A General View of Positivism (Hardcover)
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Auguste Comte was born in Montpellier, France, in 1798, to Catholic Royalists. By the age of 14, he rejected both Catholicism and the monarchy and, although he was a bright pupil at the Ecole Polytechnique, was expelled from the institution for his republican attitudes. At 18, he lived and worked as a tutor in Paris, where he also took a position as secretary for Saint-Simon, the founder of French Socialism. Saint-Simon's ideas influenced Comte's own philosophy, which he was then beginning to formulate. Both thinkers felt a strong need for the reorganization of society in the wake of the French Revolution. For Comte, this encompassed an understanding of science as the natural apex of human knowledge and society. In his formulation, man and civilization follow a three-stage development, from the theological to the metaphysical to the scientific, or positive (hence, the term Positivism). The scientific stage is the period of mature and rational thinking, where man uses science as a tool for positively understanding the real, observable world. Hand in hand with this structure of development went a hierarchy of the sciences. If science is the apex of human thought, then each applied science--mathematics, biology, chemistry--ranks against the others, creating a sort of ladder of knowledge: Sociology, a term which Comte coined in 1839 to designate the application of the scientific method to social phenomena, takes the highest rung in this arrangement. Comte first put forth these views in a series of lectures delivered to a private audience from 1826 to 1829; these became the basis for his six-volume COURS DE PHILOSOPHIE POSITIVE. He took one recess during these lectures after a failed suicide attempt, which was inspired by his "unfortunate" marriage. Once he recovered (the marriage did not), he returned to work, eventually producing Positivist tracts such as SYSTEM OF POSITIVE POLITY and POSITIVIST CATECHISM. In 1844 Comte fell in love with Clotilde de Vaux. Although she died the following year, he remained devoted to her for the rest of his life. In 1848 Comte found himself relieved of his tutoring duties and unemployed. Believing that the thinking man should not be a working man, however, Comte subsisted on the patronage of friends, most notably John Stuart Mill. He lived in this manner, developing his Positivist philosophy into a quasi-religious Humanism, until his death in 1857. He is buried in P?re Lachaise.