Essay on the Origin of Sociology – Sociology before Auguste Comte: Sociology has a long past but only a short history. Sociology which is known as the science of society is one of the youngest as well as one of the oldest of the social sciences.
Sociology has a long past but only a short history. Sociology which is known as the science of society is one of the youngest as well as one of the oldest of the social sciences. It is one of the youngest sciences because only recently it came to be established as a distinct branch of knowledge with its own distinct set of concepts and its own methods of inquiry.
Sociology is also one of the oldest of the sciences. Since the dawn of civilisation, society has been a subject for speculation and inquiry along with other phenomena which have agitated the restless and inquisitive mind of man. Even centuries ago men were thinking about society and how it should be organised, and held views on man and his destiny, the rise and fall of peoples and civilisations.
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Though they were thinking in sociological terms they were called philosophers, historians, thinkers, law-givers or seers. Thus, “Broadly it may be said that sociology has had a fourfold origin: in political philosophy, the philosophy of history, biological theories of evolution and the movements for social and political reforms.”
There was social thought during the ancient age: Though sociology came to be established as a separate discipline in the 19th century due to the efforts of the French philosopher Auguste Comte, it is wrong to suppose that there existed no social thought before him.
For thousands of years men have reflected upon societies in which they lived. In the writings of philosophers, thinkers and law-givers of various countries of various epochs we find ideas that are sociological.
For instance, in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Manu, Kautilya, Confucius, Cicero and others we find major attempts to deal methodically with the nature of society, law, religion, philosophy etc. Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Kautilya’s Arthashastra, the Smriti of Manu, Confucius’ Analects, Cicero’s “On Justice” are some of the ancient sources of social thought.
During the middle ages and early modern times the teachings of the church dominated the human mind and hence most part of the human thinking remained as metaphysical speculation far away from the scientific inquiry. Intellectuals became more active since the 16th century onwards.
Their quest for an understanding human society, its nature, socio-political system and its problems now received new impetus. The literary works of some prominent intellectuals of this period clearly reveals this urge to understand and interpret man’s socio-political system.
Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan”, Rousseau’s “Social Contract’, Montesquieu “The Spirit of Laws”, Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”, Condorcet’s “Historical Sketch of the Progress of the Human mind” serve as examples of such literary works. Thinkers like Sir Thomas More in his “Utopia”, Thomasso Campanella in his “City of the Sun”, Sir Francis Bacon in his “New Atlantis”, James Harrington in his “Common Wealth of Oceana”, H.G. Wells in his “A Modern Utopia” – had made attempts to project a picture of an ideal society free from all shortcomings.
However, it was only in the 19th century that systematic attempts were made by Auguste Comte, Spencer, Durkheim, Weber and others to study society and to establish a science of society called “sociology”.
Characteristics of Early Sociology:
The science of sociology was taking its shape to emerge as a distinct science in the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. According to T.B. Bottomore early sociology assumed the following characteristics:
(i) Early sociology was encyclopedic in character. It was “concerned with the whole social life of man and with the whole of human history”.
(ii) Early sociology, which was under the influence of philosophy of history and the biological theory of evolution, was largely evolutionary in nature.
(iii) It was generally regarded as a positive science similar in character to the natural sciences. “Sociology in the 19th century was modeled upon biology”. This fact could be ascertained from the widely used conceptions of society as an organisation and from the attempts to formulate general laws of social evolution.
(iv) Sociology was virtually recognised above all, “a science of the new industrial society.” Even though sociology claimed itself to be a general science, it dealt particularly with social problems arising from the political and economic revolutions of the 18th century.
(v) Sociology as “an ideological as well as scientific character”. Various conservative and radical ideas entered into its formation, gave rise to conflicting theories, and provoked controversies which continue to the present day.