Influenced by the utopian socialist Henri Saint-Simon, Comte developed the positive philosophy in an attempt to remedy the social malaise of the French Revolution, calling for a new social doctrine based on the sciences. Comte was a major influence on 19th-century thought, influencing the work of social thinkers such as Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and George Eliot. His concept of sociologie and social evolutionism set the tone for early social theorists and anthropologists such as Harriet Martineau and Herbert Spencer, evolving into modern academic sociology presented by Émile Durkheim as practical and objective social research.
Comte's social theories culminated in his "Religion of Humanity", which presaged the development of non-theistic religious humanist and secular humanist organizations in the 19th century. Comte may have coined the word altruisme (altruism).
Auguste Comte was born in Montpellier, Hérault on 19 January 1798. After attending the Lycée Joffre and then the University of Montpellier, Comte was admitted to the École Polytechnique in Paris. The École Polytechnique was notable for its adherence to the French ideals of republicanism and progress. The École closed in 1816 for reorganization, however, and Comte continued his studies at the medical school at Montpellier. When the École Polytechnique reopened, he did not request readmission.
Following his return to Montpellier, Comte soon came to see unbridgeable differences with his Catholic and monarchist family and set off again for Paris, earning money by small jobs. In August 1817 he found an apartment at 36 rue Bonaparte in Paris' 6ème (where he lived until 1822) and later that year he became a student and secretary to Henri de Saint-Simon, who brought Comte into contact with intellectual society and greatly influenced his thought therefrom. During that time Comte published his first essays in the various publications headed by Saint-Simon, L'Industrie, Le Politique, and L'Organisateur (Charles Dunoyer and Charles Comte's Le Censeur Européen), although he would not publish under his own name until 1819's "La séparation générale entre les opinions et les désirs" ("The general separation of opinions and desires"). In 1824, Comte left Saint-Simon, again because of unbridgeable differences. Comte published a Plan de travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société (1822) (Plan of scientific studies necessary for the reorganization of society). But he failed to get an academic post. His day-to-day life depended on sponsors and financial help from friends. Debates rage as to how much Comte appropriated the work of Saint-Simon.
Comte married Caroline Massin in 1825. In 1826, he was taken to a mental health hospital, but left without being cured – only stabilized by French alienist Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol – so that he could work again on his plan (he would later attempt suicide in 1827 by jumping off the Pont des Arts). In the time between this and their divorce in 1842, he published the six volumes of his Cours.