Giovanni Minozzi

From development to rupture. Epistemology and politics of social science in Auguste Comte

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Abstract

This paper aims at situating the specificity of Auguste Comte’s philosophical and scientific operation with regard to his creation of sociology, conceived as a type of knowledge arising as a response to the revolutionary outbreak. By doing that, we will show how the critique of modern political concepts based on the tradition of natural right and on the theories of social contract plays a genetic role for the rise of social sciences, and how this critique has subsequently solicited the reassessment of juridical theories between the nineteenth and twentieth century. We will specifically focus on how Comte’s attempt at reabsorbing the historical rupture by integrating it in a conception of “progressµ understood as the gradual and orderly development of a germ, according to a particular physiological model, actually paved the way for a profound renewal of philosophy and foreshadowed, in an apparently paradoxical manner, both the birth of the paradigm of so-called French “historical epistemologyµ, attentive to the discontinuities occurring in the different fields of knowledge, and a renewed interest in the properly political function of institutions. It will be suggested that the positivist image of sociology as the ultimate synthesis of the modern division of labour constitutes rather the starting point for a recurring problem of contemporary social sciences, namely that of the peculiar dialectic between the totalizing aspirations of a socio-anthropological approach and the necessary pluralization of singular epistemic fields.

Keywords

  • Auguste Comte
  • Positivism
  • sociology
  • epistemology

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