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Auguste Comte and the Law of Three Stages

Auguste Comte is a French philosopher born on January 20th, 1798 in Montpelier (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). He is believed to be the founding father of sociology, the study of the development and functioning of society. In addition, he is considered the founder of positivism, a movement that enjoyed huge support in the 19th century but was obscured by neo positivism in the 20th century (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). He is considered the first modern philosopher of science to have successfully developed the philosophy of physics, biology, mathematics, and chemistry (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). However, his political philosophy is less known since it contradicts the classical inherited political philosophy. Comte developed an irrefutable fact about society through the use of chemistry, biology, and physics, stating that since the human brain grows in stages, so does society (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). He further claimed that the history of a society could be classified into three distinct stages, which he referred to as the Law of Three Stages (Comte, 1885). This paper will look at the Law of Three Stages and discuss the criticism associated with this Comte’s Law of Three Stages.

The Law of the Three Stages is one of the most popular contributions of Comte in the field of sociological thought. This Law was Comte’s invariant search for rules that govern society (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). In this context, Comte came up with his “Law of Three Stages.” These stages include the theological stage, metaphysical stage, and positive stage (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). The theological stage also referred to as the fictitious stage, Comte believed humans viewed the world’s happenings as an act of supernatural agencies such as the will of various gods. The theological stage is dominated by the search for the happenings of things, and people believe that gods and supernatural forces influence all happenings. In summary, Comte stated that “all theoretical findings both general and special contains a supernatural mark.” The theological stage is further divided into fetishism, polytheism, and monotheism.

In fetishism, primitive human beings tend to believe in supernatural happenings. These people believe that the phenomena are due to the immediate action of supernatural beings. These people tend to believe in all forms of fetishes about the existence of spirits and supernatural beings. Thus, in this stage, the man accepts the existence of various gods and spirits. The second sub-stage is polytheism, where the brains of primitive man become better organized; the many fetishisms in the earlier substage causes confusion. This brought about the belief in just a few gods, which is the basis of polytheism, where man created the division of priesthood to receive the goodwill and blessings of these gods. The last sub-stage of the theological stage is monotheism, where man finally develops the idea of one God. In this sub-stage, man believes in only one supernatural being responsible for all world activities (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017).

The second stage is the metaphysical stage, also referred to as the abstract stage. Comte states that this stage started about 1300A.D in Europe (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). In the metaphysical stage, people tend to believe the happenings and events are factors of natural happenings of human tendencies. People believe in supernatural powers in this stage, but they believe that these powers are abstract and have less hand in the world’s happenings. This stage introduces rationalism which states that God has no direct connection to all happenings of the word. In this stage, philosophers grow as the main class that defines this stage. In addition, God is believed to be an abstract power that controls the events of the world. Thus, the metaphysical stage is a stage in which abstract forces replace supernatural beings as the powers that control happenings of the world.

The third stage is the positive stage, also called the scientific stage. The positivist stage is the final stage, and Comte believed the world entered this stage in 1800 (Comte, 1885). In the positivist stage, people search for laws that define the phenomena happening in the world. As the name states, people view the world’s happenings from a scientific perspective. The positive stage is based upon facts corrected through observation and experience. The concept of God in this stage vanishes from the human mind, and the mind starts to look for cause and relationship when explaining a phenomenon. This stage creates a class of scientists and is governed by scientific rules. Lastly, the man drops all explanations based on supernatural beings and views them as useless during this stage (Comte, 2015).

However, the Law of three stages received criticism from different philosophers and sociologists. The first criticism came from Bogardus, who stated that Comte failed to explain the fourth form of thinking, for example, the socialized thinking stage (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). This stage, according to him, would have emphasized the need to build constructive and just societies. Secondly, Prof. N.S Timasheff argued that Comte’s “Law of three stages” could not withstand the test of facts (Heilbron & Werknick, 2017). He states, “Neither the latter approaches wholly supersede the religious approach; rather, there has been accumulation and admixture of the three.”


Comte, A. (1855). The positive philosophy of Auguste Comte. C. Blanchard.

Comte, A. (2015). A general view of positivism. Routledge.

Heilbron, J., & Werknick, A. (2017). Auguste Comte and the Second Scientific Revolution. The Anthem Companion to Comte, 23-42. 0857281941, 9780857281944


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