Thursday, 8 July 2021


Transition from Social Philosophy to Sociology

Sociology is one of the newer academic disciplines, tracing its origins no further back than the middle of the nineteenth century. It has a short history. Sociology, the science of society, is the youngest and it came to be established only in the nineteenth century. The French philosopher, Auguste Comte gave sociology and a programme for its development. For thousands of years, society has been a subject for speculation and enquiry. Yet sociology is modern science that originated only within the last hundred eighty-one years or so.

The study of society, however, can be traced to the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. The philosophical basis of Plato and Aristotle characterized the observations of man for a very long period of time. The literature concerning society and its problems found a place in the Republic of Plato (427-347 B.C.) and in the Politic and Ethics of Aristotle (388-327 B.C.).

Plato was the first Western philosopher who attempted a systematic study of society. In the Ethics and Politics of Aristotle, we find the first major attempts of systematic dealing of law, the society and State.

In the sixteenth century, a precise distinction was made between State and society. Thomas Hobbes and Machiavelli were outstanding contributors to the realistic approach to social problems. Hobbes in his Levithan and Machiavelli in his Prince analyses the system of statecraft and also put forward conditions for the success of the State.

Eighteenth-century Europe witnessed the publication of a number of great works of observation, for example, Rousseau’s social contract and Montesquieu’s De l’espirit des louis. These writings were still in the philosophical tradition, but they contained sufficient analysis to lay the foundation for a separate social science.

Various social sciences gradually evolved in response to the varied needs of human living. The writings in the philosophical tradition laid the foundation for the development of social sciences. With the passage of time, various social sciences developed one after another and began to pursue separate and independent paths of their own. Political philosophers inquired into the evolution of State, the growth and nature of State authority and various other problems of political nature. Thus, studies carried on by man about different aspects of society gave rise to different social sciences like History, Political Science, Economics, Anthropology and Psychology etc. Auguste Comte created the new science of society by the combination of two languages into Sociology in 1839.


Sociology has a long past, but only a short history. The study of human society in a scientific way is said to have begun with Auguste Comte. The emergence of sociology as a discipline of academic interest is of recent origin. Its emergence as a discipline can be attributed to the vast changes that took place in the nineteenth century.

Over time, there had grown the intellectual tradition described as the historical tradition or the philosophy of history, which believed the general idea of progress. To combat the influence of theology on history, the thinkers of the Enlightenment introduced the idea of causality into the history of philosophy, elaborated the theory of progress. But the philosophy of history as a distinct branch of speculation is a creation eighteenth century.

The philosophical historians introduced the new conception of society as something more than the political society or the State. They were concerned with the whole range of social institutions and made a distinction between the State and what they called ‘civil society’.

They were concerned with discussions of the nature of society, classification of societies into types, population, family, Government, morality and law etc. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the philosophy of history became an important intellectual influence through the writings of Hegel and Saint-Simon. The features of writings of philosophical historians reappeared in the nineteenth century, in the works of Comte and Spencer.

The second was the movement for social and political reforms which made it necessary to undertake surveys of social problems like poverty that arose in the industrial societies of Western Europe. The social survey came to occupy an important place in the new science of society and it was one of the principal methods of sociological enquiry.

These intellectual movements, the philosophy of history, and the social survey were themselves the product of social settings of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Western Europe. The Philosophy of history was not merely a child of thought. It was born of two revolutions, the Industrial Revolution and the Political Revolutions in France. Similarly, the social survey emerged from a new conception of the evils of industrial society.

All intellectual fields are profoundly shaped by their social setting. This is particularly true of sociology, which is not only derived from that setting but takes the social setting as its basic subject matter. We will focus briefly on a few of the most important social conditions of the nineteenth and early twentieth century that were of type utmost significance in the development of sociology.

The long series of revolutions ushered in by French Revolution in 1789 and carrying over through the nineteenth century, and the Industrial Revolution were the important factors in the development of sociology. The upheaval of the French Revolution was a turning point in the history of thinking about society. It was also largely responsible for the development of Sociology.

According to Berger and Berger, so is one of the intellectual products of the French Revolution. The impact of these revolutions on many societies was enormous and many changes resulted which were positive in nature. But these revolutions have also brought about social changes which had negative effects.

The negative effects of social change brought by the French Revolution manifested in forms of chaos and disorder. Similarly, Industrial Revolution brought many social problems and evils such as a labour-capital dispute, the problem of housing, increasing concentrations of people in urban areas etc.

The chaos and disorder that resulted from political revolutions in France and the problems unleashed by tremendous changes brought by industrialization led to the study of social problems and to find new bases of order in societies. The interest in the issue of social order was one of the major concerns of Auguste Comte who created sociology as a separate science.

He felt a need for a social science which is concerned with society as a whole or with total social structure because all other social sciences deal with a particular aspect of the society. He was the first man to create a new science of society and to distinguish the subject matter of sociology from all other social sciences. Comte developed -the first complete approach to the scientific study of society.

Other social sciences may give a snapshot view of society from various angles but never a view of society in its comprehensive totality. Sociology appeared when it was felt that the other fields of human knowledge do not fully explain the main’s social behaviour.

Comte decided to study the whole series of theoretical sciences which he identified with the positive philosophy. From the result of such a study, Comte sought to formulate a system of laws governing society so that he could postulate a cure for society on the basis of these laws.

From 1817 to 1823 Comte and Saint-Simon collaborated and this collaboration was especially marked in the work ‘plan of the scientific operations necessary for the reorganization of the Society. In the latter years, Comte called this work “the great discovery of the year 1822”. In 1822 when he (with Saint -Simon) conceived the necessity of the new science, he intended to name the new science social physics.

Soon after the publication of their work, Comte and Saint Simon dissolved their partnership and began bitterly to attack each other. Comte’s lecture notes were gradually published between 1830 and 1842, forming his voluminous masterwork, Course of Positive Philosophy in six volumes. Very reluctantly Comte changed the name of the new science from Social Physics to Sociology.

In the latter part of his Positive Philosophy, he explained that he had invented a new name because the old one had been usurped by Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet who chose it as the title for a work. Auguste Comte coined the name sociology in 1839 and called sociology the “queen of all sciences” and recommended that as the highest of all sciences, it would use the ‘positivist’ method of observation, experimentation and comparison to understand order and promote progress.

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