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Positivism: "Love, Order, Progress" - Auguste Comte (1795 - 1857) and Emile Durkheim (1858 - 1917)

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Introduction

Positivism: "Love, Order, Progress" - Auguste Comte (1795 - 1857) and Emile Durkheim (1858 - 1917) The impulse to think critically and seriously about how the social world is made and continues in being is strongest in times of social crisis. Thomas Hobbes claimed to have founded the science of political analysis. His was a great and original contribution but we should not forget that he was one of hundreds of thinkers at that time who all cogitated on similar fundamental problems: If the king is dead who or what is the source of authority in society? If I put myself first, how is society possible? Hobbes was writing during the English Civil War and after, and that profound political and economic transformation stimulated the production of thousands of pamphlets and books discussing the versions of this problem, which has been called in sociology the problem of order. Hobbes proposed that there should be in society some unquestionable source of authority and power - the Leviathan - that guaranteed the basics of security and law. Without it men would simply follow their appetites and aversions, their wants and fears, and their would be in consequence the "war of all against all" and "which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short." Hobbes himself had experienced social change and revolution in very direct ways. He was faced with the failure of the old order. On leaving Oxford University, Hobbes became a tutor in the Earl of Devonshire's household. C. B. Macpherson describes in his Introduction to the Pelican edition of the Leviathan how "Part of his duties was to cadge money for his young man, to the extent of catching cold standing about in the wet soliciting loans ... To the ordinary insecurity of the parvenu was added there was thus added a view of the insecurity of the old ruling class. ...read more.

Middle

The more facts we have at our disposal to support this law, the more credibility it has. Finally, we can then use our established laws to predict events and therefore control them. Comte has an elegant theory to account for the successive evolution and maturation of the different sciences. This consists of two interacting principles: 1. The degree of generality of the science. 2. The relation of the science to human interest and passions. The most general sciences are those of mathematics and astronomy and the most culturally contentious are those of physiology, psychology and sociology. Mathematics evolves scientifically first and sociology last so the rational ordering and historical ordering are the same. This identity of historical and rational development is typical of Comte's schema of history. Similarly, society evolves. Firstly, human society is ruled by religious leaders and is therefore theocratic, then it becomes dominated by military or feudal institutions, and finally industrial life is the dominant form. These correspond to different forms of evolving culture. Firstly, all explanations are terms of deities or spiritual forces. Secondly, there is the metaphysical or abstract phase in which hidden forces are believed to cause all observed phenomena. There is a search for a kind of ultimate reality. "Finally, in the positive state," Comte tells us, "the human mind recognising the impossibility of absolute concepts gives up the search for the origin and destiny of the universe, and the inner cause of phenomena, and confines itself to the discovery, through reason and observation combined, of the actual laws that govern the succession and similarity of phenomena." Comte thought that society evolved according to relatively simple laws. He also thought that society was greater than the sum of individuals or any individual. Moreover, he claimed that social organisation and culture, ways of thinking, are directly linked to one another. The result was that individuals conformed to social developments. ...read more.

Conclusion

These ideas of the division of labour being part of a general evolutionary tendency of societies to evolve more and more specialised institutions and to upgrade themselves in adaptive and productive capacity have been very influential in American sociology in particular. The problem for such increasingly socially differentiated societies, looked at from this perspective, is how they can integrate these different, specialised institutions into some coherent, functioning social whole. At first, Durkheim was of the opinion that the division of labour was sufficient to bind societies together. However, as the argument develops he comes to the view that the conscience collective cannot disappear completely, and that common values and beliefs do play a significant part in binding societies together. However, the modern conscience collective is problematic because it had as its central characteristic a belief in the sanctity of the individual. This is one of the central moral tensions in his work: everywhere he recognises the benefits of individualism, everywhere he recognises that it holds the most terrible threat to social life and individual well-being itself. This is the problem of order, again. This fundamental change in the nature of social solidarity was described by Durkheim as a change from mechanical to organic solidarity. The change in the deep structure of society and its morality was indicated by changes in the nature of law. In mechanical societies Durkheim believed that the law and punishment was repressive: that is, the purpose of the law was to crush the individual deviant and mark without ambiguity the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable social behaviour. In organic societies the dominant kind of law is not the criminal but the civil law and the purpose of this kind of law is restitution. It is not intended to punish the individual but to repair the social fabric. If anything, however, the law in primitive societies is restitutive, not repressive. It was in the great agrarian and slave societies of the past- not so-called primitive tribal societies - that the law was at its most punitive and repressive. ...read more.

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