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Philosophy Of The Sciences

( Originally Published 1913 )


AT the close of the Biographical History of Philosophy, after having traversed the great epochs of speculation, I endeavoured, by a few rapid touches, to sketch the position occupied by Auguste Comte, the greatest thinker of modern times,—the man whose doctrine is to the nineteenth century something more than that which Bacon's was to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Imperfect and meagre as that sketch necessarily was, confined within the narrow limits of a concluding chapter, it has not been without its effect in leading to a more intimate study of Comte ; and one may hope that a considerable public may be found eager to hear a more ample and more detailed description of the Positive Philosophy. A long cherished intention to do this in some shape or other is now at last to be gratified. It is one of our noble human instincts that we cannot feel within us the glory and the power of a 'real conviction without earnestly striving to make that conviction pass into other minds. All propagande is religious; all steadfast preaching of the truth, such as our minds decree it, is a human duty, a social instinct. Otherwise, why ruffle the complacency of fools by demonstrating their absurdities ? Why draw upon oneself the harsh names and harsher constructions, the scorn and bitterness, of those from whom we differ? I owe too much to the influence of Auguste Comte, guiding me through the toilsome active years, and giving the sustaining Faith which previous speculation had scattered, not to desire that others should likewise participate in it. For ten years it has been with me, surviving all changes of opinion, and modifying my whole mental history ; and my debt of gratitude is inexpressible in words. If, after this recognition, I shall be found dissenting from some opinions energetically maintained by Comte and his unhesitating disciples, it is only necessary to remind the reader that reverence is not incompatible with independence.

Auguste Comte was born in 1797. His family was eminently catholic and monarchical—a detail not with-out its significance in considering his philosophic education. His collegiate education commenced in one of those institutions wherein Bonaparte vainly endeavoured to restore the antique preponderance of the theologicometaphysical régime. It was at college, in his quick and eager youth, that Bacon rose up in scorn against the scholastic course of study, and planned the first sketch of the Novum Organum. It was at college that Descartes became painfully conscious of the incompetence of the Aristotelian method, and the vanity of the reigning sciences. It was at college that Locke grew impatient of the quibbling pedantries which passed current as philosophy, and learned to despise all education except self-education. So also it was at college that Comte first felt the necessity of an entire renovation of philosophy ; and, impressed with the conviction that the restriction of the scientific Method to the phenomena of the inorganic world was an absurdity, he saw thus early the absolute necessity of applying that Method to vital and social problems. Bacon was thirteen, Comte fourteen, when this reforming spirit awoke in each.

He was still in this condition of mind when he became acquainted with the celebrated St. Simon, and worked under him as one of his most active disciples. In after-life he characterised St. Simon as " a very ingenious but very superficial writer, whose nature, more active than speculative, was assuredly not very philosophic, and was really moved by nothing but an immense per-sonal ambition." The coincidence in their point of view, viz., the necessity of a Social Renovation based upon a Mental Revolution, brought them together; and the charm and personal ascendancy of St. Simon seems to have subjugated Comte, who considers, however, that their intercourse only troubled and interrupted the genuine course of his own speculations, by directing them towards futile attempts at direct political action.

His career was interrupted in another and more painful manner in 1826, when over-work and heart anxieties brought on a cerebral excitement, which, under the care of mad doctors, was fostered into decided insanity. After the doctors had declared him incurable, he was cured by domestic care and tenderness. He has himself boldly stated this episode in his life, in anticipation of the perfidy of antagonists, who would not fail to fling it in derision at him. That this insanity was but a transient cerebral disorder, no reader of his volumes need be told; for whatever opposition his opinions may excite, however false and absurd they may appear, they assuredly have nothing of that extravagance and flightiness to which the imputation of madness can be applied.

His life appears to have been a quiet scientific life, his daily bread earned by teaching mathematics, both in private and at the Ecole Polytechnique, where he was professor. His leisure was devoted to the slow elaboration of his philosophy. He has told us the story of his persecutions, in the preface to the sixth volume of the Philosophie Positive ; but, of course, he has only told us his view of the matter ; and we know that men writing the story of their wrongs are not always the most accurate of historians. That he had offended Arago, and most of his brother professors, is quite clear ; and the fact of his gradual dismissal from one post after another is as indisputable as it is deplorable. The reader will learn with pain that Comte, in his fifty-seventh year, is thrown upon the world, with no other resources than such as his friends and admirers can collect for him.

Besides his official teaching, Comte has for many years been accustomed to deliver gratuitous lectures on sections of the positive philosophy, every Sunday, for six months in the year ; by this means disseminating among the people general truths of the most important nature. And these avocations may be said to have constituted his life, varied by two constant recreations—Poetry and Music. His writings, which already amount to twelve thick volumes, have been composed with a rapidity almost incredible. The whole of the first volume of the Philosophie Positive (900 pages) was written in three months ! and the rest with a rapidity which will in some measure account for the imperfections of his verbose style. His works are as follows : ---

Cours de Philosophie Positive, 6 vols. Paris, 1830—42.

Traité Elémentaire de Géometrie Analytique, 1 vol. Paris, 1843.

Traité d'Astronomie Populaire, 1 vol. Paris, 1845.

Discours sur l'Ensemble du Positivisme, 1 vol. Paris, 1848 (a volume which is reprinted in the following work).

Système de Politique Positive, 4 vols. (two of which only have appeared). Paris, 1851-2.

Catéchisme Positiviste, ou Sommaire Exposition de la Réliyion Universelle, 1 vol. Paris, 1852.

There are two grand divisions in his life, corresponding with the two fundamental divisions of his philosophy. The lonely man of science, whose days were passed in meditation and the task-work of tuition, who led a purely intellectual life, was well fitted for the great mission of elaborating a philosophy of the Sciences, and thereby laying the immutable basis of a new Social Doctrine,-in other words, of elaborating a Philosophy as the indispensable preparation for a Religion; but this intellectual life, in proportion as it fitted him for the co-ordination of scientific principles, rendered him unfitted, by its exclusiveness, for that intense and enlarged conception of our emotional life, with which Religion and Morality are inseparably connected. I am touching here upon a characteristic of the Positive Philosophy, which, for a long time to come, will be an obstacle to its acceptance ; for men of Science will reject with a sneer the subordination of the Intellect to the Heart,—of Science to Emotion; and the unscientific, feeling the deep and paramount importance of our Moral Nature, will be repelled from a philosophy which rests solely upon a scientific basis. Logic and Sentiment—to use popular generalizations—have long been at war, and men reject Comte's system, because it seeks to unite them.

That the Intellectual aspect is not the noblest aspect of man, is a heresy which I have long iterated with the constancy due to a conviction. There never will be a Philosophy capable of satisfying the demands of Humanity, until the truth be recognised that man is moved by his emotions, not by his ideas : -using his Intellect only as an eye to see the way. In other words, the Intellect is the servant, not the lord of the Heart; and Science is a futile, frivolous pursuit, unworthy of greater respect than a game of chess, unless it subserve some grand religious aim,—unless its issue be in some enlarged conception of man's life and destiny ! I say this without much fear of being misunderstood. My opinions on religion have been too often, and too unequivocally pronounced, to admit of the supposition, that in thus placing Science in subordination to Religion, there is any wish to countenance the current declarations of orthodoxy. I agree with the spirit of those declarations, while totally disagreeing with the opinions they imply. Although I do not owe to Auguste Comte the conviction of moral supremacy, I have been greatly strengthened in the conviction by observing its growth in his mind.

At the age of forty-five, Comte fell in love with an unhappy and remarkable woman, separated from her husband. One whole year of chaste and exquisite affection changed his life. He had completed his great work on Positive Philosophy. His scientific elaboration was over. He was now to enter upon the great problems of Social Life; and by a fortunate coincidence, it was at this moment that he fell in love. It was then this Philosopher was to feel in all its intensity the truth which he before had perceived,—viz., that in the mass, as in the individual, predominance is due to the affections, because the intellect is really no more than the servant of the affections. A new influence, penetrating like sunshine into the very depths of his being, awakened there the feelings dormant since childhood, and by their light he saw the world under new aspects. He grew religious. He learned to appreciate the abiding and universal influence of the affections. He gained a new glimpse into man's destiny. He aspired to become the founder of a new religion—the religion of Humanity.

For one long blissful year, Auguste Comte knew the inexpressible happiness of a profound attachment; and then the consolation of his life was withdrawn from him -the angel who had appeared to him in his solitude, opening the gates of heaven to his eager gaze, vanished again, and left him once more to his loneliness ; but, although her presence was no longer there, a trace of luminous glory left behind in the heart of the bereaved man, sufficed to make him bear his burden, and dedicate his days to that great mission which her love had sanctified.

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