is Physical, social or sociology?

Ediciones Akal has published a few weeks ago, the first translation in Spanish of the twelve lessons relating to the “physical, social” that the French philosopher Auguste Comte published between 1839 and 1842 in volumes fourth, fifth and in the first part of the sixth of his celebrated Cours de philosophie positive. The editorial project which now sees the light has the merit to be added has been set and developed in a country like Spain, where the influence of Comte and his disciples has always been rather sparse (not to say virtually non-existent), a circumstance that, perhaps, is due more to the lack of knowledge and direct the work of the founder of positivism that an assessment is particularly negative for their undeniable contributions to the history of universal thought.

After describing the different situations in which they were the different fundamental sciences of his time, and having praised the states of positivity that they had reached, in the spring of 1839 Comte was launched by order to the foundation of a last science, the physical, social, whose primary goal would be to evaluate, on the complexity of your order, all the laws and all the methods of the previous. The choice of the expression “physical-social” was not at all fortuitous, as what Comte sought to highlight with her was, precisely, the continuity of existing analysis between natural phenomena and social phenomena. In fact, this last physical and her art, or practice, the scientific policy, that put for the first time within the reach of the human being with the ability to sort on the criteria of universal relations between individuals, had to produce necessarily the most complex phenomena and, consequently, its treatment, positive could only be conceived after the consummation, effective of the positivity in the remaining sciences. The social science of positivism comtiano pretended to be constituted, accordingly, as a doctrine perfect and necessary, the only one able to form a coherent policy that would resolve definitively the disorders, the riots and revolutions that were plaguing the West since 1789.

However, in an effort to demonstrate that social studies required a science of its own, Comte also resorted to a neologism of his own harvest, a term relatively unique to the field of the French language, composed by a Latin root and a suffix in Greek, which would have a great future: “sociology”. Comte invented this term and used it for the first time in the forty-seventh lesson of the Cours. Aware of the interest that could have its conceptual delimitation, was concerned to define its meaning of immediately in a foot-note of page:

I think I should venture, from now on, this new term, exactly equivalent to my expression, already introduced, from physical to social, in order to designate by a single name this supplementary part of natural philosophy which relates to the study positive on a set of fundamental laws proper to social phenomena.

What physical, social or sociology? Both mounted, mounted both… Comte turned to the two concepts interchangeably, although, at least in a first moment, privileged the expression “physical-social” on the still-too-new term of “sociology”.1


Synopsis of PHYSICAL, SOCIAL. August Comte.

Edition commented of the twelve lessons relating to the “Physical, social” that the French philosopher Auguste Comte published between 1839 and 1842 in the volume fourth, fifth and the first part of the sixth of his celebrated Course of Positive Philosophy. After having made a general review of the five fundamental sciences that are supported at the time (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology), in this sixth and last part of his great work the founder of positivism sought to lay the foundations of a new discipline that he called variously “physical-social” or “sociology”. In order to allow the correct development of this type of studies in the future called inexorably to the positivity, Comte devoted six chapters (Lessons 46.Th – 51.Th) the establishment of the fundamental presuppositions of “the dogmatical part of social philosophy”, reserving the other six (Lessons 52.Th – 57.Th) for the proposal and development of its “historical part” is focused mainly on the analysis of the states, theological, metaphysical and positive of the mankind. Our aim, as editors, is threefold: on the one hand, we want to offer the interested public a biographical sketch biographical clear, concise, and full of an author very little known in our country and that however has been considered, after Descartes, the French philosopher, most important of all time; in the second place, we aim to fill a significant, surprising and unfortunate gap in the history of Spanish publishing house, as never before had been published a translation in Spanish of a text that ultimately constitutes by itself a milestone fundalmental in the history of contemporary thought; and finally, we believe it pertinent to do so now, when it’s just commemorate precisely the 150th anniversary of the death of Auguste Comte, which occurred on September 5, 1857.

The translation has been done by John R. Govern Falque, teacher and researcher at the Department of Translation and Interpreting of the University of Murcia.



  1. Source: blog, the Akal and TWENTY-first Century. [↩]

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