Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Best Known For

  • Founder of positivism
  • Coined the term sociology
  • His emphasis on systematic observation and social order


Auguste Comte was born January 20, 1798 (according to the Revolutionary calendar then used in France).


He died of cancer on September 5, 1857.

Early Life and Education

Auguste Comte was born in Montpellier, France. After attending the Lycée Joffre and then the University of Montpellier, Comte was admitted to the École Polytechnique in Paris.

The École closed in 1816 at which time Comte took up permanent residence in Paris, earning a precarious living there by teaching mathematics and journalism. He read widely in philosophy and history and was especially interested in those thinkers who were beginning to discern and trace some order in the history of human society.

Career and Later Life

In 1826 Comte began a series of lectures on his “system of positive philosophy” for a private audience, but he soon suffered a serious nervous breakdown. He was hospitalized and later recovered with the help of his wife, Caroline Massin, whom he married in 1824. He resumed teaching the course in January 1829, marking the beginning of a second period in Comte's life that lasted 13 years. During this time he published the six volumes of the Course between 1830 and 1842.

From 1832 to 1842 Comte was a tutor and then an examiner at the revived École Polytechnique.

He then quarreled with the directors of the school and lost his post. During the remainder of his life, he was supported by English admirers and by French disciples. In 1842 Comte separated from his wife and in 1845 he had a profound relationship with Clotilde de Vaux, whom he idolized. She died the following year and after her death, Comte devoted himself to writing another major work, the four-volume System of Positive Polity, in which he completed his formulation of sociology.

Though Comte did not originate the concept of sociology or its area of study, he greatly extended and elaborated the field. Comte divided sociology into two main fields, or branches: social statics, or the study of the forces that hold society together; and social dynamics, or the study of the causes of ​social change. While the concept of ​sociology was around before Comte, he is credited with coining the term sociology.

Major Publications

  • The Course on Positive Philosophy (1830-1842)
  • Discourse on the Positive Sprit (1844)
  • A General View of Positivism (1848)
  • Religion of Humanity (1856)


Bourdeau, M. "Auguste Comte." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Auguste Comte. (2011).

Johnson, A. (1995). The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

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Crossman, Ashley. "Auguste Comte." ThoughtCo, May. 16, 2017, Crossman, Ashley. (2017, May 16). Auguste Comte. Retrieved from Crossman, Ashley. "Auguste Comte." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 22, 2018).