Thursday, November 16, 2017

Early French Sociologists

Claude Henri Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was a positivist who believed that the study of social phenomena should employ the same scientific techniques as the natural sciences. But he also saw the need for socialist reforms, especially centralized planning of the economic system.

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) coined the term "sociology." Like Saint-Simon, he believed the study of social phenomena should employ scientific techniques. But Comte was disturbed by the chaos of French society and was critical of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Comte developed an evolutionary theory of social cahange in his law of the three stages. He argued that social disorder was caused by ideas left over from the idea systems of earlier stages. Only when a scientific footing for the governing of society was established would the social upheavals of his time cease. Comte also stressed the systematic character of society and accorded great importance to the role of consensus. These beliefs made Comte a forerunner of positivism and reformism in classical sociological theory.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) legitimized sociology in France and became a dominant force in the development of the discipline worldwide. Although he was politically liberal, he took a more conservative position intellectually, arguing that the social disorders produced by striking social changes could be reduced through social reform. Durkheim argued that sociology was the study of structures that are external to, and coercive over, the individual; for example, legal codes and shared moral beliefs, which he called social facts. In Suicide he made his case for the importance of sociology by demonstrating that socialfacts could cause individual behavior. He argued that societies were held together by a strongly held collective morality called the collective conscience. Because of the complexity of modern societies, the collective conscience had become weaker, resulting in a variety of social pathologies. In his later work, Dukheim turned to the religion of primitive societies to demonstrate the importance of the collective consciousness.