Evolution of Human Thought: Theory by Auguste Comte

Human, the best creature in the world, is indeed the best of all the living beings because of their way of thinking. The superiority they have over all other creations, the way they rule nature, the comfortable living they have today have been possible only because of their thoughtfulness. Trying to understand the causes of facts, Imagination power, ability to connect facts and so many other characteristics distinguished human beings from the others. But were human beings used to thinking scientifically thousands of years ago like they do today?

Auguste Comte’s approach

Auguste Comte, one of the leading philosophers of the 1800s, tried to look into the matter that how human mind progressed to reach today’s form. This French philosopher is known as the father of Sociology and the founder of the theory of Positivism. The terms, Positivism, which refers to scientific thinking and sociology-the scientific study of society clearly tell us that Comte was a devotee in the epistemology of the nature of human and society. He is considered as the first philosopher who provided deep thoughts about science disciplinary. He was greatly influenced by the Newtonian revolution.[1] He believed that society has one or more than one fundamental laws like nature has. Physics, a branch of science, look for the laws of nature.  Thus he coined the term social physics which will make the scientific study of society. These social physics altered into the term sociology we study today.

Auguste Comte argued that the human race had to go through three stages of development to reach today. He brought up his theory of ‘Laws of Three Stages’ in his book ‘Course of Positive Philosophy’, which shows us the changes in the nature of human thoughts. These laws tell us how the interpretation of the idea of god influenced human living. These stages are the theological, the metaphysical and the scientific stage.

Theological Stage

In a wide definition, theology refers to the study of supernatural and divine power. The theological stage is the first stage of human race development. People remained at this stage until 1300. They believed in the supernatural power of almost every natural objects. They actually tried to understand what controls the nature. No wonder people do not control the nature, so the question comes who is the controller of the natural occurrences, who gives the rain, who controls the sunset and sunrise, why storm happens etc. They did not believe that they are superior to animals. Whatever they feared and thought to have power or to be able to affect them, were believed to have some sort of supernatural power.

Fetishism

The word fetish came from medieval Portuguese word feitico which means charm. In Latin, it became Factitious which means ‘man-made ’. Comte agreed with Brosses on that fetishism is the original stage of intelligence development [2] European traders Used this word to refer to religious objects. [3] Charles de Brosses coined the term fetishism in 1757. [4] According to Brosses, it is universally the primitive stage of religion. People firmly believed that everything has some supernatural reason. The natural objects like stones, a piece of wood etc various kinds of things were believed to have supernatural power. It was believed in some communities that the bears were able to communicate with the spiritual world. [5] The Voodoos of Africa is a contemporary example of a community who practice fetishism.

Polytheism

Polytheism came from Greek Polytheos which means ‘of many gods’. Well, it is well predictable from the word that people used to worship so many gods. but how they ascended to this stage from their previous beliefs?

It is a natural habit of human minds that they keep asking ‘why’. So at one point, they started doubting if the natural objects are really supernatural forces. As it was told before, they wanted to know who gives the rain, who sets the sun and brings darkness and so on, an obvious doubt about whether a piece of wood or a monkey on the can really control rain or lightening has poked in their mind. And from then, a new sub-stage, the days of polytheism began.

A number of gods were worshipped by people. In the second century, the idea of priesthood took place. The class of priest was created to whom people used to go to have the blessings of God. Polytheism is being seen even today in some religions.

Monotheism

Monotheism refers to the belief in only one god. When so many gods raised contradiction in beliefs, people turned towards the belief that ‘maybe there is only one God who controls the whole world’. It is the last stage of the development of religion. Monotheism is much common in today’s societies.

Theological stage gave birth to colorful myths some which are still told today. The rituals of this stage are quite an in extinction now. This stage has military nature that means people used to live and work in a group under a central lead or supervision. That is why this stage is called the theological-military stage.

Metaphysical Stage

Till 1300s humans believed in a personified god. But after that era, the metaphysical stage started, when people believed in impersonified god.

Meta means beyond and physical means material world. This era is merely another version of the theological stage. According to Comte, this stage is ‘in reality a modified version‘ of the first stage. [6]  The belief ‘god is abstract’ distinguished it from the previous stage. Another thing is, human’s ability of rational thinking was generated within this period. The rationalisation ability can be seen as an approach towards scientific thinking. Metaphysical thinking is a result of intellectual dissatisfaction of the existing ideas and practices. [7]  This stage is of small span of about 600 years (1300-1800).

The idea of ‘Law’ or legacy was introduced by Hammurabi, the Babylonian emperor in 1760 BC. King and ‘rights of men’ were great concern all over the world. Some people call it The Judicial Stage too. Comte called this stage ‘collective mental evolution between infancy and manhood’ [8]

Positive Stage

This is the final stage of human intelligence evolution which appeared after the 1800s. Positive era refers to the era when science put its first step. People became more efficient at rationalization. They were no more dependent upon natural forces or neither worshipped any divine king. Rather they opened their eyes properly and started observing facts. Galileo, Bacon, Descartes and many other philosophers and scientists relied upon observation and introduced new theories. Cause and effect relation was given more importance than illogical imaginations. People now could distinguish between possible facts and myths.  Science was the new religion of this stage.

The positive stage counts worldly affairs. Secularism is a distinctive characteristic of this stage. Industrialization took place and a class of entrepreneurs evolved. Technologies play a great role here. A fun fact is Comte told Eugen Robinet that positivism had to be a form of fetishism. [9]

These three stages show not only the evolution of human intellect but also the changes of the living style of human race time to time. Auguste Comte suggested studying the less advanced civilization of his own day to catch a glimpse of what our ancestors were like many years ago. [10] Comte used the method to develop the theory of three stages. [11]  

Though the theory of three stages has some minor critics, it is indeed a great asset to detect how the human mind works even today. I, personally believe, a shadow of our ancestors’ thoughts still remains in ours too.

Sources:

      1. H.Turner, Jonathan, University of California, Theoretical Sociology 1830 to present, Sage publication

      2. Considerations philosophiques sur les sciences et les savants

  1. William Pitz, The problem of fetish II, (spring 1987) 23-5, 41
  2. C. Morris Rosalind, H.Leonard, Daniel The returns of fetishism
  3. Animals:Fact and Folklore, New Mexico Magazine, August 2008
  4. Cours I(1), 4 (f,2))
  5. Scharff, Robert C. “Comte, Philosophy, and the Question of its History” Philosophical Topics, vol. 19, no.2, 1991 pp 177-204
  6. Discourse 11 (17)
  7. Comte to Eugene Robinet, 2Aristotle 27,1855 CG 8:32
  8. Systeme 3:6
  9. Marrie Jean Antonie, Nicolas De Carritat, Condorcet