Existence of “Classification of Sciences” – Prior to Comte: The idea of the “classification of sciences” did not originate with Comte. It did exist prior to Comte. From times immemorial thinkers have been trying to classify knowledge on some basis. The early Greek thinkers undertook to classify all knowledge under three headings: (1) physics, (2) ethics, and (3) politics. Later on, Bacon made the classification on the basis of the faculties of man namely, (i) memory, (ii) imagination, and (iii) reason.
The science based upon memory is history, the science based upon imagination is poetry, and the knowledge based upon reason is physics, chemistry, etc. Comtean classification of sciences has its own specialties among which the following may be noted Special Features of Comtean Classification of Sciences 1. Linkage with the “Law of Three Stages”: Comtean classification of sciences, as it is already stated, is linked with his famous contribution to the social thought namely, the law of three stages. The logic of the link is that – as with individuals and societies, so with the sciences themselves – they all pass through the same stages. 2.
The Main Purpose of the Classification: It could be inferred that Comte had a specific purpose in providing a classification of sciences. The main aim of the classification of knowledge by Comte was to prepare the background and the basis for the study of “sociology”, a new science founded by him. On the basis of this principle he also determined the methodology of sociology. It also helped him in establishing the relation between sociology and other sciences. It tried to establish the fact that by discovering some general principles, it is possible to establish relationship among various sciences.
3. Classification of Knowledge on the Basis of the Principle of Increasing Dependence: Comte chose “the order of increasing dependence” as his principle of classifying knowledge. Comte “arranged the sciences so that each category may be grounded on the principal laws of the preceding category, serve as a basis for the next ensuing category. The order, hence, is one of increasing complexity and decreasing generality. The most simple phenomena must be the most general – general in the sense of being everywhere present. This principle could be stated in simple words in this way: The facts pertaining to different sciences differ in complexity. Some facts are simple while others are complex. The complex facts being dependent on simple facts are, general and are present everywhere.
The sciences based upon complex sciences are, in turn, dependent upon simple sciences. Thus, each science is, in some measure, dependent upon some other science and by itself forms a basis of some other science. On this basis Comte presented a serial order of sciences. Comte was of the opinion that the more complex sciences in the course of their development will ultimately attain the positive stage. He thus stated: “Any kind of knowledge reaches the positive stage early in proportion to its generality, simplicity and independence of other departments.
” “Hence astronomy, the most general and simple of all natural sciences, develops first. In time, it is followed by physics, chemistry, biology, and finally sociology. Each science in this series depends for its emergence on the prior developments of its predecessors in a hierarchy marked by the law of increasing complexity and decreasing generality.” [L.
A. Coser]. 4. Classification of Sciences Begins With Mathematics: Comte considers mathematics the basic tool of the mind. “With mathematics as its chief tool, the mind of man can go anywhere in its thinking. Mathematics is the most powerful instrument which the mind may use in the investigation of natural laws.” According to Comte, mathematics occupies the first place in the hierarchy of the sciences. Mathematics, in the Comtean scheme, is not a constituent member of the group of sciences.
It is the basis of them all. It is the oldest and most perfect of all the sciences. Comte gives importance to mathematics for yet another reason. He says that mathematics is “the science.
” It is the science that measures precisely the relations between objects and ideas. It ascertains the relationships between things, a process which is basic to scientific thinking in all fields. Comte confidently asserts: “Education that is based on any other method is faulty, inexact, and unreliable. It is only through mathematics that we can understand sciences. 5.
The Design of the Classification of Sciences: In the Comtean design of the hierarchy of sciences mathematics occupies the lowest rung and the topmost, rung is occupied by sociology. The hierarchy of this classification is as follows: (1) Mathematics, (2) Astronomy, (3) Physics, (4) Chemistry, (5) Biology, and (6) Sociology ox Social Physics. This classification makes it clear that the simplest and the least dependent science are at the bottom and the most complex and dependent of the sciences is at the top of the hierarchy. Comtean Scheme of Hierarchy of the Sciences Hierarchy of Sciences: According to this view of the sciences, first proposed by Comte, the sciences can be arranged in ascending order of complexity, with sciences higher in the hierarchy dependent, but not only dependent, on those below.
Thus, sociology makes assumptions about the physical and biological world, but at the same time also involves an “emergent” level of analysis different from and not reducible to those below. 6. Classification of Sciences into Inorganic and Organic: Comte stated that the classification of knowledge could be done in another manner by making use of mathematics as the tool. Thus all natural phenomena could be categorised into two grand divisions: inorganic and organic. Comparatively speaking, inorganic sciences [for example, astronomy, physics, chemistry] are simpler and clearer. Organic sciences such as biology are more complex. “It involves the study of all life and the general laws pertaining to the individual units of life.
7. Social Sciences Including Sociology at the Apex of the Hierarchy: In the Comtean scheme, social sciences are at the apex of the hierarchy for they enjoy “all the resources of the anterior sciences.” Social sciences are the most complex and the most dependent for their emergence on the development of all the other sciences. Social sciences offer “the attributes of a completion of the positive method: All others are preparatory to it. Hence, they occupy the highest place in the hierarchy.” Social physics or sociology according to Comte is the last and the greatest of the sciences.
Although sociology has special methodological characteristics that distinguish it from its predecessors in the hierarchy, it is dependent on them too. 8. The Emphasis on Holistic Approach in Social Sciences: According to Comte, inorganic sciences proceed from simple to compound and the organic sciences move the reverse way from compound to simple. Hence, the inorganic sciences pursue what is known as individualistic approach whereas organic sciences [including sociology] stress upon the importance of the “holistic approach.” The holistic approach is the natural direction of the progress of sciences. All sciences progress towards the positive method. Sociology is the crowning glory of all sciences.
The holistic approach starts with biology and culminates with sociology. Biological approach is virtually the holistic approach and it proceeds from the study of the organic wholes. The Stress on the Organic Unity: Comte in his approach towards society stressed on the organic unity of society. Comte has thus stated: “In the organic sciences, the elements are much better known to us than the whole which they constitute; so that in that case we must proceed from the simple to the compound. But the reverse method is necessary in the study of man and society…..
Just as biology cannot explain an organ or a function apart from the organism as a whole, sociology cannot explain social phenomena without reference to the total social context. This idea of organic unity or the primacy of the system over elements has important theoretical implications” – [Abraham and Morgan.] Comte’s faith in the holistic approach was very firm. In the words of Comte, “There can be no scientific study of society either in its conditions or its movements, if it is separated into portions, and its divisions are studied apart.” Concluding Comments: 1. Though the classification of sciences presented by Comte is not free from certain limitations, it still holds some importance today.
In this scheme of classification Comte found an appropriate place for sociology and gave that discipline its name. 2. Comte successfully established through his classification of sciences that sociology is also a positive science. He also stressed that sociology must be a theoretical discipline. “The conversion of sociology into a positive science completed the system of positive philosophy thus marking the onset of the positive stage of development of the human mind and human society. It meant, in Comte’s view, the real “positive revolution, the victory of science over the scholasticism of past epochs. 3. Comte’s “idea of organic unity or the primacy of the system over element, has important theoretical implications.
Comte has repeatedly asserted that one element of social entity could be understood only in terms of the entity as a whole 4. Comte’s assertion of the principle of increasing dependence in the classification of sciences has today culminated in what is being called “interdisciplinary approach.” This approach is quite popular at the academic level. In this regard Bogardus writes: “Comte urged that no science could be effectually studied without competent knowledge concerning the sciences of which it depends. It is necessary not only to have a general knowledge of all the sciences but to study each of them in order this is Comte’s dictum to the student of sociology.
Comte insisted that one general science could not develop beyond a given point until the preceding has passed a given stage.