Law of the Three Stages

Law of the Three Stages

a proposed historical sociological law formulated by COMTE in which knowledge and the general form of society is seen as moving through three stages:
  1. knowledge permeated by ‘Theological’ conceptions and a society dominated by priests and by monarchy;
  2. ‘Metaphysical’ speculative knowledge, associated with a ‘negative’ era of social criticism and political upheaval and revolution;
  3. the modern era of Positive’ scientific knowledge (see POSITIVISM) in which Comte expected that social reorganization guided by scientific knowledge would occur, and including the application of a scientific sociology

Sociologists do not disagree with Comte that a growth in the importance of scientific knowledge is an important general feature of modern societies. There is much disagreement, however, over how far it is appropriate to regard sociology as an ‘applied science’ on a par with the natural sciences. Whether or not they accept the goal of scientific laws in sociology, there is general agreement that Comte's formulation of the Law of Three Stages lacks the precision (or perhaps even the correct testable or falsifiable form – see HISTORICISM) to gain acceptance as a truly lawlike statement.

References in periodicals archive ?
All human thinking, both for individual persons and for historical cultures, follows the law of the three stages.
Saint-Simon, forty years his elder, had already stated the law of the three stages (see below) and was full of ideas on the restructuring and reform of society.
The key to understanding Comte's ideas is the law of the three stages, first enunciated by Saint-Simon but developed by Comte into a theory of historical progress and a framework for interpreting all human thought.
Thus, on Comte's analysis, adding the Law of the Three Stages to the classification of the sciences reveals that the moment is ripe and inevitable--for radical social reform.
95--Ever since Auguste Comte articulated his Law of the Three Stages, positivism has maintained a stranglehold on the history and philosophy of science.