comte’s sociology more specifically, and it is in this book that I set off in search of the first ‘sociology’, and the fate of the sociological law Comte claimed to have discovered in a torrid few days in 1822. He presented his law in a number of short essays now often called the ‘opuscules’ in the following years, but a full presentation and demonstration of it had to wait to the final volumes of his Course in Positive Philosophy (1839–42). The law was called the law of the three states (‘loi des trois états’), which he claimed provided the fundamental discovery of the object and the logic of a new science, thus founding modern sociology. My purpose is to search for the nature of the discovery itself (if there is one), and only comment on Auguste Comte himself as a person, where it seems necessary . . .

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