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One way to think about the relationship between science and society and found in the early writings of August Comte (1789-1857). All of the assumptions that Comte makes are now rejected by postmodernists. Comte begins by imposing meaning on history, arguing that societies evolve through three stages: the theological stage, the metaphysical stage and the positive (or scientific) stage. Each of these stages is reproduced in the evolution of the human mind. The human mind, and the most privileged among these was the sociologist, would use the scientific method to arrive at an understanding of the universal laws of social development. Comte argues against democratic discourse in the belief that parties involved in the political process are always committed to a particular viewpoint. Only science can rise above the local and particular and understand impartially. The application of this knowledge to society would enable the liberation of individuals. Positivism, therefore, places science in a privileged position; assumes the possibility of a scientific understanding of human and social behaviour; assumes the separation of knowledge and power; and assumes the possibility of objectivity and impartiality. Positivism shaped sociology for the next 100 years. In much contemporary social science debate, however, positivism has become a term of abuse. See: POSTMODERN / .

Last updated 2002--0-9-

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Athabaca University ICAAP

© Robert Drislane, Ph.D. and Gary Parkinson, Ph.D.
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*This social science dictionary has 1000
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science and women's study with a commitment to Canadian examples and
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