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Science - Conclusion

( Originally Published 1913 )

WE have now passed rapidly through the sciences of which Comte has given the philosophy in the six volumes of his Cours de Philosophie Positive. This is the real and lasting service he has done to Humanity. Respecting his attempts to reorganize society on the basis he lays down, I, for one, deem them premature but this is not the place to enter upon so vast a subject. The curious reader is advised to settle that question for him-self, by a careful study of the Politique Positive now in course of publication. A few paragraphs, in the way of analysis, is all that can be ventured on here.

He begins with Religion, as the key-stone of the social arch ; the bond which binds the divergent tendencies of human beings into unity, and which binds together (religare) the diverse individualities into Society. Religion, which at first was spontaneous, next inspired, then revealed, now in this final state becomes demonstrated : following thus the laws of evolution which have presided over Science. Religion, as defined by Comte, is not this or that form of creed, but the harmony proper to human existence, individual and collective, constituting for the soul a normal consensus similar to that of health for the body. It gathers into its bosom all the tendencies of our nature, active, affectionate, and intelligent. It presides over Politics, Art, and Philosophy.

Every stage of Religion demands the continuous concourse of two spontaneous influences : the one objective and essentially intellectual, the other subjective and purely moral. On the one hand, our intelligence must conceive an external Power to which our existence must be subordinated. On the other, it is equally indispensable that we should be animated by an internal affection capable of binding together all the other affections. Submission to the external power naturally seconds this internal discipline. Men in our day almost universally consider Unity as resulting only from our moral condition ; but, in truth, no unity would be possible without this objective dependence. When the belief in an external power is incomplete or vacillating, the purest moral sentiments are incapable of preventing " d'im menses divagations et de profondes dissidences."

To fulfil its true function (pour nous régler et nous rallier), Religion must therefore first subordinate our existence to an external and irresistible Power. This social dogma is, properly speaking, no more than the development of the biological notion of the necessary subordination of an organism to a medium. Religion rests on the permanent combination of two conditions-Love and Faith ; and its " véritable unité consiste tier le dedans et le relier au dehors." Since, then, it concerns at once both the heart and the mind, it naturally divides itself into two parts, one intellectual, the other moral ; the first constitutes the credo, properly so called, and consists in determining that external order to which we are necessarily subordinate. And here it is that the capital distinction must be sought between the Positive Religion and all other religions. It is, as before stated, a religion of demonstration. Its credo comes from the demonstrated truths of Positive Science, and the striving of science has resulted in furnishing precise and coherent views of physical phenomena, and thus furnishing a basis to religion.

Hitherto, in spite of their decrepitude, intellectually speaking, the earlier religions have maintained their supremacy by reason of moral considerations. To Science has been handed over all explanation of physical laws; but moral laws have been reserved for other teachers. Comte claims to have made the two one, by his foundation of social science. The gradual appreciation of the fundamental order reveals to us a final class of natural laws more hidden .and more complicated than the former, but also more nearly concerning us. Although the course of our .existence is directly subordinated to cosmical and biological laws, it is not wholly represented by them. Our principal functions demand another explanation. We all feel ourselves ruled over by chemical, astronomical, and vital laws. But on a closer inspection we find there is another yoke, not less irresistible though more modifiable, resulting from the statical and dynamical laws proper to the Social order. Like all the others, this fatality makes itself sensible, first by its physical results, next by its intellectual influence, and finally by its moral supremacy. Since the dawn of civilization every one has felt that his destiny was materially bound to that of his contemporaries, and even his predecessors. Later on, the involuntary comparison of various social conditions manifests the intellectual dependence of each upon the rest. The proudest dreamer cannot misconceive the great influence exercised over individual opinions by time and place. And finally, as regards the most spontaneous phenomena, examination detects the dependence of our own moral condition on that of the general character of the corresponding sociability. Thus, under all aspects, man feels himself subject to Humanity.

Humanity is thus the great Collective Life of which human beings are the individuals; it must be conceived as having an existence apart from human beings, just as we conceive each human being to have an existence apart from, though dependent on, the individual cells of which his organism is composed. This Collective Life is in Comte's system the Eire Suprême ; the only one we can know, therefore the only one we can worship.

Indisposed as I am to occupy any of the few remaining. pages with criticism, I cannot forbear from pointing out one immense omission in the foregoing system. It makes Religion purely and simply what has hitherto been designated Morals. In thus limiting Religion to the relations in which we stand towards one another and towards Humanity, Comte leaves an important element aside for, even upon his own showing, Humanity can only be the Supreme Being of our world—it cannot be the Supreme Being of the Universe. To limit the Universe to our planet is to take a rustic untravelled view of this great subject. If, in this our terrestrial sojourn, all we can distinctly know must be limited to the sphere of one planet, nevertheless even here, we, standing on this ball of earth and looking into the infinitude of which we know it to be but an atom, must irresistibly feel and know that the Humanity worshipped. here cannot extend its dominion there, I say, therefore, that supposing our relations towards Humanity may one day be systematized into w distinct cultus, and made a Religion, and supposing further our whole practical priesthood to. be limited to it, there must still remain for us, out-lying this terrestrial sphere, the other sphere named Infinite, into which our eager and aspiring thoughts will wander, carrying with them,. as ever, the obedient emotions of love and awe.. So that beside the Religion of Humanity, there must be a Religion of the Universe ; beside the conception of Humanity, we need the conception of a God as the Infinite Life, from whom the Universe proceeds, not in alien. indifference—not in estranged subjection but in the fulness of abounding Power, as the incarnation of resistless Activity! In, plainer language, there must ever remain the old distinction between Religion and Morality—between our relations to God and our relations to Man; the only difference between the old and the new being that in the old theology moral precepts were inculcated with a view to-a celestial habitat; in the new they will be inculcated with a view to the general progress and happiness of the race.

To resume our analysis of the Politique Positive. After treating of Religion—which he does with considerable detail—he presents his theory of Property. This question brûlante is one which Socialist writers in general have treated very inconsiderately, not to say absurdly. " La Propriété c'est le vol" was, it may be, only a pistol fired in the air but the experience of revolutions teaches us the terrible consequences of a pistol fired in the air. As far as the social argument. was concerned, the question of Property was purely one of Distribution, not of Origin. It was thought that another mode of distribution would be more effective, more equitable,. more economical. By perplexing this question with one of " Rights" of " possession," the egotistic fears and prejudices of all possessors were aroused, and instead of discussion there was combat, instead of argument invective on both sides.

Comte, as a philosophic socialist, who founds his theories upon actualities, who leaves to others the plea-Gant fields of Utopia, and is content to take human nature as he finds it, not only vindicates Property, but undertakes to show its essential position in social order. He includes it in the whole material and industrial activity of man, and shows how the institution of capital becomes the necessary basis of that division of labour which Aristotle declared to. he the principal practical characteristic of social harmony and by thus permitting the division of labour, capital impels every active citizen to work not only for himself, but, for others.

The peculiarity of Comte's system is its deduction of social principles from biological principles and in this great question of property he does not discuss alone the economical side, but shows how here, as elsewhere, the selfish instincts of man lead in their satisfaction to the development of unselfish instincts,—how egoism is the impulse to altruism : thus the egoistic instinct of material preservation, which impels to industry, is the foundation of Society, rendering it possible in a higher sense than that of mere aggregation of families.

The same luminous method of deducing the social from the individual is seen in the next chapter, which treats of " The Family" both. as a moral and as a political basis, where we see clearly public social virtues arising out of private personal feelings. Comte is very energetic in his denouncement of what he considers the anarchial theories of " female emancipation." Considering "woman's mission" to be strictly and simply the office of Sentiment, in tempering, refining, and rendering more social the essential practical Activity of man—viewing woman as the symbol of Affection, as man is of Force, he holds that, so far from women performing the same work as men, they ought not to work at all, except in their domestic sphere. The man is bound to work for the woman's support ; and she, in return, is bound to obey him implicitly. He quotes, with approbation, the saying of Aristotle, that " woman's force is best shown in surmounting the difficulty of obedience."

The fifth chapter is on Language, which he rightly conceives as analogous to Capital. It is intellectual capital; the stored-up labour of generations of minds. Its social function has never before been so closely indicated. But to bring forward the views there maintained would require considerable space ; indeed, the same may be said of the whole volume, the novelty of which prevents rapid analysis, every point requiring to be placed in a light acceptable to the reader.

The third and fourth volumes, in which Social Dynamics are discussed, have not yet appeared. It is hoped that to them, and to the whole of Comte's works, a fitting introduction has been presented in the volume we now close.

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