©2000 NewFoundations

The Educational Theory of Auguste Comte
(1798 - 1857)

Analyst: Karen DeWalt



1. Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the ,goals of education?

In order for man to transform his nonhuman environment to his advantage, he must know the laws that govern the natural world, "For it is only by knowing the laws of phenomena, and thus being able to foresee them, that we can ... set them to modify one another for our advantage ... Whenever we effect an thing great it is through a knowledge of natural laws ... From Science comes Prevision; from Prevision come Action." In like manner, social action beneficial to mankind will become possible once the laws of motion of human evolution are established, and the basis for social order and civic concord is identified.

Goals for learning the social sciences must ultimately be of concrete benefit to man and play a major part in the improvement of the human condition (http://diogenes.baylor.edu/..., 1997).

II. Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? A lie?

"From the study of the development of human intelligence, in all directions, and through all times, the discovery arises of a great fundamental law, to which it is necessarily subject, and which has a solid foundation of proof, both in the facts of our organization and in our historical experience. The law is this: that each of our leading conceptions-each branch of our knowledge-passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the Theological, or fictitious; the Metaphysical, or abstract; and the Scientific, or positive" (http://www.wwu.edu/~stephan..., 1997).

III. Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species: What are the limits of human power?

The scientific method of inquiry of central importance to the sociologist is comparison. Comparisons of human with animal societies will give up precious clues to "the first germs of the social relations" and to the borderlines between the human and the animal. Yet comparisons within the human species are even more central to sociology. The chief method here consists in a comparison of the different co-existing states of human society on the various parts of the earth's surface -- these states being completely independent of each other. By this method, the different stages of evolution may all be observed at once. Though the human race as a whole has progressed in a single and uniform manner, various populations have attained extremely unequal degrees of development from causes still little understood. Hence, certain phases of development of Western civilization leaves no perceptible traces, can be known only by the comparative study of primitive societies (http://diogenesbaylor.edu, 1997).

IV. Theory of Learning: What is leaming? How are skills and knowledge acquired?

Once men recognize the overriding authority of science in the guidance of human affairs, they will also abandon the illusory quest for an unfettered "right of free inquiry".

Only those willing to submit themselves to the rigorous constraints of scientific methodology and to the cannons of scientific evidence can presume to have a say in the guidance of hum -an affairs. Freedom of personal opinion makes no sense in astronomy or physics, and the future such freedom will be similarly inappropriate in social sciences. It is an insufferable conceit on the part of ordinary men to presume that they should hold opinions about matters of scientific fact (http://Iaf.cioe.com/~jheinze..., 1997). New Science

Sociology's purpose: to discover laws which explain social events

V. Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?

It is within the family that the elementary egotistical propensities are curbed and harnessed to social purposes. It is the avenue of the family that man comes forth from his mere personality, and learns to live in another. The family is the most elementary social unity and the prototype of all other human associations, for these evolve from family and kinship groups. The collective organism is essentially composed of families which are its true elements, of classes and castes which form its true tissue, and finally of cities and town which are its true organs.

Language is the vessel in which the thought of preceding generations, the culture of our ancestors, is stored. By participating in a linguistic universe, we are part of a linguistic

Tic community. Language binds us to our fellows and same time connects us to the ton chain that links a living community to its remote ancestors. Human society has more dead than living members. Without a common language men could never have attained solidarity and consensus: without this collective tool no social order is possible (http://dioc,enes.baylor.edu/..., 1997).

VI. Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?

Comte's aim was to create a naturalistic science of society, which would both explain the past development of mankind and predict its future course. In addition to building a science capable of explaining the laws of motion that govern humanity over time, Comte attempted to formulate the conditions that account for social stability at any given historical moment. The study of social dynamics and social statics -- of progress and order, of change and stability -- are the twin pillars of his systems.

The society of man, Comte taught, must be studied in the same scientific manner as the world of nature. It is subject to basic laws just as is the rest of the cosmos, even though it presents added complexities. Natural science, Comte argued, had succeeded in establishing the lawfulness of natural phenomena. It discovered that these phenomena, from the falling of stones to the movement of planets, followed ordered sequences of development. In the world of nature, science had succeeded in progressively contracting the realm of the apparently nonordered, the fortuitous and the accidental. The stage was now set for a similar endeavor in the study of society (http://diogenes.baylor.edu/..., 1997).

VII. Theory of Opportunity: Who is to be educated: Who is to be schooled?

Comte believed in the principle that the division of labor, while it fostered the development of individual gifts and capacities, also contributed to human solidarity by creating in each individual a sense of his dependence on other. AT the same time, he was perturbed by what he considered certain negative aspects of the modem industrial division of labor.

The social organization tends more and more to rest on an exact estimate of individual diversities, by so distributing employments as to appoint each one to the destination he is most fit for, from his own nature.... from his education and his position, and, in short, from all his qualifications; so that all individual organizations, even the most vicious and imperfect..., may finally be made use of for the general good(http://diogenes.baylor.edu/..., 1997).

VIII. Theory of Consensus: Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?

The discovery of the basic laws will cure men of overbearing ambition; they will learn that at any historical moment the margin of societal action is limited by the pressing needs of society. But at the same time, men will also be enabled to act deliberately within given limits by curbing the operation of societal laws to their own purposes. It is impossible to talk about political aims without considering the social and historical context of political action. By recognizing and acknowledging the constraint that any social order imposes on action men will at the same time be enabled freely to order their society within the bounds imposed by necessity (http://www.wwu.edu/-stephan 1997).


http:// diogenes.baylor.edu/V;MrWproviders/LarryRidener/DSS/Comte/COMTEPER.HTML (1997).

http: //diogenes.baylor.edu/WWWproviders/LarryRidenerlDSS/INDEX.HTML (1997).

http://Iaf.cioe.com/~jheinze/comte.htmI (1997).

http://www.wwu.edu/~stephan/Schedule/302/comte/comte.htmI (1997).

Osborne, R. (1992). Philosophy for beginners. New York: Writers and Readers.