(1798-1857) French philosopher regarded as the founder of sociology, a term he coined 1830. He sought to establish sociology as an intellectual discipline, using a scientific approach (“positivism”) as the basis of a new science of social order and social development.
In his six-volume Cours de philosophie positive 1830–42, Comte argued that human thought and social development evolve through three stages: the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive or scientific. Although he originally sought to proclaim society’s evolution to a new golden age of science, industry, and rational morality, his radical ideas were increasingly tempered by the political and social upheavals of his time. His influence continued in Europe and the US until the early 20th century.
From 1816–18 he taught mathematics. He divided human knowledge into a hierarchy, with sociology at the top of the academic pyramid. Positivism offered a method of logical analysis and provided an ethical and moral basis for predicting and evaluating social progress.
Comte, born in Montpellier, was expelled from the Paris Ecole Polytechnique for leading a student revolt 1816. In 1818 he became secretary to the socialist Saint-Simon and was much influenced by him. He began lecturing on the “Positive Philosophy” 1826, but almost immediately succumbed to a nervous disorder and once tried to commit suicide in the river Seine. On his recovery he resumed his lectures and mathematical teaching.