Comte’s Seven Categories Of Human Knowledge

Comte did us the favor of, not only dividing human knowledge into seven categories, but of also putting them in order from least to greatest. This order comes about because, according to Comte, each category of science depends upon the truths discovered and utilized in the science before it. The list of categories is as follows (in order from least to greatest):

1. Math (including, also in order of dependence: number, geometry, and mechanics), 2. Astronomy 3. Physics 4. Chemistry 5. Biology 6. Sociology and (added later) 7. Morals.

According to this scheme, Astronomy relies on Math, so it is placed higher, and Biology relies on all the sciences of Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, and Math, so it is placed high on the list. Comte believed that Sociology incorporated all the other sciences. Later, he added Morals as the highest of them all.

Comte felt that no science should waste time doing things which do not benefit the science above it. This is probably a little overly rigid, especially when I see that Math could only serve Astronomy (?!), but it is food for thought when considering arguments of “pure” versus “applied” science.

I also found it interesting that Comte stated that the above order of the sciences is also the order in which they should be studied. Reflecting upon this, I came to feel that it actually makes a lot of sense, seeing as how. speaking broadly here, success in each higher science would necessitate the grasping of the science before it.  Also, I don’t see a problem with schools teaching the sciences in more or less this order. I’m not saying that a teacher couldn’t introduce some facts from the sciences not yet covered, but as far as the order of concentrated study, I think this method would work fine.

In fact, I wish I had known the details of Comte’s work two and a half years ago. I might’ve put my three year reading list in this order. I practically did this in broadstroke anyway, because I pretty quickly realized that I needed to review my math before hitting physics, and that I couldn’t understand the latest biological findings without delving deeper into chemistry. And coincidentally, I’m already planning to load the tail-end of my reading list with works concerning Law and History, which is somewhat in line with the categories of Sociology and Morals which come at the end of Comte’s list…  What can I say? Great minds think alike.

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One thought on “Comte’s Seven Categories Of Human Knowledge

  1. I don’t think the lower category need only inform the category directly above it (i.e. math informs astronomy). I take it to mean that a lower category should inform the categories – plural – above it. So math would inform all other higher categories, not just astronomy.

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