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Discover what sociological POSITIVISM is

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What is sociological positivism

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In this lesson from a TEACHER, we explain what is sociological positivism, a philosophical movement that was born in France in the early nineteenth century and whose top representatives were Henri from Saint-Simon Y Auguste Comte. The British John Stuart Mill develops this philosophy, which will soon spread to the rest of Europe. Positivism bears some relation to empiricism (XVI and XVII) and Francis Bacon can be considered a precursor of this movement. Positivism only gives value to scientific knowledge, and thanks to him, the human being, it is not only possible to know the phenomena and their relationships, but also, it will inevitably lead to human progress. If you want to know more about sociological positivism, keep reading this article. We started!

You may also like: Saint-Simon and positivism: summary


  1. Definition of sociological positivism
  2. Characteristics of sociological positivism
  3. The Law of the 3 States of Comte, the father of sociological positivism
  4. Reactions to positivism
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Definition of sociological positivism.

Sociological positivism is a philosophical current that affirms that true knowledge is only achievable from scientific method, which from hypotheses is able to draw conclusions, which are logically derived from the former. This movement is born from the epistemology by Comte, that affirmed that the philosophy had to serve to reconcile the observed facts.

It is only possible to know, says Comte, phenomena, that is, what appears, which does not mean in any way that knowledge is subjective. From here, the French thinker, carried out a scientific study of human nature, away from any metaphysical theory.The French Revolution mark a before and after in the way of understanding the individual and society, which for the first time, are seen by objects of knowledge.

Auguste Comte is considered the founder of sociology or science that aims to study society, and would be a science independent of philosophy. The most characteristic of sociology is that it tries to know social phenomena, from the observation of them, through an empirical study of the facts and the transformations social.

The explanation of the facts, now reduced to their real terms, consists in the establishment of a relationship between several particular phenomena and a few general facts, which diminish in number with the progress of the science”Auguste Comte.

What is sociological positivism - Definition of sociological positivism

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Characteristics of sociological positivism.

Here is a summary of the main characteristics of sociological positivism:

  1. Defense of a methodological monism. This means that there is a single method for all sciences: the scientific method.
  2. Explanation of the phenomena from their causes and through general and universal laws. Reason is now understood as a means to an end, or what is the same, as instrumental reason.
  3. Knowledge, is inductive. Everything that is not objectively perceived cannot be known, thus rejecting all abstract theory or principles.
  4. Bet on documented evidence, disregarding subjective interpretations.
  5. Defense of the sociology for the study of the human being and society, which are now understood as phenomena.
  6. Dogmatism. Excessive confidence in the scientific method.
  7. Contrary to all metaphysics and idealistic conception of reality.
  8. Sensation of optimism general.
  9. It is only possible to know the phenomena from their causes through laws of nature.
What is sociological positivism - Characteristics of sociological positivism

The Law of the 3 States of Comte, the father of sociological positivism.

For Comte there are 3 states in the history of humanity, which are:

1. Theoretical or theological state

The knowledge of natural phenomena arises from supernatural forces, and is the proper state of societies theocratic, as they were in Egypt, Greece, Rome or the Middle Ages. Magic serves to explain natural phenomena, which are often caused by supernatural beings or gods.

2. Metaphysical state

The cause of phenomena are no longer the gods, but certain general principles. Political power, based on rational principles, is no longer derived from the divine will, but from the will of the people. This is the type of society found during the period from the Protestant Reformation to the French Revolution. The gods are now replaced by abstract principles and ideas.

3. Positive state

In the positive state, all metaphysical explanation is seen as obscure, confused, and therefore, there is a clear tendency to rejection. The scientific method it is the only one capable of offering an objective explanation of the phenomena and the relationships that exist between them. It is only possible to know what appears, that is, what is perceived through the senses, everything that can be scientifically verified. It is about studying the laws of phenomena from observation and experimentation, following the model of mathematics. Knowledge, as I would have already anticipated Francis Bacon, is power, and if the human being knows the Laws of Nature you will be able to master it. Philosophy cannot offer an explanation of reality, beyond what is given.

Studying the development of human intelligence (...) I believe I have discovered a great basic law, to which intelligence is subjected with an impossible need to vary (…): Each of our main conceptions, each branch of our knowledge, necessarily goes through three different theoretical stages: the theological stage (or fictional); the metaphysical (or abstract) stage; and the scientific stage, or positive (…). From here come three types of philosophies or general conceptual systems about the set of mutually exclusive phenomena. The first is a necessary starting point for human intelligence; the third is its fixed and definitive stage; the second is simply a transition stage”.

What is sociological positivism - The Law of the 3 States of Comte, the father of sociological positivism

Reactions to positivism.

Faced with positivist philosophy, it arises hermeneutics, which will deny the ability of natural sciences to know society, man or culture, due to certain qualities of their own that characterize them, such as intentionality, self-reflexivity or the creation of meaning. In addition, they criticized the search for general and universal laws, since there are things that are not subject to this type of law. You cannot generalize about everything.

Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, definitively separated science from metaphysics, starting from Russell's logic and Tractatus of Wittgenstein, betting on a method of knowledge supported by observation, experimentation and collection of objective data, which helps to answer the question about the origin of the phenomena, their Causes.

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G. Reale, D. Antiseri. History of Philosophy 5. UPD. 2007

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