Hierarchy of the sciences
In 1854, the French philosopher Auguste Comte wrote System of Positive Polity: or Treatise of Sociology. In it, he gave the following “hierarchy of the sciences,” which says that all the other sciences depend on astronomy at their core. Based on this classification, Comte is also the founder of the modern philosophy of science. However, Comte’s classification is not meant to bring back an imaginary unity but to keep knowledge from getting divided.
The relationship among the hierarchy of the sciences and the Law of Three Stages is close. Comte argued that, like individuals & societies, sciences undergo comparable stages of development, namely the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive.
In the same way that human growth can only occur in predetermined phases, with each succeeding stage building on the achievements of the previous level, scientific knowledge also develops in stages. But various sciences progress at different rates.
The hierarchical order of the sciences, according to Comte, corresponded with the following:
1. The sequential order of their historical origin and growth.
2. The order of their dependency on one another. Each depends on the one that comes before it and paves the way for the one that comes after it.
3. The rising complexities of their subject area.
4. The diminishing degree of their generality.
The Order of the Classification of Sciences
Mathematics constitutes the lowest rung in the Comtean hierarchy of the sciences, while sociology occupies the highest. This classification’s hierarchy is as follows: The order is (A) Mathematics, (B) Astronomy, (C) Physics, (D) Chemistry, (E) Biology, and (F) Sociology. This categorization makes it apparent that the simplest and least reliant sciences are at the lowest ladder of the hierarchy, while the highest complicated and dependent sciences are at the top.
Sociology, according to Comte, is the “crowning superstructure” of the scientific hierarchy. He did not imply that it is superior to other disciplines; instead, he meant that it helps to place the other sciences in context within the intellectual history of humankind. In defining the hierarchy of the sciences, Comte also identified the distinct methodological qualities of each discipline.
The usual description of mathematics as the science of magnitudes or, slightly more favorably, the science that pertains to the measurement of magnitudes needs to be more transparent and meaningful to have been employed in the absence of a better term. Thus, when people describe mathematics as the measuring of magnitudes, people provide an extremely imprecise definition that seems to have no connection to any science whatsoever. Therefore, mathematics is primarily divided into two disciplines: abstract mathematics and concrete mathematics. The concrete must rely on the nature of the investigated things and must change when new phenomena emerge. At the same time, the abstract is entirely independent of the nature of the items and is solely concerned with their numerical relationships.
Astronomy may be described as the study of celestial bodies’ geometrical and mechanical properties. To find these principles, scientists must rely only on their sight and their ability to reason; in this science, thinking is more important than observation.
The sight alone could never reveal the shape of the earth or the trajectory of a planet; astronomical rules can only be discovered via the measurement of angles and calculation of times. By observing these immutable principles, man is liberated from enslavement to religious and philosophical notions of the cosmos.
Physics may be described briefly as the study of the principles that govern the general qualities of substances seen en masse, with their molecules unmodified and often in an aggregation state. Physicists observe using all of their senses, with the assistance of mathematical analysis and experiment. In astronomical phenomena, human involvement was impossible. In physics phenomena, people start to alter natural phenomena. The subfields of physics include statics, dynamics, thermology, optics, and electrology. Still, physics is hampered by philosophical ideas of the fundamental processes of events.
Chemistry is the study of the rules governing the processes of composition and decomposition that emerge from the molecular and specific interaction of various natural and manufactured substances. In chemistry observations, the use of the senses and experimentation is still predominant. Yet, even in chemistry, metaphysical ideas persist.
In Biology, the physiology of animals and plants is examined. The study of the rules of organic dynamics in connection with structure and environment is physiology. A particular organism must continuously operate in a specific manner when placed in a specific domain; physiology explores the reciprocal relationships between organism, environment, and function.
In physiology, experimentation and observation are of the utmost importance, and equipment of various types is employed to facilitate both. Furthermore, all biological events are related to chemical compositions and decompositions; hence physiology and chemistry have the closest relationship.
Morals is another field that Comte referred to as the study of individuals. It is a sociology-based study with elements of psychology and ethics.
The reason for hierarchy, according to Comte.
There can’t be a scientific study of society’s conditions or movements if it’s broken into components and its parts are studied separately. So in sociology, the only proper way to look at things is in the context of the whole system.
From this point of view, thinking about the order of the sciences means admitting right away that the systematic study of man is rationally and scientifically below that of humanity since only humanity can show us the fundamental rules of intelligence and action. Therefore, even though the theory of our emotional nature must be essential to study in the end, it would only make sense with this first step.
So, Morals are now objectively dependent on sociology. The next step is easy and similar as sociology is now objectively reliant on biology since human brains depend on bodies.
After these two steps, people start to think of chemistry as the regular basis of biology. This is because people agree that life depends on the general laws of how matter combines.
Again, chemistry is objectively less important than Physics because matter’s universal properties must always affect the specific properties of each substance.
In the same way, physics becomes less important than astronomy when people realize that the conditions on earth are always affected by the conditions on our planet, which is one of the heavenly bodies.
Lastly, Astronomy is subordinate to Mathematics because it is clear that the geometrical and mechanical things that happen in the heavens depend on the universal laws of number, length, and motion.
By their very nature, astronomy and biology are the two most essential parts of natural philosophy. They make up the whole system of human’s most fundamental ideas in their logical harmony because they complete each other.
Sociology has unique ways of doing things that make it different from the fields that came before it, but it also depends on them. It depends a lot on biology, which is the science right next to it in the hierarchy. Biology is different from all the other natural sciences because it looks at things as a whole. Biology differs from physics and chemistry because it looks at whole organisms instead of their parts. Sociology and biology are both based on the idea that things work together as a whole.
Math is the first step in classifying the sciences.
Comte thinks that mathematics is the mind’s most essential tool. “With math as its primary tool, a person’s mind can think about anything. Moreover, math is the mind’s most powerful tool for understanding natural laws: Education based on any other method is wrong, inaccurate, and unreliable. We can only understand the sciences if people know math.
Comte thought that mathematics was the most important of all the sciences. In the Comtean system, mathematics is not a part of the group of sciences. It is where they all start. It is the oldest and best science. Math is what he calls “the science.” It is the science of figuring out how things and ideas relate.
Classification Based on Increasing Dependence
Comte decided to organize knowledge by “the order of increasing dependence.” Comte “organized the sciences so that each category can be based on the main laws of the category before it and serve as a foundation for the category that comes after it.” So, the order is one of getting more complicated and less general.
This idea could be put in simple terms like this: the facts in different sciences have different levels of complexity. Some facts are easy to comprehend, while others are not. The idea that complicated things depend on simple things is general and can be found everywhere.
The complex sciences depend on the simple sciences, and the simple sciences depend on the complex sciences. So, each science depends on some other science in some way, and each is the basis of another science. Based on this, Comte put the sciences in a specific order.
Comte thought that the more complicated sciences, as they grow and change, will eventually reach the positive stage. But, he said, “Any kind of knowledge gets to the positive stage quickly based on how general, simple, and independent it is of other departments.”
Each of these sciences depends on the progress of the ones that came before it in a way that follows the theory of increasing complexity and decreasing generality.
Sociology at the top of hierarchical classification
Sociology was the most complex science to learn because it had to study the hardest thing to understand, which was society. Sociology also came about much later than the other sciences because of this. Most of the other subjects had easier things to study than sociology. Sociology came about because people noticed a new set of objective facts about their society, like social chaos, the growth of slums, poverty, etc., that they couldn’t explain but needed to understand to deal with them effectively.
When Auguste Comte called Sociology the “crowning edifice” of the hierarchy of sciences, he was referring to how science brings everything together. He wasn’t saying that sociology was better than other fields. He just thought that all sciences could be connected as positive knowledge grew.
Auguste Comte said that all scientific fields go through three stages: the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive. But each science doesn’t go through these three stages simultaneously. The higher up in the hierarchy a science is, the longer it takes to move from one stage to the next.
Sociology was a new field of study that uniquely looked at society. Sociology was about the way people live together. Society was a system with parts that worked together. Individuals could only be comprehended in the context of the societies in which they existed. Sociology studies how the different parts of a social system act and react. Sociology used to be the scientific study of how societies function and how they can be set up.
Positive Philosophy by Comte can be seen as a long and complicated argument for the science of society. First, Comte was building a philosophical foundation and justification for all sciences. He then used this foundation to support sociology as a real science. His support for sociology came in two related ways: he saw sociology as the natural result of the “law of three stages,” and he saw sociology as the “queen science” at the top of a list of sciences.
These two types of advocacy, which helped make sociology more accepted in the intellectual world, are connected and should be looked at briefly.
So, in Comte’s view, astronomy was the first science to reach the scientific stage, followed by physics and chemistry. After these three sciences reached the scientific stage, Comte thought that people could start to think more scientifically about organic phenomena. Biology, or physiology, was the first organic science to move from the metaphysical to the positive stage. Once biology became a positivist doctrine, sociology could move away from the metaphysical speculations of the 17th and 18th centuries and toward a positivist way of thinking.
Comte said that sociology was the last to develop because it is the most complicated and had to wait for the other basic sciences to reach the positivistic stage. At the time, this argument was a brilliant way to make a case for a separate science of society. It also explained why social thought wasn’t as scientifically rigorous as other sciences.
Also, sociology will study things that set it apart from the lower inorganic sciences and the higher organic sciences, like biology, even though it depends on and is a result of evolutionary progress in the other sciences. Sociology is an organic science, but it will be independent and study things that “show, to an even greater degree, the complexity, specialization, and personality that distinguish the higher phenomena of the individual life.”
From most important to least important, the hierarchy is sociology, biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Comte put math at the end because, in the end, all science is based on mathematical reasoning. It put sociology at the top of a list of the “positive sciences” and gave it the same level of respect as the other highly regarded sciences. If sociology could be seen as the end of a long change process and the end of the positive sciences, no one could question its validity.
Sociology has two different roles. It’s not just another science like there’s a science of society, just like there’s a science of living things. But on the other hand, sociology is the latest science that comes after all the others. As the latest science, it must coordinate the growth of all knowledge.
With sociology, positivity finally gets its hands on the last area thought to be out of its reach forever. People used to believe that social phenomena were so complicated that they couldn’t be studied scientifically. On the other hand, Comte says that sociology removes this division, which the Greeks made, and brings back the unity lost when metaphysics came into being.
Comte’s idea of sociology was, of course, very different from what sociology is now. To ensure their field is positive, sociologists have quickly given up philosophy’s coordinating function, also called its encyclopedic or architectonic function. As a result, only one can become a sociologist with a solid, comprehensive education, which doesn’t include economics or social mathematics but instead puts a lot of focus on biology, which is the first science that looks at organized beings.