Social theory by definition is used to make distinctions and generalizations among different types of societies, and to analyze modernity as it has emerged in the past few centuries.:10 Social theory as it is recognized today emerged in the 20th century as a distinct discipline, and was largely equated with an attitude of critical thinking and the desire for knowledge through a posteriori methods of discovery, rather than a priori methods of tradition.
Social thought provides general theories to explain actions and behavior of society as a whole, encompassing sociological, political, and philosophical ideas. Classical social theory has generally been presented from a perspective of Western philosophy, and often regarded as Eurocentric.
Confucius (551–479 BCE) envisaged a just society that went beyond his contemporary society of the Warring States. Later on, also in China, Mozi (circa 470 – circa 390 BCE) recommended a more pragmatic sociology, but ethical at base.
In the West, Saint Augustine (354–430) was concerned exclusively with the idea of the just society. St. Augustine describes late Ancient Roman society through a lens of hatred and contempt for what he saw as false Gods, and in reaction theorized City of God. Ancient Greek philosophers, including Aristotle (384–322 BC) and Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC), did not see a distinction between politics and society. The concept of society did not come until the Enlightenment period. The term, société, was probably first used as key concept by Rousseau in discussion of social relations. Prior to the enlightenment, social theory took largely narrative and normative form. It was expressed as stories and fables, and it may be assumed the pre-Socratic philosophers and religious teachers were the precursors to social theory proper.
There is evidence of early Muslim sociology from the 14th century: in Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah (later translated as Prolegomena in Latin), the introduction to a seven volume analysis of universal history, was the first to advance social philosophy and social science in formulating theories of social cohesion and social conflict. Ibn Khaldun is thus considered by many to be the forerunner of sociology. Khaldun's treatise described in Muqaddimah (Introduction to History), published in 1377, two types of societies: (1) the city or town-dweller and (2) the mobile, nomadic societies.