Among the renowned philosophers who shaped social science were Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim. Comte (1798–1857) was a French theorist. He is considered the founding father sociology; he introduced and popularized the theory of positivism. In the modern times, he is viewed as the first philosopher of social science. He held the view that, before humanity understands the challenging and complex science of the society, they first have to understand and deal with physical sciences. Comte described that the society evolves through three stages in its pursuit for the truth. These are theological, the metaphysical and the positivism stages. His theory of positivism formed the philosophical foundations for formal sociology and social research.
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Durkheim (1858-1917) was a French thinker; he is considered the father of contemporary sociology. Durkheim's theory argued that the definitive social realism is not the individual but rather the society as a group. He used the term social truth to argue that social facts have a self-determining subsistence larger and more important than the actions of the persons that make society. Thus, social facts may also put into effect coercive power on different individuals composing the society; this is seen in the case of written laws and rules. Furthermore, it is also evidence in circumstances involving the existence of informal set of laws, for example, religious rites, or family customs.
About power, Comte had the view that any social reorganization was composed of two parts; theoretical and practical. He supported the idea that work should be divided into conception and execution. One of his many principles was that practical action had to be guided by informed thought. He believed changing of the social system took more than immediate reforms of the temporal power. He faulted the peoples’ thinking that changing emporal power would bring the necessary change; the constitutions, he argued, merely divided power between the legislature and executive and that the spiritual power, which was very vital, was omitted in the constitutions. His theory of three stages advocated for the formation of classes of elite individuals that would be new powers in charge of bringing the new system; this is because only these had the ‘power’ to influence and change the society. He strongly in the influence of spiritual power; in fact, when sharing the idea with a follower (Pierre Lafitte) he told him that the idea came to during meditation. It was ethereal.
Durkheim, on the other hand, had a different view. He argues that coercive power from few individuals could not bring out the necessary change and underscores the powerfulness of the society. He argues that the society has greater power and influence in shaping the individual. He puts more emphasis on societal practices as being superior to the coercive influence of individuals in bringing change. He viewed power as an attribute of the society as a whole, instead of being restricted to the actions of individuals. Comte strongly believes in the influence of spiritual power to maintain the social system. On the contrary, Durkheim arguments were based on how humanity could uphold its integrity and rationality in the era of civilization; when common religious and cultural background could no longer be assumed.
On social constraints, Durkheim argues that social constraints are imposed on the individual by the social facts. Further, he argues that social constraints are unique and external in the sense that they are the products of the society. Thus, they are external to the individual; however, they are represented in him or her. External, in this context, refers to each individual singly and not all individuals in the commmunity taken collectively. According to him, social facts constrain individuals in virtue of social forces to which collective representations give rise (Poggi, 2000). Durkheim was a strong supporter of structural functionalism. He argued that collective representation was superior to individual representation; thus, it imposes itself on individuals, and constrains their actions and thoughts. All his arguments and views revolve around the fact that social and cultural influences are what largely constitute individuals and hence are the sources of the constraints. He states that these constraints are responsible for the way men behave and account for actions such as suicide.
Comte, on the other hand, held the view that social constraints originated from the individual. He argues that knowledge and spiritual could alter the understanding of men with those who lack the knowledge being constrained in some ways. Pickering (1993) explains how Comte thought that the supranational social group could resolve the European crisis that was imminent them. In his law of three stages, he counts on the elite in society; these include politicians and scientists, to establish a new organic doctrine.
Although the two had their different views on power and social constraints, they both had similar views on the important roles played by the institutions that govern the society and the overall influence they had on transforming the society. Durkheim has published many works on the roles of institutions that have power in society, such schools, law firms and religious institutions. Compte has put a lot of effort to bring various fields such as economics, psychology, and history through the scientific understanding of a social sphere and has published numerous books that touch on power. In these publications, they share various common views on many other topics on sociology.
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