Friday, 22 March 2019


Auguste Comte is more into a traditional positivistic method into the field of sociology then applying positivism method in sociological analysis. The positive stage represents the scientific way of thinking. The positive or scientific knowledge is based upon facts and these facts are gathered by observation and experience. Therefore, in positivistic society every possible sphere of human life is social, nature and economic materials are subjected to scientific structure.  Comte used the term “Positivism” in two distinctive ways:

a)    Positivism as a way of thinking: It is a way of thinking based on the assumption that it is possible to observe social life and establish reliable, valid knowledge about how it works. Such knowledge can be used the course of change and improve the human condition.

a)    Positivism implies the use of scientific method: By this concept Comte means the application of scientific methods to understand society and it changes. By applying this concept to the modern societies, he emphasized that sociology must depend on careful observation, usually based on statistical measures of social statics and social dynamics. He also recognized that sociology would have to be less experimental than the physical sciences because of the ethical and practical difficulties intervening in people’s lives.
b)   Positivism would essentially mean a method of approach: The methods of science can give us knowledge of the laws of co-existence and succession of phenomena, but can never penetrate to the inner “essence” or “nature” of things. As applied to the human social world, the positive method yields a law of successive states through which each branch of knowledge must first pass through the theological, then metaphysical, and finally positive or scientific state. Since the character of society flows from the intellectual forms which predominate in it, this gives Comte a law of the development of human society itself.
c)    Positivism deifies observation and classification of data: Positivism is purely an intellectual way of looking at the world. He believed that the mind should concentrate on the observation and classification of phenomena. He believed that both theological and metaphysical were likely to be fiction as truth, and that there is no way of determining which is the cause. Thus, it would be more profitable if a person would direct his thoughts to the lines of thinking which are most truly prolific, namely to observation and classification of data.
Positivism brought a revolution or renaissance in the field of social science. It combined belief in progress and a passion for serving humanity. It is based on the belief that a scientific analysis of history would show the way to cure for the ills of society as a weapon against the negative philosophy which was prevalent how things are in reality.
Comte claimed to be the father of positivism or scientific approach; he himself was not committed to it. Some of the criticisms of positivism are mention below:
i. Positivism is not influential at present. Positivism in contemporary sociology encourages a misleading emphasis on superficial facts without any attention to underlying mechanisms that cannot be observed.
According to Rollin Chambliss, Comte wanted to build a science of social phenomena. But instead of doing that he struggled to provide his projects of social reorganisation. He built a Utopia instead of science.
ii. Methodological Gulf between the physical and social sciences. Criticisms of positivism commonly focus on the inappropriateness of natural-scientific methods in the human or social sciences. Consciousness, cultural norms, symbolic meaning, and intentionality, etc., are variously held to be distinctive human attributes which dictate a methodology gulf between natural science and the study of human social life.
As Prof Timasheff opines, Comte’s sociological theories represent a premature jump from the level of observation and inferences to the level of theory.
iii. Problem of verification. Methodologically, a central problem of positivism arises from the so-called ‘problem of empiricism’, the lack of any conclusive basis for ‘verification’ in ‘inductive logic’. A further telling criticism the so called ‘paradox of positivism’ is that the verification principle is itself unverifiable.

Auguste Comte gave maximum importance to the scientific method. In spite of criticisms, his insistence on positive approach, objectivity and scientific attitude contributed to the progress of social sciences in general.

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