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Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte -- full name Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte -- (February 17 (recorded February 19), 1798, Montpellier - September 5, 1857, Paris) was a founder of the discipline of sociology.

His life

After school in Montpellier, Comte was allowed to learn at the École Polytechnique in Paris. The École Polytechnique was a place adhering to the French republican ideals and to progress. In 1816, the École closed for re-organization. Students could apply for readmission at a later date. Thus Comte had to leave the École and continued his studies at the medical school in Montpellier. When the École was reopened, he did not try to gain readmission.

Soon he saw unbridgeable differences with his Catholic and Monarchist family and left again for Paris, earning money by small jobs. Then he became a student and secretary for Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, who brought Comte into intellectual society. In 1824, Comte left Saint-Simon, again because of unbridgeable differences.

Comte now knew what he wanted to do: work out the philosophy of positivism. This plan he published as Plan de traveaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société (1822). But he failed to get an academic position. His day-to-day life depended on sponsors and financial help from friends.

He married Caroline Massin, but divorced in 1842. Comte was known as an arrogant, violent and fiery man. In 1826 he was brought into a mental health hospital, but left it without being cured -- only stabilized by Massin -- so that he could work again on his plan. In the time between this and their divorce, he published the six volumes of his Cours.

From 1844, Comte loved Clotilde de Vaux, a relationship that remained platonic. After her death in 1846 this love became quasi-religious, and Comte saw himself as founder and prophet of a new "religion of humanity". He published four volumes of ''Système de politique positive'\' (1851 - 1854).

His legacy

Comte saw two universal lawss at work in all sciences, the 'law of three phases' and the 'encyclopedic law'. By combining these laws, Comte developed a systematic and hierarchical classification of all sciences, including inorganic physics (astronomy, earth science and chemistry) and organic physics (biology and for the first time, physique sociale, later renamend sociologie).

This idea of a special science - not the humanities, not metaphysics - for the social was prominent in the 19th century and not unique to Comte. The ambitious - many would say grandiose - way that Comte conceived of it, however, was unique.

Comte saw this new science, sociology, as the last and greatest of all sciences, one that would include all other sciences, and which would integrate and relate their findings into a cohesive whole.

Although influential within his own lifetime and for a short while afterwards, Comte's work fell into disrepute rapidly after that. Comte coined the term "sociology", is usually regarded as the first sociologist, and his emphasis on the interconnectedness of different social elements was a forerunner of modern functionalism. Nevertheless, with few exceptions, his work is now regarded as eccentric and unscientific, and his grand vision of sociology as the queen of all the sciences never came to fruition.

See also: Positivism