Auguste Comte: Biography of the Founder Philosopher of Positivism

A review of the life of Auguste Comte, a French philosopher who promoted the paradigm of positivism.

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Speaking of science is talking about research, the search for knowledge through experimentation and the validation of hypotheses and theories that can be verified on an empirical level. Regardless of how we say it, what is clear is that knowledge is only considered scientific if it can be proved objectively.

However, this idea of ​​science has not emerged from nothing: throughout history a large number of authors have debated and defended from philosophy and epistemology various models of knowledge, some of which are opposite or mutually exclusive.

One of these models is the Positivism of Auguste Comte, one of the main philosophical currents that advocate that authentic and true knowledge can only be obtained through the verification of hypotheses through the scientific method. This movement has marked to a large extent the intellectual evolution of an era, which is why we know its main creator. That is why throughout this article we are going to make a small biography of Auguste Comte, with his main contributions to the intellectual development of the West.

Brief biography of Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte was born on January 19, 1798 in Montpellier, France, in the last years of the French Revolution. Born Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte, was one of the three sons of the official Louis Auguste Xavier Comte and of Félicité Rosalie Comte. His family of origin was of modest status, with strong Catholic beliefs and defenders of the monarchy.

During his first years of life Comte was educated in the catholic religion, and would go to a school of his native city. Around fourteen years of age the young man decided to declare himself agnostic and republican. Highly intelligent and endowed with great memory capacity, his grades were high but highlighted by a great rebellion.


In 1814, when the young man was sixteen years old, he was accepted into the Polytechnic School of Paris. In this center he would begin to take an interest in science and engineering, subjects promoted for the training of new technicians for the benefit of the State, and would enter into contact with the ideas of Count Claude Henri Saint-Simon for the first time.

All this led him to believe in the need to generate a society governed by scientists. However two years later the government decided to close the institution, due to its republican ideology.

The closure of this school caused Comte to return to Montpellier, where he would begin to study medicine in the faculty at the same time that he survived teaching mathematics.

However, a short time later he decided to return to Paris and settle there, studying in a self-taught way. Academically he was an outstanding student, but nevertheless he did not get any degree, something that later would make it difficult for him to access different positions.

In Paris he met Saint-Simon in person, and succeeded in becoming his secretary in 1817. He would remain with him until 1824, a period in which he obtained a great deal of learning from his mentor, although he would end up separating from him in the face of disagreements over what should be done to reshape society.

The separation occurred after the publication of the Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la societé (“Plan of the scientific works necessary to reorganize society”), a work in which one would begin to observe the nature of positivism and its connection with politics ) by Comte, with whom his mentor did not agree, and in the absence of Saint-Simon’s appreciation of his ideas.

Precariousness and crisis

A year later, in 1825, Auguste Comte married Anne Calorine Massin. For a few years the couple suffered a great economic precariousness, which forced Comte to organize positive philosophy courses at high speed and almost unable to sleep in order to survive.
He began to give lessons in his house, some lessons in which he would have as students some renowned scientific personalities of the time. These lessons were about positive philosophy, being with the passage of time collected in the Cours de philosophie positive, which culminated in six volumes in 1840.

The great mental wear of the author led him to suffer for the first time nervous crises, so serious that he had to cancel his courses and took him to a state of high irascibility and messianic delusions. Although initially his mental problems were brought back by his wife, they were getting worse and worse.

After that, he was admitted to Saint-Denis and diagnosed as a “megalomaniac maniac,” something that could correspond to a manic episode or even a psychotic outbreak.

His internment lasted a year, until December 1826, when his mother’s intervention meant that he could leave the center even though he was not considered to be cured.

However, shortly after (in 1827) the author was thrown from the Bridge of the Arts to the Seine River with the intention of taking his own life, something that prevented a guard.

The beginning of positivism

In 1828, something more replenished, Comte took up the lessons in his home, at the same time he began to compile and elaborate the different volumes of his “Positive Philosophy Course”, which would end as we have already said in 1840, and in which he would include the three theoretical stages through which each branch of knowledge must pass (theological, metaphysical and scientific / positive). It was this book and the courses that he made that led to the beginning of the rise of positivism as a current of scientific thought.

In addition, he founded and worked as a teacher at the Polytechnic School of the Polytechnic Association, which allowed him to expand his ideas, but in which, however, he could not be a professor and from which he ended up being expelled.

Likewise, and based on this basis and his dream of generating a society led by scientific scientists, Comte tried to apply the principles of mathematics and science to social phenomena, being born on the basis of this ideal sociology. One of the works that would capture these beliefs is in Système de politique positive, or Traité de sociologie, instituant the religion de l’humanité (to be published in 1854).

In 1842 he separated from his wife. In 1845 he met what would be his great love, Clotilde de Vaux, which initially rejected him but ended up establishing a relationship with him. A relationship that would end a year later, when the woman died. All this, along with the economic precariousness that accompanied him throughout his life, would take him back to a state of crisis in which he needed the financial support of admirers like Stuart Mill.

Last years, death and legacy

Towards the end of his life there was a shift in Comte’s thinking towards religion, elaborating works in which he linked positivism with religious feeling and the elaboration of a personal god and trying to foment a new religion in which society was ruled by sociologists .

He also began to write and finished one of the volumes of Synthèse subjective or Système universel des conceptions propres à l’état normal de l’Humanité, in which he intended to link mathematics and religion.

Auguste Comte died on September 5, 1857, in the city of Paris, at 59 years of age, as a result of cancer of stomach origin.

Despite the great difficulties he had throughout his life, the work of Comte has left a legacy of great importance worldwide, since from him have developed sociology and other currents that have been born either based on the ideals of the positivism or opposing these.