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Auguste Comte: regards croisés

Journey to Isidore

Auguste Comte’s utopian method
Mike Gane
p. 43-67


If Auguste Comte is known as the inventor of sociology, he is less well known as utopian thinker. Indeed recent surveys and discussions of utopism exclude his work entirely. This article examines Comte’s division of methods into objective and subjective and his recourse to utopia. Three major concepts were introduced by Comte in his utopian projet: altruism, sociocracy and the religion of Humanity. The author investigates the consequence of such an endeavour for Comte’s own science of sociology.

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Author's notes

On a personal note, I taught “Comte” as a topic on courses in social theory for many years at Loughborough University (almost each year from 1972-2007). At first the courses followed the formal indications given by Comte himself. But as I experimented with teaching I found the temptation to look at his fictions and utopia, and students were more than willing to participate. Some were outstanding at what I call social science fiction (not SF in the narrow sense). The utopian name used in this article (Isidore, Comte’s first Christian name) was invented by students over the years, and I acknowledge a debt to them here. I would also like to thank Michel Bourdeau, Mike Hawkins and Andrew Wernick for valuable comments on an early version of this paper.

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1. What is Utopia?
2. Comte’s subjective method
3. Isidore
4. The utopia and the real world
5. The subjective synthesis in the objective world
6. Forwards, sideways or backwards?

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The literature on the topic of utopia is rich and extensive as are the number of utopias composed, yet Auguste Comte’s contribution is curiously absent from the contemporary debate. It is curious for a number of reasons, not least because his was a major contribution both to the utopian method and within the sociological tradition his utopia was the first and most carefully crafted. The exclusion of his work is total: not a mention in Ruth Levitas (2013), or in Frederic Jameson (2005), and hardly a mention in Krishnan Kumar (1991—these three authors form the basis of the discussion that follows). This was not the case when H. G. Wells wrote his A Modern Utopia (2005 [1905]) and advocated the method of utopia as the key to any successful sociology, a judgement recently supported and advocated by Levitas.

What is it in Comte that suggests that either his work is no longer needed and thus forgotten, or that it contains something so horrific that it is best avoided? Even if it contained...

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Electronic reference

Mike Gane, « Journey to Isidore », Revue européenne des sciences sociales [Online], 54-2 | 2016, Online since 30 November 2019, connection on 18 February 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ress.3590

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About the author

Mike Gane

Loughborough University

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© Librairie Droz

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