Auguste Comte II: Law of Three Stages

Auguste Comte Law of Three Stages Photo Site

French Sociologist Auguste Comte, who is also known as Father of Sociology developed his scientific view called “Positivism” or “Positive Philosophy” for the scientific study of Society.

His scientific methodology for understanding the laws of progress and of social order included; Observation, Experimentation and Comparison same as in Natural Science.

Beside these three conventional methods, Comte in as early as 1822 AD had set out to understand the process which led human race from state similar to that of Great Apes to then Civilized Europe. He later devised the evolutionary theory called “The Law of Three Stages” or “The Law of Human Progress”. Each of these stages are based on intellectual evolution; method and assumptions people apply in the effort to explain, predict and control the world.

1st comes the Theological Stage: In this stage, man attributes reason behind everything to god. Humans are curious being, so since the dawn of civilization, Humans have tried to find the meaning and reason behind everything from lightning, natural disasters, diseases, pestilence to the cycle of birth and death. In the beginning, human knowledge wasn’t able to provide proper explanation, so reason behind all those things were attributed to Supernatural Being.

This theological stage is further divided into three sections: Fetihism, Polytheism and Monotheism.

Fetihism: Fetihism is the Philosophy in which mankind puts the power of god into inanimate objects. For example, in this phase; Plants, animals and objects all were thought to have spirits and souls.

Polytheism: After Fetihism, people created multiple Gods and Polytheism came into existence. Each god is assigned a specific thing in which they are God of. Like “Thor” the god of Thunder, “Zeus” the sky god, “Shiva” the god of destruction.

Monotheism: Finally after Polytheism, single omnipotent god was created and Monotheism came into existence. In this one powerful God is believed to rule over every aspect of Universe. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are it’s example.

After Theological Stage comes the Metaphysical Stage: In this Stage, people replace gods with abstract forces like nature, fundamental principles based on logic and reason. This is the transitional phase. It has some characteristics of Theological stage as well as some of Positive stage. For example, in metaphysical stage people believe in spirituality, soul and abstract forces but not in concrete god as in theological stage.

Last one is Positive Stage, it is characterized by belief in science, where people develop law based on empirical evidence, observation, comparison and experiment. People now concentrate on observation of social and physical world in search for the laws governing them. This is the age of science and industrialism. For Comte, Positive Stage is the final one, in which human knowledge keeps on growing and accumulates to become larger and larger.

As per Comte “Intellectual Evolution” was the dominant reason for human progress. But beside them, he also admits other factors like increase in population and division of labor for causing evolution of society.

Comte mentions not only the world go through this process but groups, societies, sciences, individuals and even minds go through the same three stages. For example, he said; theological stage was dominated by priests and ruled by military men, metaphysical stage was influenced by churchmen and lawyers and positive stage will be governed by industrial administrators and scientific moral guides. Similarly, in the first stage family is the typical unit, society is in second stage and in third stage whole human race becomes the operative social unit. In this way, the central trait of society, influences or determines all other aspects of social life, economy, politics, military and so on.

But what we have to know is, passage from one stage to another isn’t continuous and direct, it goes through the alternative disequilibrium and equilibrium state. For example, between the end of Metaphysical Stage and the beginning of Positive Stage, there was a brief disequilibrium state caused by Enlightenment which threatened the social order of that time, which is followed by equilibrium state of Positive Stage.

As a whole for Comte, “(Social) Evolution is primarily the evolution of the methods of acquiring knowledge and (Social Evolution is) effect of this resulting pool of knowledge.”



Essential Readings

George Ritzer: Sociological Theory (PP. 14-17)

Lewis A. Coser: Master of Sociological Thought (PP. 3-8)

Jonathan Turner: The Structure of Sociological Theory (PP. 38 – 41)

Ruth A. Wallace and Alison Wolf: Contemporary Sociological Theory – Expanding the Classical Tradition (PP. 17 – 19)

George Ritzer: Sociological Theory (PP. 230 – 235)

Piotr Sztompka: The Sociology of Social Change (PP. 101 – 102)