Law of three stages

Law of three stages

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The Law of Three Stages is an idea developed by Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte
Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte , better known as Auguste Comte , was a French philosopher, a founder of the discipline of sociology and of the doctrine of positivism...

. It states that society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 as a whole, and each particular science, develops through three mentally conceived stages: (1) the theological
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 stage, (2) the metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 stage, and (3) the positive
Positivism
Positivism is a a view of scientific methods and a philosophical approach, theory, or system based on the view that, in the social as well as natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical and mathematical treatment are together the exclusive source of all worthwhile information....

 stage.

The progression of the three stages


(1) The Theological stage refers to explanation by personified deities. Comte broke this stage into 3 sub-stages:
1A. Animism
Animism
Animism refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle....

- Turning everyday objects into items of extreme religious purpose and worship, perhaps with godlike qualities.
1B. Polytheism
Polytheism
Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals....

 - Explanation of things through the use of many gods.
1C. Monotheism
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

 - Attributing all to a single, supreme deity.


(2) The Metaphysical stage refers to explanation by impersonal abstract explanation. Often those who developed metaphysical systems believed they were engaging in scientific activity, but they were not.

(3) The Positivity
Positivism
Positivism is a a view of scientific methods and a philosophical approach, theory, or system based on the view that, in the social as well as natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical and mathematical treatment are together the exclusive source of all worthwhile information....

 stage refers to scientific explanation based on observation, experiment, and comparison. Positive explanations rely upon a distinct method, the scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

, for its justification.

Comte proposed a hierarchy of the sciences based on historical sequence, with areas of knowledge passing through these stages in order of complexity. The simplest and most remote areas of knowledge - mechanical or physical - become scientific first. These are followed by the more complex sciences, those considered closest to us.

The sciences, then, according to Comte's "law", developed in this order: Mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

; Astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

; Physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

; Chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

; Biology
Biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

; Psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

; Sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

. A science of society is thus the "Queen science" in Comte's hierarchy as it would be the most fundamentally complex. Through social science, Comte believed all human social ills could be remedied.

Critiques of the law


William Whewell
William Whewell
William Whewell was an English polymath, scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science. He was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.-Life and career:Whewell was born in Lancaster...

 wrote "Mr. Comte's arrangement of the progress of science as successively metaphysical and positive, is contrary to history in fact, and contrary to sound philosophy in principle." The historian of science
History of science
The history of science is the study of the historical development of human understandings of the natural world and the domains of the social sciences....

 H. Floris Cohen
H. Floris Cohen
- Life :Cohen studied history at the University of Leiden, receiving a Ph.D. in 1974. He is currently a professor in the Comparative History of the Science at the University of Utrecht...

 has made a significant effort to draw the modern eye towards this first debate on the foundations of positivism
Positivism
Positivism is a a view of scientific methods and a philosophical approach, theory, or system based on the view that, in the social as well as natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical and mathematical treatment are together the exclusive source of all worthwhile information....

.

In contrast, within an entry dated early October 1838 Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 wrote in one of his then private notebooks that "M. Comte's idea of a theological state of science [is a] grand idea."

See also

  • Positivism
    Positivism
    Positivism is a a view of scientific methods and a philosophical approach, theory, or system based on the view that, in the social as well as natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical and mathematical treatment are together the exclusive source of all worthwhile information....

  • Sociological positivism
  • Antipositivism
    Antipositivism
    Antipositivism is the view in social science that the social realm may not be subject to the same methods of investigation as the natural world; that academics must reject empiricism and the scientific method in the conduct of research...

  • Religion of humanity
    Religion of Humanity
    Religion of Humanity was a secular religion created by Auguste Comte, the founder of positivist philosophy. Adherents of this religion have built chapels of Humanity in France and Brazil.-Origins:...