Saturday, 18 June 2022

Hierarchy of Sciences

Comte’s second-best known theory, that of the hierarchy of the sciences or classification of sciences is intimately connected with the law of three stages. Just as mankind progresses only through determinant stages, each successive stage builds on the accomplishments of its predecessors; so scientific knowledge passes through similar stages of development. But different sciences progress at different rates. Since time immemorial thinkers have tried to classify knowledge on one or the other basis. Early Greek thinkers had made a tripartite classification of knowledge. These were Physics, Ethics and Politics. Bacon made the classification on the basis of the faculties of man namely memory, imagination and reason. The Science which was based upon memory is called History, imagination is poetry and reason is Physics, Chemistry etc.

Comte classified knowledge on the basis of observation of the scientific or positive levels of human thinking. The main aim of his classification of science by Comte is to prepare the background and basis for the study of society, Sociology, a science invented by him. On this also he determined the methodology of sociology. Comte thought that each Science came into being not arbitrarily. It has come to seek the “Laws” of a particular kind or level of facts that man had encountered in his experience of the world. Each Science is concerned with some definite event or subject matter and these constitute the subject of its study.

Comte spoke of sociology as the “crowning edifice” of the hierarchy of sciences. He did not mean that it is in any sense superior to any other science; but only that it serves to bring all other sciences into a relationship with each other, in the overall intellectual history of man. Comte says Astronomy, the most general and simple of all-natural sciences develops first. It is followed by physics, chemistry, biology and finally sociology. Each science in this series depends on its emergence on the prior developments of its predecessors in a hierarchy marked by the law of increasing complexity and decreasing generality.

According to Comte behind and before all these sciences however lies the great science of mathematics—the most powerful instrument the mind can employ in the investigation of natural law. The Science of mathematics must be divided into abstract mathematics or calculus, and concrete mathematics embracing general geometry and rational mathematics. So, we have thus really six great sciences.

The classification of sciences follows the order of development of the sciences. It indicates their social relation and relative perfection. In order to reach effective knowledge, the sciences must be studied in the order named. Sociology cannot be understood without knowledge of the anterior sciences.

Comte arranged the sciences so that each category may be grounded on the principal laws of the preceding category and serve as a basis for the next ensuing category. The order hence is one of increasing complexity and decreasing generality. The simplest phenomena must be the most general – general in the sense of being everywhere present. In the hierarchy, Comte places mathematics on the lowest rung and the topmost rung is occupied by Sociology. Comte creates the following hierarchy of sciences in ascending order.

  1. Mathematics:

Mathematics may be defined briefly as the indirect measurement of magnitudes and the determination of magnitudes by each other. It is the business of concrete mathematics to discover the equations of phenomena; it is the business of abstract mathematics to reduce results from the equations. Thus concrete mathematics discovers by actual experiment the acceleration which takes place per second in a falling body and abstract mathematics educes results from the equations so discovered and obtains unknown quantities from known.

  1. Astronomy:

Astronomy may be defined as the science by which we discover the laws of the geometrical and mechanical phenomena presented by heavenly bodies. To discover these laws we can use only our sense of sight and our reasoning power, the reasoning bears a great proportion to observation here than in any other science.

The sight alone would never teach us the figure of the earth or the path of a planet, and only by the measurement of angles and computations of times can we discover astronomical laws? The observation of these invariable laws frees man from servitude to the theological and metaphysical conceptions of the universe.

  1. Physics:

Physics may be defined briefly as the study of the laws which regulate the general properties of bodies regarded en masse, their molecules remaining unaltered and usually in a state of aggregation. In the observations of physics, all the senses are employed and mathematical analysis and experiments assist observation. In the phenomena of astronomy, human intervention was impossible. In the phenomena of physics, man begins to modify natural phenomena. Physics includes the sub-divisions: statics, dynamics, thermology, optics and electrology. Physics is still handicapped by metaphysical conceptions of the primary courses of phenomena.

  1. Chemistry:

Chemistry may be briefly defined as the study of the laws of the phenomena of composition and decomposition which result from the molecular and specific mutual action of different substances, natural or artificial. In the observations of chemistry, the senses are still more employed, and experiment is still more utility. Even in chemistry metaphysical conceptions linger.

  1. Biology:

The physiology of plants and animals is studied in Biology. Physiology may be defined as the study of the laws of organic dynamics in relation to structure and environment. Placed in a given environment, a definite organism must always act in a definite way, and physiology investigates the reciprocal relations, between organism, environment and function.

In physiology observation and experiment are of the greatest value, and apparatus of all kinds is used to assist both observation and experiment. Physiology is most closely connected with chemistry since all the phenomena of life are associated with the compositions and decompositions of a chemical character.

  1. Sociology:

Comte developed social physics or what in 1839 he called sociology. The use of the term social physics made it clear that Comte sought to model sociology after the hard sciences. This new science which in his view would ultimately become the dominant science was to be concerned with both social statics (existing social structure) and Social Dynamics (Social change). Although both involved the search for laws of social life.

According to Comte, the social organic science is sociology. It is a relatively new science. Being young it has not yet attended the status of a full-fledged science. Sociology is still a growing and developing science. However, it is quite clear that sociology is gradually moving towards the goal of a definite science.

Comte spoke of sociology as the ‘crowning edifice’ of the hierarchy of sciences. He did not mean that it is in any sense superior to any other science; but only that it serves to bring all other sciences into a relationship with each other, in the overall intellectual history of man. 

Comte invented the specific hybrid term sociology which rests in turn upon biological, chemical, physical and astronomical knowledge and uses Mathematics as its tool. At the end of the second chapter of the first volume of Comte’s book titled ‘Hierarchy of Positive Sciences’, Comte proves the following order of the sciences: mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and sociology.