Positivism: what it is, characteristics and Auguste Comte

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O Positivism it is a philosophical current that emerged in France at the beginning of the 19th century.

She defends the idea that scientific knowledge would be the only form of true knowledge.

Based on this knowledge, practical things can be explained, such as the laws of physics, social relations and ethics.

It is remarkable, in positivism, two orientations:

  • scientific orientation, which seeks to effect a division of sciences;
  • psychological orientation, a theoretical line of sociology, which investigates all verifiable human nature.

The positivist current promotes the cult of science, the human world and materialism at the expense of metaphysics and the spiritual world.

History of Positivism

The term positivism was used as a concept for the first time to designate scientism as a method by the French philosopher Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Count de Saint-Simon (1760-1825).

However, it will be Auguste Comte (1798-1857), his disciple, who will appropriate the term to name his philosophical current.

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte, creator of Positivism

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His fundamental work, the "Positive Philosophy Course", written between 1830 and 1842, is the positivist methodological treatise.

It is worth noting that Comte lived in the context of the end of the Enlightenment and the rise of scientism, in which there is a belief that the power of the intellect can do anything.

However, as he died a few years before Darwin published “The Origin of Species” (1859) and Marx write “The capital” (1867-1894), he was not influenced by the ideas of these authors.

Characteristics of Positivism

As a philosophical, sociological and political doctrine, positivism has Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Biology and also Sociology as scientific models. This is because these stand out according to their cumulative and cross-cultural values.

On the other hand, we can say that positivism is the “romanticization of science”. He places his faith in the omnipotence of reason, despite establishing human values ​​as diametrically opposed to those of theology and the metaphysics.

It is also a fully scientific classification of knowledge and ethic human, where introspection is distrusted as a means of attaining knowledge.

Thus, there is no objectivity in the information obtained, as in unobservable phenomena. These would be inaccessible to science, since it is only based on theories proven by valid scientific methods.

In this way, the sensible experience would be the only one to produce concrete (positive) data from the physical or material world.

The basic positivist methodology is the observation of phenomena. From it, observation is privileged over the imagination of facts, completely disregarding all knowledge that cannot be scientifically proven.

Finally, it is worth saying that the key idea of ​​Comtian Positivism is the "Three States Law", namely:

  • O Theological, where the human being seeks explanation for reality through supernatural entities;
  • O Metaphysical, of which the gods are replaced by abstract entities, such as "the Ether", to explain reality;
  • O Positive of humanity, where the "why" of things is not explained, but rather the "how", from the mastery over the laws of cause and effect.

Positivism as a Religion

With the work "Positive Policy System” (1851-1854), Auguste Comte created the Religion of Humanity, or the positive religion. It has the following guidelines:

"Love as a principle and Order as a basis; the progress at last".

positivist temple

Positivist Chapel in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul

In this way, it seeks to "live openly" and "live for others", where the altruism It is the word of order.

Therefore, the spiritual unity is established by science, the religion of humanity, the only one capable of social and moral regeneration.

This religion also has a "Supreme Being". He would be "Humanity Personified" and his strength emanates from the set of converging intelligences of all generations, past, present and future, which will perfect the human race.

It is interesting to note that the positivist religion also used symbols, signs, standards, garments liturgical, holy days (great human types), sacraments and civic celebrations with a calendar own. The positivist calendar is lunar-based and has 13 months of 28 days.

Positivism in Brazil

This philosophical current spread throughout Europe during the second half of the 19th century.

In Brazil, it will only arrive in the 20th century, when Comte's ideas will be propagated by thinkers:

  • Miguel Lemos (1854-1917)
  • Teixeira Mendes (1855-1927)
  • Benjamin Constant (1836-1891)
  • Deodoro da Fonseca (1827-1892)
  • Floriano Peixoto (1839 -1895)
  • Tobias Barreto (1839-1889)
  • Silvio Romero (1859-1914)


  • There are currents from other disciplines that call themselves "positivists" without having any relation to Comte's positivism.
  • Positivism is a radical reaction to German Idealist Transcendentalism and the Romanticism.
  • Auguste Comte was the creator of the word "altruism" to sum up the ideal of his New Religion.
  • The terms "Order and Progress” on the Brazilian flag are of positivist inspiration.
  • The forerunners of positivism in France were Mostesquieu (1689-1755) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).
  • Comte's theories were criticized by the Marxist sociological and philosophical tradition, especially by the Frankfurt School.

Interested? Toda Matéria has other texts that will help you:

  • What is Sociology?
  • What is Edmund Husserl's Phenomenology?
  • Racism
  • Miscegenation
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