Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The two areas of the social sciences which were more stimulated by Darwin's research were anthropology and sociology. The Frenchman, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), generally regarded as the father of sociology and the originator of that term, laid the groundwork for the immediate application of the law of evolution to the study of society. Comte's conception of sociology is derived from his philosophy of history. Sharing the Enlightenment belief in progress, Comte saw history evolving through three stages. The first was the theological stage, in which men supplied supernatural explanations for the natural and social phenomena. This was followed bu what Comte called the metaphysical stage, a period when men were immersed in speculation. The nineteenth century, he contended, was witnessing the dawn of the third, or positivist, stage of human history. Man was searching for, and would find, scientific law to explain social phenomena. Comte was convinced that through the discovery of these laws man would be able to control his destiny. After the publication of the Origin of Species, many thinkers were persuaded that the principal law had been discovered. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section XV: Biology and the Rise of the Social Sciences. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.