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Title: Auguste Comte and Positivism
Author: Mill, John Stuart, 1806-1873
Language: English
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AUGUSTE COMTE AND POSITIVISM

BY

JOHN STUART MILL


1865.



       *       *       *       *       *



PART I.

THE COURS DE PHILOSOPHIE POSITIVE.


For some time much has been said, in England and on the Continent,
concerning "Positivism" and "the Positive Philosophy." Those phrases,
which during the life of the eminent thinker who introduced them had
made their way into no writings or discussions but those of his very few
direct disciples, have emerged from the depths and manifested themselves
on the surface of the philosophy of the age. It is not very widely known
what they represent, but it is understood that they represent something.
They are symbols of a recognised mode of thought, and one of sufficient
importance to induce almost all who now discuss the great problems of
philosophy, or survey from any elevated point of view the opinions of
the age, to take what is termed the Positivist view of things into
serious consideration, and define their own position, more or less
friendly or hostile, in regard to it. Indeed, though the mode of thought
expressed by the terms Positive and Positivism is widely spread, the
words themselves are, as usual, better known through the enemies of that
mode of thinking than through its friends; and more than one thinker who
never called himself or his opinions by those appellations, and
carefully guarded himself against being confounded with those who did,
finds himself, sometimes to his displeasure, though generally by a
tolerably correct instinct, classed with Positivists, and assailed as a
Positivist. This change in the bearings of philosophic opinion commenced
in England earlier than in France, where a philosophy of a contrary kind
had been more widely cultivated, and had taken a firmer hold on the
speculative minds of a generation formed by Royer-Collard, Cousin,
Jouffroy, and their compeers. The great treatise of M. Comte was
scarcely mentioned in French literature or criticism, when it was
already working powerfully on the minds of many British students and
thinkers. But, agreeably to the usual course of things in France, the
new tendency, when it set in, set in more strongly. Those who call
themselves Positivists are indeed not numerous; but all French writers
who adhere to the common philosophy, now feel it necessary to begin by
fortifying their position against "the Positivist school." And the mode
of thinking thus designated is already manifesting its importance by one
of the most unequivocal signs, the appearance of thinkers who attempt a
compromise or _juste milieu_ between it and its opposite. The acute
critic and metaphysician M. Taine, and the distinguished chemist M.
Berthelot, are the authors of the two most conspicuous of these
attempts.

The time, therefore, seems to have come, when every philosophic thinker
not only ought to form, but may usefully express, a judgment respecting
this intellectual movement; endeavouring to understand what it is,
whether it is essentially a wholesome movement, and if so, what is to be
accepted and what rejected of the direction given to it by its most
important movers. There cannot be a more appropriate mode of discussing
these points than in the form of a critical examination of the
philosophy of Auguste Comte; for which the appearance of a new edition
of his fundamental treatise, with a preface by the most eminent, in
every point of view, of his professed disciples, M. Littré, affords a
good opportunity. The name of M. Comte is more identified than any other
with this mode of thought. He is the first who has attempted its
complete systematization, and the scientific extension of it to all
objects of human knowledge. And in doing this he has displayed a
quantity and quality of mental power, and achieved an amount of success,
which have not only won but retained the high admiration of thinkers as
radically and strenuously opposed as it is possible to be, to nearly the
whole of his later tendencies, and to many of his earlier opinions. It
would have been a mistake had such thinkers busied themselves in the
first instance with drawing attention to what they regarded as errors in
his great work. Until it had taken the place in the world of thought
which belonged to it, the important matter was not to criticise it, but
to help in making it known. To have put those who neither knew nor were
capable of appreciating the greatness of the book, in possession of its
vulnerable points, would have indefinitely retarded its progress to a
just estimation, and was not needful for guarding against any serious
inconvenience. While a writer has few readers, and no influence except
on independent thinkers, the only thing worth considering in him is what
he can teach us: if there be anything in which he is less wise than we
are already, it may be left unnoticed until the time comes when his
errors can do harm. But the high place which M. Comte has now assumed
among European thinkers, and the increasing influence of his principal
work, while they make it a more hopeful task than before to impress and
enforce the strong points of his philosophy, have rendered it, for the
first time, not inopportune to discuss his mistakes. Whatever errors he
may have fallen into are now in a position to be injurious, while the
free exposure of them can no longer be so.

We propose, then, to pass in review the main principles of M. Comte's
philosophy; commencing with the great treatise by which, in this
country, he is chiefly known, and postponing consideration of the
writings of the last ten years of his life, except for the occasional
illustration of detached points.

When we extend our examination to these later productions, we shall
have, in the main, to reverse our judgment. Instead of recognizing, as
in the Cours de Philosophic Positive, an essentially sound view of
philosophy, with a few capital errors, it is in their general character
that we deem the subsequent speculations false and misleading, while in
the midst of this wrong general tendency, we find a crowd of valuable
thoughts, and suggestions of thought, in detail. For the present we put
out of the question this signal anomaly in M. Comte's intellectual
career. We shall consider only the principal gift which he has left to
the world, his clear, full, and comprehensive exposition, and in part
creation, of what he terms the Positive Philosophy: endeavouring to
sever what in our estimation is true, from the much less which is
erroneous, in that philosophy as he conceived it, and distinguishing, as
we proceed, the part which is specially his, from that which belongs to
the philosophy of the age, and is the common inheritance of thinkers.
This last discrimination has been partially made in a late pamphlet, by
Mr Herbert Spencer, in vindication of his own independence of thought:
but this does not diminish the utility of doing it, with a less limited
purpose, here; especially as Mr Spencer rejects nearly all which
properly belongs to M. Comte, and in his abridged mode of statement does
scanty justice to what he rejects. The separation is not difficult, even
on the direct evidence given by M. Comte himself, who, far from claiming
any originality not really belonging to him, was eager to connect his
own most original thoughts with every germ of anything similar which he
observed in previous thinkers.

The fundamental doctrine of a true philosophy, according to M. Comte,
and the character by which he defines Positive Philosophy, is the
following:--We have no knowledge of anything but Phaenomena; and our
knowledge of phaenomena is relative, not absolute. We know not the
essence, nor the real mode of production, of any fact, but only its
relations to other facts in the way of succession or of similitude.
These relations are constant; that is, always the same in the same
circumstances. The constant resemblances which link phaenomena together,
and the constant sequences which unite them as antecedent and
consequent, are termed their laws. The laws of phaenomena are all we
know respecting them. Their essential nature, and their ultimate causes,
either efficient or final, are unknown and inscrutable to us.

M. Comte claims no originality for this conception of human knowledge.
He avows that it has been virtually acted on from the earliest period by
all who have made any real contribution to science, and became
distinctly present to the minds of speculative men from the time of
Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo, whom he regards as collectively the
founders of the Positive Philosophy. As he says, the knowledge which
mankind, even in the earliest ages, chiefly pursued, being that which
they most needed, was _fore_knowledge: "savoir, pour prevoir." When they
sought for the cause, it was mainly in order to control the effect or if
it was uncontrollable, to foreknow and adapt their conduct to it. Now,
all foresight of phaenomena, and power over them, depend on knowledge of
their sequences, and not upon any notion we may have formed respecting
their origin or inmost nature. We foresee a fact or event by means of
facts which are signs of it, because experience has shown them to be its
antecedents. We bring about any fact, other than our own muscular
contractions, by means of some fact which experience has shown to be
followed by it. All foresight, therefore, and all intelligent action,
have only been possible in proportion as men have successfully attempted
to ascertain the successions of phaenomena. Neither foreknowledge, nor
the knowledge which is practical power, can be acquired by any other
means.

The conviction, however, that knowledge of the successions and
co-existences of phaenomena is the sole knowledge accessible to us,
could not be arrived at in a very early stage of the progress of
thought. Men have not even now left off hoping for other knowledge, nor
believing that they have attained it; and that, when attained, it is, in
some undefinable manner, greatly more precious than mere knowledge of
sequences and co-existences. The true doctrine was not seen in its full
clearness even by Bacon, though it is the result to which all his
speculations tend: still less by Descartes. It was, however, correctly
apprehended by Newton.[1]

But it was probably first conceived in its entire generality by Hume,
who carries it a step further than Comte, maintaining not merely that
the only causes of phaenomena which can be known to us are other
phaenomena, their invariable antecedents, but that there is no other
kind of causes: cause, as he interprets it, _means_ the invariable
antecedent. This is the only part of Hume's doctrine which was contested
by his great adversary, Kant; who, maintaining as strenuously as Comte
that we know nothing of Things in themselves, of Noumena, of real
Substances and real Causes, yet peremptorily asserted their existence.
But neither does Comte question this: on the contrary, all his language
implies it. Among the direct successors of Hume, the writer who has best
stated and defended Comte's fundamental doctrine is Dr Thomas Brown. The
doctrine and spirit of Brown's philosophy are entirely Positivist, and
no better introduction to Positivism than the early part of his Lectures
has yet been produced. Of living thinkers we do not speak; but the same
great truth formed the groundwork of all the speculative philosophy of
Bentham, and pre-eminently of James Mill: and Sir William Hamilton's
famous doctrine of the Relativity of human knowledge has guided many to
it, though we cannot credit Sir William Hamilton himself with having
understood the principle, or been willing to assent to it if he had.

The foundation of M. Comte's philosophy is thus in no way peculiar to
him, but the general property of the age, however far as yet from being
universally accepted even by thoughtful minds.

The philosophy called Positive is not a recent invention of M. Comte,
but a simple adherence to the traditions of all the great scientific
minds whose discoveries have made the human race what it is. M. Comte
has never presented it in any other light. But he has made the doctrine
his own by his manner of treating it. To know rightly what a thing is,
we require to know, with equal distinctness, what it is not. To enter
into the real character of any mode of thought, we must understand what
other modes of thought compete with it. M. Comte has taken care that we
should do so. The modes of philosophizing which, according to him,
dispute ascendancy with the Positive, are two in number, both of them
anterior to it in date; the Theological, and the Metaphysical.

We use the words Theological, Metaphysical, and Positive, because they
are chosen by M. Comte as a vehicle for M. Comte's ideas. Any
philosopher whose thoughts another person undertakes to set forth,
has a right to require that it should be done by means of his own
nomenclature. They are not, however, the terms we should ourselves
choose. In all languages, but especially in English, they excite ideas
other than those intended. The words Positive and Positivism, in the
meaning assigned to them, are ill fitted to take, root in English soil;
while Metaphysical suggests, and suggested even to M. Comte, much that
in no way deserves to be included in his denunciation. The term
Theological is less wide of the mark, though the use of it as a term of
condemnation implies, as we shall see, a greater reach of negation than
need be included in the Positive creed. Instead of the Theological we
should prefer to speak of the Personal, or Volitional explanation of
nature; instead of Metaphysical, the Abstractional or Ontological: and
the meaning of Positive would be less ambiguously expressed in the
objective aspect by Phaenomenal, in the subjective by Experiential. But
M. Comte's opinions are best stated in his own phraseology; several of
them, indeed, can scarcely be presented in some of their bearings
without it.

The Theological, which is the original and spontaneous form of thought,
regards the facts of the universe as governed not by invariable laws of
sequence, but by single and direct volitions of beings, real or
imaginary, possessed of life and intelligence. In the infantile state of
reason and experience, individual objects are looked upon as animated.
The next step is the conception of invisible beings, each of whom
superintends and governs an entire class of objects or events. The last
merges this multitude of divinities in a single God, who made the whole
universe in the beginning, and guides and carries on its phaenomena by
his continued action, or, as others think, only modifies them from time
to time by special interferences.

The mode of thought which M. Comte terms Metaphysical, accounts for
phaenomena by ascribing them, not to volitions either sublunary or
celestial, but to realized abstractions. In this stage it is no longer
a god that causes and directs each of the various agencies of nature:
it is a power, or a force, or an occult quality, considered as real
existences, inherent in but distinct from the concrete bodies in which
they reside, and which they in a manner animate. Instead of Dryads
presiding over trees, producing and regulating their phaenomena, every
plant or animal has now a Vegetative Soul, the [Greek: Threptikè phygè]
of Aristotle. At a later period the Vegetative Soul has become a Plastic
Force, and still later, a Vital Principle. Objects now do all that they
do because it is their Essence to do so, or by reason of an inherent
Virtue. Phaenomena are accounted for by supposed tendencies and
propensities of the abstraction Nature; which, though regarded as
impersonal, is figured as acting on a sort of motives, and in a manner
more or less analogous to that of conscious beings. Aristotle affirms a
tendency of nature towards the best, which helps him to a theory of many
natural phaenomena. The rise of water in a pump is attributed to
Nature's horror of a vacuum. The fall of heavy bodies, and the ascent of
flame and smoke, are construed as attempts of each to get to its
_natural_ place. Many important consequences are deduced from the
doctrine that Nature has no breaks (non habet saltum). In medicine the
curative force (vis medicatrix) of Nature furnishes the explanation of
the reparative processes which modern physiologists refer each to its
own particular agencies and laws.

Examples are not necessary to prove to those who are acquainted with the
past phases of human thought, how great a place both the theological and
the metaphysical interpretations of phaenomena have historically
occupied, as well in the speculations of thinkers as in the familiar
conceptions of the multitude. Many had perceived before M. Comte that
neither of these modes of explanation was final: the warfare against
both of them could scarcely be carried on more vigorously than it
already was, early in the seventeenth century, by Hobbes. Nor is it
unknown to any one who has followed the history of the various physical
sciences, that the positive explanation of facts has substituted itself,
step by step, for the theological and metaphysical, as the progress of
inquiry brought to light an increasing number of the invariable laws of
phaenomena. In these respects M. Comte has not originated anything, but
has taken his place in a fight long since engaged, and on the side
already in the main victorious. The generalization which belongs to
himself, and in which he had not, to the best of our knowledge, been at
all anticipated, is, that every distinct class of human conceptions
passes through all these stages, beginning with the theological, and
proceeding through the metaphysical to the positive: the metaphysical
being a mere state of transition, but an indispensable one, from the
theological mode of thought to the positive, which is destined finally
to prevail, by the universal recognition that all phaemomena without
exception are governed by invariable laws, with which no volitions,
either natural or supernatural, interfere. This general theorem is
completed by the addition, that the theological mode of thought has
three stages, Fetichism, Polytheism, and Monotheism: the successive
transitions being prepared, and indeed caused, by the gradual uprising
of the two rival modes of thought, the metaphysical and the positive,
and in their turn preparing the way for the ascendancy of these; first
and temporarily of the metaphysical, finally of the positive.

This generalization is the most fundamental of the doctrines which
originated with M. Comte; and the survey of history, which occupies the
two largest volumes of the six composing his work, is a continuous
exemplification and verification of the law. How well it accords with
the facts, and how vast a number of the greater historical phaenomena it
explains, is known only to those who have studied its exposition, where
alone it can be found--in these most striking and instructive volumes.
As this theory is the key to M. Comte's other generalizations, all of
which arc more or less dependent on it; as it forms the backbone, if we
may so speak, of his philosophy, and, unless it be true, he has
accomplished little; we cannot better employ part of our space than in
clearing it from misconception, and giving the explanations necessary to
remove the obstacles which prevent many competent persons from assenting
to it.

It is proper to begin by relieving the doctrine from a religious
prejudice. The doctrine condemns all theological explanations, and
replaces them, or thinks them destined to be replaced, by theories which
take no account of anything but an ascertained order of phaenomena. It
is inferred that if this change were completely accomplished, mankind
would cease to refer the constitution of Nature to an intelligent will
or to believe at all in a Creator and supreme Governor of the world.
This supposition is the more natural, as M. Comte was avowedly of that
opinion. He indeed disclaimed, with some acrimony, dogmatic atheism, and
even says (in a later work, but the earliest contains nothing at
variance with it) that the hypothesis of design has much greater
verisimilitude than that of a blind mechanism. But conjecture, founded
on analogy, did not seem to him a basis to rest a theory on, in a mature
state of human intelligence. He deemed all real knowledge of a
commencement inaccessible to us, and the inquiry into it an overpassing
of the essential limits of our mental faculties. To this point, however,
those who accept his theory of the progressive stages of opinion are not
obliged to follow him. The Positive mode of thought is not necessarily a
denial of the supernatural; it merely throws back that question to the
origin of all things. If the universe had a beginning, its beginning, by
the very conditions of the case, was supernatural; the laws of nature
cannot account for their own origin. The Positive philosopher is free to
form his opinion on the subject, according to the weight he attaches to
the analogies which are called marks of design, and to the general
traditions of the human race. The value of these evidences is indeed a
question for Positive philosophy, but it is not one upon which Positive
philosophers must necessarily be agreed. It is one of M. Comte's
mistakes that he never allows of open questions. Positive Philosophy
maintains that within the existing order of the universe, or rather of
the part of it known to us, the direct determining cause of every
phaenomenon is not supernatural but natural. It is compatible with this
to believe, that the universe was created, and even that it is
continuously governed, by an Intelligence, provided we admit that the
intelligent Governor adheres to fixed laws, which are only modified or
counteracted by other laws of the same dispensation, and are never
either capriciously or providentially departed from. Whoever regards
all events as parts of a constant order, each one being the invariable
consequent of some antecedent condition, or combination of conditions,
accepts fully the Positive mode of thought: whether he acknowledges or
not an universal antecedent on which the whole system of nature was
originally consequent, and whether that universal antecedent is
conceived as an Intelligence or not.

There is a corresponding misconception to be corrected respecting the
Metaphysical mode of thought. In repudiating metaphysics, M. Comte did
not interdict himself from analysing or criticising any of the abstract
conceptions of the mind. He was not ignorant (though he sometimes seemed
to forget) that such analysis and criticism are a necessary part of the
scientific process, and accompany the scientific mind in all its
operations. What he condemned was the habit of conceiving these mental
abstractions as real entities, which could exert power, produce
phaenomena, and the enunciation of which could be regarded as a theory
or explanation of facts. Men of the present day with difficulty believe
that so absurd a notion was ever really entertained, so repugnant is it
to the mental habits formed by long and assiduous cultivation of the
positive sciences. But those sciences, however widely cultivated, have
never formed the basis of intellectual education in any society. It is
with philosophy as with religion: men marvel at the absurdity of other
people's tenets, while exactly parallel absurdities remain in their own,
and the same man is unaffectedly astonished that words can be mistaken
for things, who is treating other words as if they were things every
time he opens his mouth to discuss. No one, unless entirely ignorant of
the history of thought, will deny that the mistaking of abstractions for
realities pervaded speculation all through antiquity and the middle
ages. The mistake was generalized and systematized in the famous Ideas
of Plato. The Aristotelians carried it on. Essences, quiddities, virtues
residing in things, were accepted as a _bonâ fide_ explanation of
phaenomena. Not only abstract qualities, but the concrete names of
genera and species, were mistaken for objective existences. It was
believed that there were General Substances corresponding to all the
familiar classes of concrete things: a substance Man, a substance Tree,
a substance Animal, which, and not the individual objects so called,
were directly denoted by those names. The real existence of Universal
Substances was the question at issue in the famous controversy of the
later middle ages between Nominalism and Realism, which is one of the
turning points in the history of thought, being its first struggle to
emancipate itself from the dominion of verbal abstractions. The Realists
were the stronger party, but though the Nominalists for a time
succumbed, the doctrine they rebelled against fell, after a short
interval, with the rest of the scholastic philosophy. But while
universal substances and substantial forms, being the grossest kind of
realized abstractions, were the soonest discarded, Essences, Virtues,
and Occult Qualities long survived them, and were first completely
extruded from real existence by the Cartesians. In Descartes' conception
of science, all physical phaenomena were to be explained by matter and
motion, that is, not by abstractions but by invariable physical laws:
though his own explanations were many of them hypothetical, and turned
out to be erroneous. Long after him, however, fictitious entities (as
they are happily termed by Bentham) continued to be imagined as means of
accounting for the more mysterious phaenomena; above all in physiology,
where, under great varieties of phrase, mysterious _forces_ and
_principles_ were the explanation, or substitute for explanation, of the
phaenomena of organized beings. To modern philosophers these fictions
are merely the abstract names of the classes of phaenomena which
correspond to them; and it is one of the puzzles of philosophy, how
mankind, after inventing a set of mere names to keep together certain
combinations of ideas or images, could have so far forgotten their own
act as to invest these creations of their will with objective reality,
and mistake the name of a phaenomenon for its efficient cause. What was
a mystery from the purely dogmatic point of view, is cleared up by the
historical. These abstract words are indeed now mere names of
phaenomena, but were not so in their origin. To us they denote only the
phaenomena, because we have ceased to believe in what else they once
designated; and the employment of them in explanation is to us
evidently, as M. Comte says, the naïf reproduction of the phaenomenon
as the reason for itself: but it was not so in the beginning. The
metaphysical point of view was not a perversion of the positive, but a
transformation of the theological. The human mind, in framing a class of
objects, did not set out from the notion of a name, but from that of a
divinity. The realization of abstractions was not the embodiment of a
word, but the gradual disembodiment of a Fetish.

The primitive tendency or instinct of mankind is to assimilate all the
agencies which they perceive in Nature, to the only one of which they
are directly conscious, their own voluntary activity. Every object which
seems to originate power, that is, to act without being first visibly
acted upon, to communicate motion without having first received it, they
suppose to possess life, consciousness, will. This first rude conception
of nature can scarcely, however, have been at any time extended to all
phaenomena. The simplest observation, without which the preservation of
life would have been impossible, must have pointed out many uniformities
in nature, many objects which, under given circumstances, acted exactly
like one another: and whenever this was observed, men's natural and
untutored faculties led them to form the similar objects into a class,
and to think of them together: of which it was a natural consequence to
refer effects, which were exactly alike, to a single will, rather than
to a number of wills precisely accordant. But this single will could not
be the will of the objects themselves, since they were many: it must be
the will of an invisible being, apart from the objects, and ruling them
from an unknown distance. This is Polytheism. We are not aware that in
any tribe of savages or negroes who have been observed, Fetichism has
been found totally unmixed with Polytheism, and it is probable that the
two coexisted from the earliest period at which the human mind was
capable of forming objects into classes. Fetichism proper gradually
becomes limited to objects possessing a marked individuality. A
particular mountain or river is worshipped bodily (as it is even now by
the Hindoos and the South Sea Islanders) as a divinity in itself, not
the mere residence of one, long after invisible gods have been imagined
as rulers of all the great classes of phaenomena, even intellectual and
moral, as war, love, wisdom, beauty, &c. The worship of the earth
(Tellus or Pales) and of the various heavenly bodies, was prolonged into
the heart of Polytheism. Every scholar knows, though _littérateurs_ and
men of the world do not, that in the full vigour of the Greek religion,
the Sun and Moon, not a god and goddess thereof, were sacrificed to as
deities--older deities than Zeus and his descendants, belonging to the
earlier dynasty of the Titans (which was the mythical version of the
fact that their worship was older), and these deities had a distinct set
of fables or legends connected with them. The father of Phaëthon and the
lover of Endymion were not Apollo and Diana, whose identification with
the Sungod and the Moongoddess was a late invention. Astrolatry, which,
as M. Comte observes, is the last form of Fetichism, survived the other
forms, partly because its objects, being inaccessible, were not so soon
discovered to be in themselves inanimate, and partly because of the
persistent spontaneousness of their apparent motions.

As far as Fetichism reached, and as long as it lasted, there was no
abstraction, or classification of objects, and no room consequently for
the metaphysical mode of thought. But as soon as the voluntary agent,
whose will governed the phaenomenon, ceased to be the physical object
itself, and was removed to an invisible position, from which he or she
superintended an entire class of natural agencies, it began to seem
impossible that this being should exert his powerful activity from a
distance, unless through the medium of something present on the spot.
Through the same Natural Prejudice which made Newton unable to conceive
the possibility of his own law of gravitation without a subtle ether
filling up the intervening space, and through which the attraction could
be communicated--from this same natural infirmity of the human mind, it
seemed indispensable that the god, at a distance from the object, must
act through something residing in it, which was the immediate agent, the
god having imparted to the intermediate something the power whereby it
influenced and directed the object. When mankind felt a need for naming
these imaginary entities, they called them the _nature_ of the object,
or its _essence_, or _virtues_ residing in it, or by many other
different names. These metaphysical conceptions were regarded as
intensely real, and at first as mere instruments in the hands of the
appropriate deities. But the habit being acquired of ascribing not only
substantive existence, but real and efficacious agency, to the abstract
entities, the consequence was that when belief in the deities declined
and faded away, the entities were left standing, and a semblance of
explanation of phaenomena, equal to what existed before, was furnished
by the entities alone, without referring them to any volitions. When
things had reached this point, the metaphysical mode of thought, had
completely substituted itself for the theological.

Thus did the different successive states of the human intellect, even at
an early stage of its progress, overlap one another, the Fetichistic,
the Polytheistic, and the Metaphysical modes of thought coexisting even
in the same minds, while the belief in invariable laws, which
constitutes the Positive mode of thought, was slowly winning its way
beneath them all, as observation and experience disclosed in one class
of phaenomena after another the laws to which they are really subject.
It was this growth of positive knowledge which principally determined
the next transition in the theological conception of the universe, from
Polytheism to Monotheism.

It cannot be doubted that this transition took place very tardily. The
conception of a unity in Nature, which would admit of attributing it to
a single will, is far from being natural to man, and only finds
admittance after a long period of discipline and preparation, the
obvious appearances all pointing to the idea of a government by many
conflicting principles. We know how high a degree both of material
civilization and of moral and intellectual development preceded the
conversion of the leading populations of the world to the belief in one
God. The superficial observations by which Christian travellers have
persuaded themselves that they found their own Monotheistic belief in
some tribes of savages, have always been contradicted by more accurate
knowledge: those who have read, for instance, Mr Kohl's Kitchigami, know
what to think of the Great Spirit of the American Indians, who belongs
to a well-defined system of Polytheism, interspersed with large remains
of an original Fetichism. We have no wish to dispute the matter with
those who believe that Monotheism was the primitive religion,
transmitted to our race from its first parents in uninterrupted
tradition. By their own acknowledgment, the tradition was lost by all
the nations of the world except a small and peculiar people, in whom it
was miraculously kept alive, but who were themselves continually lapsing
from it, and in all the earlier parts of their history did not hold it
at all in its full meaning, but admitted the real existence of other
gods, though believing their own to be the most powerful, and to be the
Creator of the world. A greater proof of the unnaturalness of Monotheism
to the human mind before a certain period in its development, could not
well be required. The highest form of Monotheism, Christianity, has
persisted to the present time in giving partial satisfaction to the
mental dispositions that lead to Polytheism, by admitting into its
theology the thoroughly polytheistic conception of a devil. When
Monotheism, after many centuries, made its way to the Greeks and Romans
from the small corner of the world where it existed, we know how the
notion of daemons facilitated its reception, by making it unnecessary
for Christians to deny the existence of the gods previously believed in,
it being sufficient to place them under the absolute power of the new
God, as the gods of Olympus were already under that of Zeus, and as the
local deities of all the subjugated nations had been subordinated by
conquest to the divine patrons of the Roman State.

In whatever mode, natural or supernatural, we choose to account for the
early Monotheism of the Hebrews, there can be no question that its
reception by the Gentiles was only rendered possible by the slow
preparation which the human mind had undergone from the philosophers.
In the age of the Caesars nearly the whole educated and cultivated class
had outgrown the polytheistic creed, and though individually liable to
returns of the superstition of their childhood, were predisposed (such
of them as did not reject all religion whatever) to the acknowledgment
of one Supreme Providence. It is vain to object that Christianity did
not find the majority of its early proselytes among the educated class:
since, except in Palestine, its teachers and propagators were mainly of
that class--many of them, like St Paul, well versed in the mental
culture of their time; and they had evidently found no intellectual
obstacle to the new doctrine in their own minds. We must not be deceived
by the recrudescence, at a much later date, of a metaphysical Paganism
in the Alexandrian and other philosophical schools, provoked not by
attachment to Polytheism, but by distaste for the political and social
ascendancy of the Christian teachers. The fact was, that Monotheism had
become congenial to the cultivated mind: and a belief which has gained
the cultivated minds of any society, unless put down by force, is
certain, sooner or later, to reach the multitude. Indeed the multitude
itself had been prepared for it, as already hinted, by the more and more
complete subordination of all other deities to the supremacy of Zeus;
from which the step to a single Deity, surrounded by a host of angels,
and keeping in recalcitrant subjection an army of devils, was by no
means difficult.

By what means, then, had the cultivated minds of the Roman Empire been
educated for Monotheism? By the growth of a practical feeling of the
invariability of natural laws. Monotheism had a natural adaptation to
this belief, while Polytheism naturally and necessarily conflicted with
it. As men could not easily, and in fact never did, suppose that beings
so powerful had their power absolutely restricted, each to its special
department, the will of any divinity might always be frustrated by
another: and unless all their wills were in complete harmony (which
would itself be the most difficult to credit of all cases of
invariability, and would require beyond anything else the ascendancy
of a Supreme Deity) it was impossible that the course of any of the
phaenomena under their government could be invariable. But if, on the
contrary, all the phaenomena of the universe were under the exclusive
and uncontrollable influence of a single will, it was an admissible
supposition that this will might be always consistent with itself, and
might choose to conduct each class of its operations in an invariable
manner. In proportion, therefore, as the invariable laws of phaenomena
revealed themselves to observers, the theory which ascribed them all to
one will began to grow plausible; but must still have appeared
improbable until it had come to seem likely that invariability was the
common rule of all nature. The Greeks and Romans at the Christian era
had reached a point of advancement at which this supposition had become
probable. The admirable height to which geometry had already been
carried, had familiarized the educated mind with the conception of laws
absolutely invariable. The logical analysis of the intellectual
processes by Aristotle had shown a similar uniformity of law in the
realm of mind. In the concrete external world, the most imposing
phaenomena, those of the heavenly bodies, which by their power over the
imagination had done most to keep up the whole system of ideas connected
with supernatural agency, had been ascertained to take place in so
regular an order as to admit of being predicted with a precision which
to the notions of those days must have appeared perfect. And though an
equal degree of regularity had not been discerned in natural phaenomena
generally, even the most empirical observation had ascertained so many
cases of an uniformity _almost_ complete, that inquiring minds were
eagerly on the look-out for further indications pointing in the same
direction; and vied with one another in the formation of theories which,
though hypothetical and essentially premature, it was hoped would turn
out to be correct representations of invariable laws governing large
classes of phaenomena. When this hope and expectation became general,
they were already a great encroachment on the original domain of the
theological principle. Instead of the old conception, of events
regulated from day to day by the unforeseen and changeable volitions of
a legion of deities, it seemed more and more probable that all the
phaenomena of the universe took place according to rules which must have
been planned from the beginning; by which conception the function of the
gods seemed to be limited to forming the plans, and setting the
machinery in motion: their subsequent office appeared to be reduced to
a sinecure, or if they continued to reign, it was in the manner of
constitutional kings, bound by the laws to which they had previously
given their assent. Accordingly, the pretension of philosophers to
explain physical phaenomena by physical causes, or to predict their
occurrence, was, up to a very late period of Polytheism, regarded as
a sacrilegious insult to the gods. Anaxagoras was banished for it,
Aristotle had to fly for his life, and the mere unfounded suspicion of
it contributed greatly to the condemnation of Socrates. We are too well
acquainted with this form of the religious sentiment even now, to have
any difficulty in comprehending what must have been its violence then.
It was inevitable that philosophers should be anxious to get rid of at
least _these_ gods, and so escape from the particular fables which stood
immediately in their way; accepting a notion of divine government which
harmonized better with the lessons they learnt from the study of nature,
and a God concerning whom no mythos, as far as they knew, had yet been
invented.

Again, when the idea became prevalent that the constitution of every
part of Nature had been planned from the beginning, and continued to
take place as it had been planned, this was itself a striking feature of
resemblance extending through all Nature, and affording a presumption
that the whole was the work, not of many, but of the same hand. It must
have appeared vastly more probable that there should be one indefinitely
foreseeing Intelligence and immovable Will, than hundreds and thousands
of such. The philosophers had not at that time the arguments which might
have been grounded on universal laws not yet suspected, such as the law
of gravitation and the laws of heat; but there was a multitude, obvious
even to them, of analogies and homologies in natural phaenomena, which
suggested unity of plan; and a still greater number were raised up by
their active fancy, aided by their premature scientific theories, all of
which aimed at interpreting some phaenomenon by the analogy of others
supposed to be better known; assuming, indeed, a much greater similarity
among the various processes of Nature, than ampler experience has since
shown to exist. The theological mode of thought thus advanced from
Polytheism to Monotheism through the direct influence of the Positive
mode of thought, not yet aspiring to complete speculative ascendancy.
But, inasmuch as the belief in the invariability of natural laws was
still imperfect even in highly cultivated minds, and in the merest
infancy in the uncultivated, it gave rise to the belief in one God, but
not in an immovable one. For many centuries the God believed in was
flexible by entreaty, was incessantly ordering the affairs of mankind by
direct volitions, and continually reversing the course of nature by
miraculous interpositions; and this is believed still, wherever the
invariability of law has established itself in men's convictions as a
general, but not as an universal truth.

In the change from Polytheism to Monotheism, the Metaphysical mode of
thought contributed its part, affording great aid to the up-hill
struggle which the Positive spirit had to maintain against the
prevailing form, of the Theological. M. Comte, indeed, has considerably
exaggerated the share of the Metaphysical spirit in this mental
revolution, since by a lax use of terms he credits the Metaphysical mode
of thought with all that is due to dialectics and negative criticism--to
the exposure of inconsistencies and absurdities in the received
religions. But this operation is quite independent of the Metaphysical
mode of thought, and was no otherwise connected with it than in being
very generally carried on by the same minds (Plato is a brilliant
example), since the most eminent efficiency in it does not necessarily
depend on the possession of positive scientific knowledge. But the
Metaphysical spirit, strictly so called, did contribute largely to the
advent of Monotheism. The conception of impersonal entities, interposed
between the governing deity and the phaenomena, and forming the
machinery through which these are immediately produced, is not
repugnant, as the theory of direct supernatural volitions is, to the
belief in invariable laws. The entities not being, like the gods, framed
after the exemplar of men--being neither, like them, invested with human
passions, nor supposed, like them, to have power beyond the phaenomena
which are the special department of each, there was no fear of offending
them by the attempt to foresee and define their action, or by the
supposition that it took place according to fixed laws. The popular
tribunal which condemned Anaxagoras had evidently not risen to the
metaphysical point of view. Hippocrates, who was concerned only with a
select and instructed class, could say with impunity, speaking of what
were called the god-inflicted diseases, that to his mind they were
neither more nor less god-inflicted than all others. The doctrine of
abstract entities was a kind of instinctive conciliation between the
observed uniformity of the facts of nature, and their dependence on
arbitrary volition; since it was easier to conceive a single volition as
setting a machinery to work, which afterwards went on of itself, than to
suppose an inflexible constancy in so capricious and changeable a thing
as volition must then have appeared. But though the régime of
abstractions was in strictness compatible with Polytheism, it demanded
Monotheism as the condition of its free development. The received
Polytheism being only the first remove from Fetichism, its gods were too
closely mixed up in the daily details of phaenomena, and the habit of
propitiating them and ascertaining their will before any important
action of life was too inveterate, to admit, without the strongest shock
to the received system, the notion that they did not habitually rule by
special interpositions, but left phaenomena in all ordinary cases to the
operation of the essences or peculiar natures which they had first
implanted in them. Any modification of Polytheism which would have made
it fully compatible with the Metaphysical conception of the world, would
have been more difficult to effect than the transition to Monotheism, as
Monotheism was at first conceived.

We have given, in our own way, and at some length, this important
portion of M. Comte's view of the evolution of human thought, as a
sample of the manner in which his theory corresponds with and interprets
historical facts, and also to obviate some objections to it, grounded on
an imperfect comprehension, or rather on a mere first glance. Some, for
example, think the doctrine of the three successive stages of
speculation and belief, inconsistent with the fact that they all three
existed contemporaneously; much as if the natural succession of the
hunting, the nomad, and the agricultural state could be refuted by the
fact that there are still hunters and nomads. That the three states were
contemporaneous, that they all began before authentic history, and still
coexist, is M. Comte's express statement: as well as that the advent of
the two later modes of thought was the very cause which disorganized and
is gradually destroying the primitive one. The Theological mode of
explaining phaenomena was once universal, with the exception, doubtless,
of the familiar facts which, being even then seen to be controllable by
human will, belonged already to the positive mode of thought. The first
and easiest generalizations of common observation, anterior to the first
traces of the scientific spirit, determined the birth of the
Metaphysical mode of thought; and every further advance in the
observation of nature, gradually bringing to light its invariable laws,
determined a further development of the Metaphysical spirit at the
expense of the Theological, this being the only medium through which the
conclusions of the Positive mode of thought and the premises of the
Theological could be temporarily made compatible. At a later period,
when the real character of the positive laws of nature had come to be in
a certain degree understood, and the theological idea had assumed, in
scientific minds, its final character, that of a God governing by
general laws, the positive spirit, having now no longer need of the
fictitious medium of imaginary entities, set itself to the easy task of
demolishing the instrument by which it had risen. But though it
destroyed the actual belief in the objective reality of these
abstractions, that belief has left behind it vicious tendencies of the
human mind, which are still far enough from being extinguished, and
which we shall presently have occasion to characterize.

The next point on which we have to touch is one of greater importance
than it seems. If all human speculation had to pass through the three
stages, we may presume that its different branches, having always been
very unequally advanced, could not pass from one stage to another at the
same time. There must have been a certain order of succession in which
the different sciences would enter, first into the metaphysical, and
afterwards into the purely positive stage; and this order M. Comte
proceeds to investigate. The result is his remarkable conception of a
scale of subordination of the sciences, being the order of the logical
dependence of those which follow on those which precede. It is not at
first obvious how a mere classification of the sciences can be not
merely a help to their study, but itself an important part of a body of
doctrine; the classification, however, is a very important part of M.
Comte's philosophy.

He first distinguishes between the abstract and the concrete sciences.
The abstract sciences have to do with the laws which govern the
elementary facts of Nature; laws on which all phaenomena actually
realized must of course depend, but which would have been equally
compatible with many other combinations than those which actually come
to pass. The concrete sciences, on the contrary, concern themselves only
with the particular combinations of phaenomena which are found in
existence. For example; the minerals which compose our planet, or are
found in it, have been produced and are held together by the laws of
mechanical aggregation and by those of chemical union. It is the
business of the abstract sciences, Physics and Chemistry, to ascertain
these laws: to discover how and under what conditions bodies may become
aggregated, and what are the possible modes and results of chemical
combination. The great majority of these aggregations and combinations
take place, so far as we are aware, only in our laboratories; with these
the concrete science, Mineralogy, has nothing to do. Its business is
with those aggregates, and those chemical compounds, which form
themselves, or have at some period been formed, in the natural world.
Again, Physiology, the abstract science, investigates, by such means as
are available to it, the general laws of organization and life. Those
laws determine what living beings are possible, and maintain the
existence and determine the phaenomena of those which actually exist:
but they would be equally capable of maintaining in existence plants and
animals very different from these. The concrete sciences, Zoology and
Botany, confine themselves to species which really exist, or can be
shown to have really existed: and do not concern themselves with the
mode in which even these would comport themselves under all
circumstances, but only under those which really take place. They set
forth the actual mode of existence of plants and animals, the phaenomena
which they in fact present: but they set forth all of these, and take
into simultaneous consideration the whole real existence of each
species, however various the ultimate laws on which it depends, and to
whatever number of different abstract sciences these laws may belong.
The existence of a date tree, or of a lion, is a joint result of many
natural laws, physical, chemical, biological, and even astronomical.
Abstract science deals with these laws separately, but considers each of
them in all its aspects, all its possibilities of operation: concrete
science considers them only in combination, and so far as they exist and
manifest themselves in the animals or plants of which we have
experience. The distinctive attributes of the two are summed up by M.
Comte in the expression, that concrete science relates to Beings, or
Objects, abstract science to Events.[2]

The concrete sciences are inevitably later in their development than the
abstract sciences on which they depend. Not that they begin later to be
studied; on the contrary, they are the earliest cultivated, since in our
abstract investigations we necessarily set out from spontaneous facts.
But though we may make empirical generalizations, we can form no
scientific theory of concrete phaenomena until the laws which govern and
explain them are first known; and those laws are the subject of the
abstract sciences. In consequence, there is not one of the concrete
studies (unless we count astronomy among them) which has received, up to
the present time, its final scientific constitution, or can be accounted
a science, except in a very loose sense, but only materials for science:
partly from insufficiency of facts, but more, because the abstract
sciences, except those at the very beginning of the scale, have not
attained the degree of perfection necessary to render real concrete
sciences possible.

Postponing, therefore, the concrete sciences, as not yet formed, but
only tending towards formation, the abstract sciences remain to be
classed. These, as marked out by M. Comte, are six in number; and the
principle which he proposes for their classification is admirably in
accordance with the conditions of our study of Nature. It might have
happened that the different classes of phaenomena had depended on laws
altogether distinct; that in changing from one to another subject of
scientific study, the student left behind all the laws he previously
knew, and passed under the dominion of a totally new set of
uniformities. The sciences would then have been wholly independent of
one another; each would have rested entirely on its own inductions, and
if deductive at all, would have drawn its deductions from premises
exclusively furnished by itself. The fact, however, is otherwise. The
relation which really subsists between different kinds of phaenomena,
enables the sciences to be arranged in such an order, that in travelling
through them we do not pass out of the sphere of any laws, but merely
take up additional ones at each step. In this order M. Comte proposes to
arrange them. He classes the sciences in an ascending series, according
to the degree of complexity of their phaenomena; so that each science
depends on the truths of all those which precede it, with the addition
of peculiar truths of its own.

Thus, the truths of number are true of all things, and depend only on
their own laws; the science, therefore, of Number, consisting of
Arithmetic and Algebra, may be studied without reference to any other
science. The truths of Geometry presuppose the laws of Number, and a
more special class of laws peculiar to extended bodies, but require no
others: Geometry, therefore, can be studied independently of all
sciences except that of Number.

Rational Mechanics presupposes, and depends on, the laws of number and
those of extension, and along with them another set of laws, those of
Equilibrium and Motion. The truths of Algebra and Geometry nowise depend
on these last, and would have been true if these had happened to be the
reverse of what we find them: but the phaenomena of equilibrium and
motion cannot be understood, nor even stated, without assuming the laws
of number and extension, such as they actually are. The phaenomena of
Astronomy depend on these three classes of laws, and on the law of
gravitation besides; which last has no influence on the truths of
number, geometry, or mechanics. Physics (badly named in common English
parlance Natural Philosophy) presupposes the three mathematical
sciences, and also astronomy; since all terrestrial phaenomena are
affected by influences derived from the motions of the earth and of the
heavenly bodies. Chemical phaenomena depend (besides their own laws) on
all the preceding, those of physics among the rest, especially on the
laws of heat and electricity; physiological phaenomena, on the laws of
physics and chemistry, and their own laws in addition. The phaenomena of
human society obey laws of their own, but do not depend solely upon
these: they depend upon all the laws of organic and animal life,
together with those of inorganic nature, these last influencing society
not only through their influence on life, but by determining the
physical conditions under which society has to be carried on. "Chacun de
ces degré's successifs exige des inductions qui lui sont propres; mais
elles ne peuvent jamais devenir systématiques que sous l'impulsion
déductive resultée de tous les ordres moins compliqués."[3]

Thus arranged by M. Comte in a series, of which each term represents an
advance in speciality beyond the term preceding it, and (what
necessarily accompanies increased speciality) an increase of
complexity--a set of phaenomena determined by a more numerous
combination of laws; the sciences stand in the following order: 1st,
Mathematics; its three branches following one another on the same
principle, Number, Geometry, Mechanics. 2nd, Astronomy. 3rd, Physics.
4th, Chemistry. 5th, Biology. 6th, Sociology, or the Social Science, the
phaemomena, of which depend on, and cannot be understood without, the
principal truths of all the other sciences. The subject matter and
contents of these various sciences are obvious of themselves, with the
exception of Physics, which is a group of sciences rather than a single
science, and is again divided by M. Comte into five departments:
Barology, or the science of weight; Thermology, or that of heat;
Acoustics, Optics, and Electrology. These he attempts to arrange on the
same principle of increasing speciality and complexity, but they hardly
admit of such a scale, and M. Comte's mode of placing them varied at
different periods. All the five being essentially independent of one
another, he attached little importance to their order, except that
barology ought to come first, as the connecting link with astronomy, and
electrology last, as the transition to chemistry.

If the best classification is that which is grounded on the properties
most important for our purposes, this classification will stand the
test. By placing the sciences in the order of the complexity of their
subject matter, it presents them in the order of their difficulty. Each
science proposes to itself a more arduous inquiry than those which
precede it in the series; it is therefore likely to be susceptible, even
finally, of a less degree of perfection, and will certainly arrive later
at the degree attainable by it. In addition to this, each science, to
establish its own truths, needs those of all the sciences anterior to
it. The only means, for example, by which the physiological laws of life
could have been ascertained, was by distinguishing, among the
multifarious and complicated facts of life, the portion which physical
and chemical laws cannot account for. Only by thus isolating the effects
of the peculiar organic laws, did it become possible to discover what
these are. It follows that the order in which the sciences succeed one
another in the series, cannot but be, in the main, the historical order
of their development; and is the only order in which they can rationally
be studied. For this last there is an additional reason: since the more
special and complete sciences require not only the truths of the simpler
and more general ones, but still more their methods. The scientific
intellect, both in the individual and in the race, must learn in the
move elementary studies that art of investigation and those canons of
proof which are to be put in practice in the more elevated. No intellect
is properly qualified for the higher part of the scale, without due
practice in the lower.

Mr Herbert Spencer, in his essay entitled "The Genesis of Science," and
more recently in a pamphlet on "the Classification of the Sciences," has
criticised and condemned M. Comte's classification, and proposed a more
elaborate one of his own: and M. Littré, in his valuable biographical
and philosophical work on M. Comte ("Auguste Comte et la Philosophie
Positive"), has at some length criticised the criticism. Mr Spencer is
one of the small number of persons who by the solidity and
encyclopedical character of their knowledge, and their power of
co-ordination and concatenation, may claim to be the peers of M. Comte,
and entitled to a vote in the estimation of him. But after giving to his
animadversions the respectful attention due to all that comes from Mr
Spencer, we cannot find that he has made out any case. It is always easy
to find fault with a classification. There are a hundred possible ways
of arranging any set of objects, and something may almost always be said
against the best, and in favour of the worst of them. But the merits of
a classification depend on the purposes to which it is instrumental. We
have shown the purposes for which M. Comte's classification is intended.
Mr Spencer has not shown that it is ill adapted to those purposes: and
we cannot perceive that his own answers any ends equally important. His
chief objection is that if the more special sciences need the truths of
the more general ones, the latter also need some of those of the former,
and have at times been stopped in their progress by the imperfect state
of sciences which follow long after them in M. Comte's scale; so that,
the dependence being mutual, there is a _consensus_, but not an
ascending scale or hierarchy of the sciences. That the earlier sciences
derive help from the later is undoubtedly true; it is part of M. Comte's
theory, and amply exemplified in the details of his work. When he
affirms that one science historically precedes another, he does not mean
that the perfection of the first precedes the humblest commencement of
those which follow. Mr Spencer does not distinguish between the
empirical stage of the cultivation of a branch of knowledge, and the
scientific stage. The commencement of every study consists in gathering
together unanalyzed facts, and treasuring up such spontaneous
generalizations as present themselves to natural sagacity. In this stage
any branch of inquiry can be carried on independently of every other;
and it is one of M. Comte's own remarks that the most complex, in a
scientific point of view, of all studies, the latest in his series, the
study of man as a moral and social being, since from its absorbing
interest it is cultivated more or less by every one, and pre-eminently
by the great practical minds, acquired at an early period a greater
stock of just though unscientific observations than the more elementary
sciences. It is these empirical truths that the later and more special
sciences lend to the earlier; or, at most, some extremely elementary
scientific truth, which happening to be easily ascertainable by direct
experiment, could be made available for carrying a previous science
already founded, to a higher stage of development; a re-action of the
later sciences on the earlier which M. Comte not only fully recognized,
but attached great importance to systematizing.[4]

But though detached truths relating to the more complex order of
phaenomena may be empirically observed, and a few of them even
scientifically established, contemporaneously with an early stage of
some of the sciences anterior in the scale, such detached truths, as M.
Littré justly remarks, do not constitute a science. What is known of a
subject, only becomes a science when it is made a connected body of
truth; in which the relation between the general principles and the
details is definitely made out, and each particular truth can be
recognized as a case of the operation of wider laws. This point of
progress, at which the study passes from the preliminary state of mere
preparation, into a science, cannot be reached by the more complex
studies until it has been attained by the simpler ones. A certain
regularity of recurrence in the celestial appearances was ascertained
empirically before much progress had been made in geometry; but
astronomy could no more be a science until geometry was a highly
advanced one, than the rule of three could have been practised before
addition and subtraction. The truths of the simpler sciences are a part
of the laws to which the phaenomena of the more complex sciences
conform: and are not only a necessary element in their explanation, but
must be so well understood as to be traceable through complex
combinations, before the special laws which co-exist and co-operate with
them can be brought to light. This is all that M. Comte affirms, and
enough for his purpose.[5] He no doubt occasionally indulges in more
unqualified expressions than can be completely justified, regarding the
logical perfection of the construction of his series, and its exact
correspondence with the historical evolution of the sciences;
exaggerations confined to language, and which the details of his
exposition often correct. But he is sufficiently near the truth, in both
respects, for every practical purpose.[6] Minor inaccuracies must often
be forgiven even to great thinkers. Mr Spencer, in the very-writings in
which he criticises M. Comte, affords signal instances of them.[7]

Combining the doctrines, that every science is in a less advanced state
as it occupies a higher place in the ascending scale, and that all the
sciences pass through the three stages, theological, metaphysical, and
positive, it follows that the more special a science is, the tardier is
it in effecting each transition, so that a completely positive state of
an earlier science has often coincided with the metaphysical state of
the one next to it, and a purely theological state of those further on.
This statement correctly represents the general course of the facts,
though requiring allowances in the detail. Mathematics, for example,
from the very beginning of its cultivation, can hardly at any time have
been in the theological state, though exhibiting many traces of the
metaphysical. No one, probably, ever believed that the will of a god
kept parallel lines from meeting, or made two and two equal to four; or
ever prayed to the gods to make the square of the hypothenuse equal to
more or less than the sum of the squares of the sides. The most devout
believers have recognized in propositions of this description a class of
truths independent of the devine omnipotence. Even among the truths
which popular philosophy calls by the misleading name of Contingent the
few which are at once exact and obvious were probably, from the very
first, excepted from the theological explanation. M. Comte observes,
after Adam Smith, that we are not told in any age or country of a god of
Weight. It was otherwise with Astronomy: the heavenly bodies were
believed not merely to be moved by gods, but to be gods themselves: and
when this theory was exploded, there movements were explained by
metaphysical conceptions; such as a tendency of Nature to perfection, in
virtue of which these sublime bodies, being left to themselves, move in
the most perfect orbit, the circle. Even Kepler was full of fancies of
this description, which only terminated when Newton, by unveiling the
real physical laws of the celestial motions, closed the metaphysical
period of astronomical science. As M. Comte remarks, our power of
foreseeing phaenomena, and our power of controlling them, are the two
things which destroy the belief of their being governed by changeable
wills. In the case of phaenomena which science has not yet taught us
either to foresee or to control, the theological mode of thought has not
ceased to operate: men still pray for rain, or for success in war, or to
avert a shipwreck or a pestilence, but not to put back the stars in
their courses, to abridge the time necessary for a journey, or to arrest
the tides. Such vestiges of the primitive mode of thought linger in the
more intricate departments of sciences which have attained a high degree
of positive development. The metaphysical mode of explanation, being
less antagonistic than the theological to the idea of invariable laws,
is still slower in being entirely discarded. M. Comte finds remains of
it in the sciences which are the most completely positive, with the
single exception of astronomy, mathematics itself not being, he thinks,
altogether free from them: which is not wonderful, when we see at how
very recent a date mathematicians have been able to give the really
positive interpretation of their own symbols.[8] We have already however
had occasion to notice M. Comte's propensity to use the term
metaphysical in cases containing nothing that truly answers to his
definition of the word. For instance, he considers chemistry as tainted
with the metaphysical mode of thought by the notion of chemical
affinity. He thinks that the chemists who said that bodies combine
because they have an affinity for each other, believed in a mysterious
entity residing in bodies and inducing them to combine. On any other
supposition, he thinks the statement could only mean that bodies combine
because they combine. But it really meant more. It was the abstract
expression of the doctrine, that bodies have an invariable tendency to
combine with one thing in preference to another: that the tendencies of
different substances to combine are fixed quantities, of which the
greater always prevails over the less, so that if A detaches B from C in
one case it will do so in every other; which was called having a greater
attraction, or, more technically, a greater affinity for it. This was
not a metaphysical theory, but a positive generalization, which
accounted for a great number of facts, and would have kept its place as
a law of nature, had it not been disproved by the discovery of cases in
which though A detached B from C in some circumstances, C detached it
from A in others, showing the law of elective chemical combination to be
a less simple one than had at first been supposed. In this case,
therefore, M. Comte made a mistake: and he will be found to have made
many similar ones. But in the science next after chemistry, biology, the
empty mode of explanation by scholastic entities, such as a plastic
force, a vital principle, and the like, has been kept up even to the
present day. The German physiology of the school of Oken,
notwithstanding his acknowledged genius, is almost as metaphysical as
Hegel, and there is in France a quite recent revival of the Animism of
Stahl. These metaphysical explanations, besides their inanity, did
serious harm, by directing the course of positive scientific inquiry
into wrong channels. There was indeed nothing to prevent investigating
the mode of action of the supposed plastic or vital force by observation
and experiment; but the phrases gave currency and coherence to a false
abstraction and generalization, setting inquirers to look out for one
cause of complex phaenomena which undoubtedly depended on many.

According to M. Comte, chemistry entered into the positive stage with
Lavoisier, in the latter half of the last century (in a subsequent
treatise he places the date a generation earlier); and biology at the
beginning of the present, when Bichat drew the fundamental distinction
between nutritive or vegetative and properly animal life, and referred
the properties of organs to the general laws of the component tissues.
The most complex of all sciences, the Social, had not, he maintained,
become positive at all, but was the subject of an ever-renewed and
barren contest between the theological and the metaphysical modes of
thought. To make this highest of the sciences positive, and thereby
complete the positive character of all human speculations, was the
principal aim of his labours, and he believed himself to have
accomplished it in the last three volumes of his Treatise. But the term
Positive is not, any more than Metaphysical, always used by M. Comte in
the same meaning. There never can have been a period in any science when
it was not in some degree positive, since it always professed to draw
conclusions from experience and observation. M. Comte would have been
the last to deny that previous to his own speculations, the world
possessed a multitude of truths, of greater or less certainty, on social
subjects, the evidence of which was obtained by inductive or deductive
processes from observed sequences of phaenomena. Nor could it be denied
that the best writers on subjects upon which so many men of the highest
mental capacity had employed their powers, had accepted as thoroughly
the positive point of view, and rejected the theological and
metaphysical as decidedly, as M. Comte himself. Montesquieu; even
Macchiavelli; Adam Smith and the political economists universally, both
in France and in England; Bentham, and all thinkers initiated by
him,--had a full conviction that social phaenomena conform to invariable
laws, the discovery and illustration of which was their great object as
speculative thinkers. All that can be said is, that those philosophers
did not get so far as M. Comte in discovering the methods best adapted
to bring these laws to light. It was not, therefore, reserved for M.
Comte to make sociological inquiries positive. But what he really meant
by making a science positive, is what we will call, with M. Littré,
giving it its final scientific constitution; in other words, discovering
or proving, and pursuing to their consequences, those of its truths
which are fit to form the connecting links among the rest: truths which
are to it what the law of gravitation is to astronomy, what the
elementary properties of the tissues are to physiology, and we will add
(though M. Comte did not) what the laws of association are to
psychology. This is an operation which, when accomplished, puts an end
to the empirical period, and enables the science to be conceived as a
co-ordinated and coherent body of doctrine. This is what had not yet
been done for sociology; and the hope of effecting it was, from his
early years, the prompter and incentive of all M. Comte's philosophic
labours.

It was with a view to this that he undertook that wonderful
systematization of the philosophy of all the antecedent sciences, from
mathematics to physiology, which, if he had done nothing else, would
have stamped him, in all minds competent to appreciate it, as one of the
principal thinkers of the age. To make its nature intelligible to those
who are not acquainted with it, we must explain what we mean by the
philosophy of a science, as distinguished from the science itself. The
proper meaning of philosophy we take to be, what the ancients understood
by it--the scientific knowledge of Man, as an intellectual, moral, and
social being. Since his intellectual faculties include his knowing
faculty, the science of Man includes everything that man can know, so
far as regards his mode of knowing it: in other words, the whole
doctrine of the conditions of human knowledge. The philosophy of a
Science thus comes to mean the science itself, considered not as to its
results, the truths which it ascertains, but as to the processes by
which the mind attains them, the marks by which it recognises them, and
the co-ordinating and methodizing of them with a view to the greatest
clearness of conception and the fullest and readiest availibility for
use: in one word, the logic of the science. M. Comte has accomplished
this for the first five of the fundamental sciences, with a success
which can hardly be too much admired. We never reopen even the least
admirable part of this survey, the volume on chemistry and biology
(which was behind the actual state of those sciences when first written,
and is far in the rear of them now), without a renewed sense of the
great reach of its speculations, and a conviction that the way to a
complete rationalizing of those sciences, still very imperfectly
conceived by most who cultivate them, has been shown nowhere so
successfully as there.

Yet, for a correct appreciation of this great philosophical achievement,
we ought to take account of what has not been accomplished, as well as
of what has. Some of the chief deficiencies and infirmities of M.
Comte's system of thought will be found, as is usually the case, in
close connexion with its greatest successes.

The philosophy of Science consists of two principal parts; the methods
of investigation, and the requisites of proof. The one points out the
roads by which the human intellect arrives at conclusions, the other the
mode of testing their evidence. The former if complete would be an
Organon of Discovery, the latter of Proof. It is to the first of these
that M. Comte principally confines himself, and he treats it with a
degree of perfection hitherto unrivalled. Nowhere is there anything
comparable, in its kind, to his survey of the resources which the mind
has at its disposal for investigating the laws of phaenomena; the
circumstances which render each of the fundamental modes of exploration
suitable or unsuitable to each class of phaenomena; the extensions and
transformations which the process of investigation has to undergo in
adapting itself to each new province of the field of study; and the
especial gifts with which every one of the fundamental sciences enriches
the method of positive inquiry, each science in its turn being the best
fitted to bring to perfection one process or another. These, and many
cognate subjects, such as the theory of Classification, and the proper
use of scientific Hypotheses, M. Comte has treated with a completeness
of insight which leaves little to be desired. Not less admirable is his
survey of the most comprehensive truths that had been arrived at by each
science, considered as to their relation to the general sum of human
knowledge, and their logical value as aids to its further progress. But
after all this, there remains a further and distinct question. We are
taught the right way of searching for results, but when a result has
been reached, how shall we know that it is true? How assure ourselves
that the process has been performed correctly, and that our premises,
whether consisting of generalities or of particular facts, really prove
the conclusion we have grounded on them? On this question M. Comte
throws no light. He supplies no test of proof. As regards deduction, he
neither recognises the syllogistic system of Aristotle and his
successors (the insufficiency of which is as evident as its utility is
real) nor proposes any other in lieu of it: and of induction he has no
canons whatever. He does not seem to admit the possibility of any
general criterion by which to decide whether a given inductive inference
is correct or not. Yet he does not, with Dr Whewell, regard an inductive
theory as proved if it accounts for the facts: on the contrary, he sets
himself in the strongest opposition to those scientific hypotheses
which, like the luminiferous ether, are not susceptible of direct proof,
and are accepted on the sole evidence of their aptitude for explaining
phenomena. He maintains that no hypothesis is legitimate unless it is
susceptible of verification, and that none ought to be accepted as true
unless it can be shown not only that it accords with the facts, but that
its falsehood would be inconsistent with them. He therefore needs a test
of inductive proof; and in assigning none, he seems to give up as
impracticable the main problem of Logic properly so called. At the
beginning of his treatise he speaks of a doctrine of Method, apart from
particular applications, as conceivable, but not needful: method,
according to him, is learnt only by seeing it in operation, and the
logic of a science can only usefully be taught through the science
itself. Towards the end of the work, he assumes a more decidedly
negative tone, and treats the very conception of studying Logic
otherwise than in its applications as chimerical. He got on, in his
subsequent writings, to considering it as wrong. This indispensable part
of Positive Philosophy he not only left to be supplied by others, but
did all that depended on him to discourage them from attempting it.

This hiatus in M. Comte's system is not unconnected with a defect in his
original conception of the subject matter of scientific investigation,
which has been generally noticed, for it lies on the surface, and is
more apt to be exaggerated than overlooked. It is often said of him that
he rejects the study of causes. This is not, in the correct acceptation,
true, for it is only questions of ultimate origin, and of Efficient as
distinguished from what are called Physical causes, that he rejects. The
causes that he regards as inaccessible are causes which are not
themselves phaenomena. Like other people he admits the study of causes,
in every sense in which one physical fact can be the cause of another.
But he has an objection to the _word_ cause; he will only consent to
speak of Laws of Succession: and depriving himself of the use of a word
which has a Positive meaning, he misses the meaning it expresses. He
sees no difference between such generalizations as Kepler's laws, and
such as the theory of gravitation. He fails to perceive the real
distinction between the laws of succession and coexistence which
thinkers of a different school call Laws of Phaenomena, and those of
what they call the action of Causes: the former exemplified by the
succession of day and night, the latter by the earth's rotation which
causes it. The succession of day and night is as much an invariable
sequence, as the alternate exposure of opposite sides of the earth to
the sun. Yet day and night are not the causes of one another; why?
Because their sequence, though invariable in our experience, is not
unconditionally so: those facts only succeed each other, provided that
the presence and absence of the sun succeed each other, and if this
alternation were to cease, we might have either day or night unfollowed
by one another. There are thus two kinds of uniformities of succession,
the one unconditional, the other conditional on the first: laws of
causation, and other successions dependent on those laws. All ultimate
laws are laws of causation, and the only universal law beyond the pale
of mathematics is the law of universal causation, namely, that every
phaenomenon has a phaenomenal cause; has some phaenomenon other than
itself, or some combination of phaenomena, on which it is invariably and
unconditionally consequent. It is on the universality of this law that
the possibility rests of establishing a canon of Induction. A general
proposition inductively obtained is only then proved to be true, when
the instances on which it rests are such that if they have been
correctly observed, the falsity of the generalization would be
inconsistent with the constancy of causation; with the universality of
the fact that the phaenomena of nature take place according to
invariable laws of succession.[9] It is probable, therefore, that M.
Comte's determined abstinence from the word and the idea of Cause, had
much to do with his inability to conceive an Inductive Logic, by
diverting his attention from the only basis upon which it could be
founded.

We are afraid it must also be said, though shown only by slight
indications in his fundamental work, and coming out in full evidence
only in his later writings--that M. Comte, at bottom, was not so
solicitous about completeness of proof as becomes a positive
philosopher, and that the unimpeachable objectivity, as he would have
called it, of a conception--its exact correspondence to the realities of
outward fact--was not, with him, an indispensable condition of adopting
it, if it was subjectively useful, by affording facilities to the mind
for grouping phaenomena. This appears very curiously in his chapters on
the philosophy of Chemistry. He recommends, as a judicious use of "the
degree of liberty left to our intelligence by the end and purpose of
positive science," that we should accept as a convenient generalization
the doctrine that all chemical composition is between two elements only;
that every substance which our analysis decomposes, let us say into four
elements, has for its immediate constituents two hypothetical
substances, each compounded of two simpler ones. There would have been
nothing to object to in this as a scientific hypothesis, assumed
tentatively as a means of suggesting experiments by which its truth may
be tested. With this for its destination, the conception, would have
been legitimate and philosophical; the more so, as, if confirmed, it
would have afforded an explanation of the fact that some substances
which analysis shows to be composed of the same elementary substances
in the same proportions, differ in their general properties, as for
instance, sugar and gum.[10] And if, besides affording a reason for
difference between things which differ, the hypothesis had afforded a
reason for agreement between things which agree; if the intermediate
link by which the quaternary compound was resolved into two binary ones,
could have been so chosen as to bring each of them within the analogies
of some known class of binary compounds (which it is easy to suppose
possible, and which in some particular instances actually happens);[11]
the universality of binary composition would have been a successful
example of an hypothesis in anticipation of a positive theory, to give
a direction to inquiry which might end in its being either proved or
abandoned. But M. Comte evidently thought that even though it should
never be proved--however many cases of chemical composition might always
remain in which the theory was still as hypothetical as at first--so
long as it was not actually disproved (which it is scarcely in the
nature of the case that it should ever be) it would deserve to be
retained, for its mere convenience in bringing a large body of
phaenomena under a general conception. In a _résumé_ of the general
principles of the positive method at the end of the work, he claims,
in express terms, an unlimited license of adopting "without any vain
scruple" hypothetical conceptions of this sort; "in order to satisfy,
within proper limits, our just mental inclinations, which always turn,
with an instinctive predilection, towards simplicity, continuity, and
generality of conceptions, while always respecting the reality of
external laws in so far as accessible to us" (vi. 639). "The most
philosophic point of view leads us to conceive the study of natural laws
as destined to represent the external world so as to give as much
satisfaction to the essential inclinations of our intelligence, as is
consistent with the degree of exactitude commanded by the aggregate of
our practical wants" (vi. 642). Among these "essential inclinations" he
includes not only our "instinctive predilection for order and harmony,"
which makes us relish any conception, even fictitious, that helps to
reduce phaenomena to system; but even our feelings of taste, "les
convenances purement esthétiques," which, he says, have a legitimate
part in the employment of the "genre de liberté" resté facultatif pour
notre intelligence." After the due satisfaction of our "most eminent
mental inclinations," there will still remain "a considerable margin of
indeterminateness, which should be made use of to give a direct
gratification to our _besoin_ of ideality, by embellishing our
scientific thoughts, without injury to their essential reality" (vi.
647). In consistency with all this, M. Comte warns thinkers against too
severe a scrutiny of the exact truth of scientific laws, and stamps with
"severe reprobation" those who break down "by too minute an
investigation" generalizations already made, without being able to
substitute others (vi. 639): as in the case of Lavoisier's general
theory of chemistry, which would have made that science more
satisfactory than at present to "the instinctive inclinations of our
intelligence" if it had turned out true, but unhappily it did not. These
mental dispositions in M. Comte account for his not having found or
sought a logical criterion of proof; but they are scarcely consistent
with his inveterate hostility to the hypothesis of the luminiferous
ether, which certainly gratifies our "predilection for order and
harmony," not to say our "besoin d'idéalite", in no ordinary degree.
This notion of the "destination" of the study of natural laws is to our
minds a complete dereliction of the essential principles which form the
Positive conception of science; and contained the germ of the perversion
of his own philosophy which marked his later years. It might be
interesting, but scarcely worth while, to attempt to penetrate to the
just thought which misled M. Comte, for there is almost always a grain
of truth in the errors of an original and powerful mind. There is
another grave aberration in M. Comte's view of the method of positive
science, which though not more unphilosophical than the last mentioned,
is of greater practical importance. He rejects totally, as an invalid
process, psychological observation properly so called, or in other
words, internal consciousness, at least as regards our intellectual
operations. He gives no place in his series of the science of
Psychology, and always speaks of it with contempt. The study of mental
phaenomena, or, as he expresses it, of moral and intellectual functions,
has a place in his scheme, under the head of Biology, but only as a
branch of physiology. Our knowledge of the human mind must, he thinks,
be acquired by observing other people. How we are to observe other
people's mental operations, or how interpret the signs of them without
having learnt what the signs mean by knowledge of ourselves, he does not
state. But it is clear to him that we can learn very little about the
feelings, and nothing at all about the intellect, by self-observation.
Our intelligence can observe all other things, but not itself: we cannot
observe ourselves observing, or observe ourselves reasoning: and if we
could, attention to this reflex operation would annihilate its object,
by stopping the process observed.

There is little need for an elaborate refutation of a fallacy respecting
which the only wonder is that it should impose on any one. Two answers
may be given to it. In the first place, M. Comte might be referred to
experience, and to the writings of his countryman M. Cardaillac and our
own Sir William Hamilton, for proof that the mind can not only be
conscious of, but attend to, more than one, and even a considerable
number, of impressions at once.[12] It is true that attention is
weakened by being divided; and this forms a special difficulty in
psychological observation, as psychologists (Sir William Hamilton in
particular) have fully recognised; but a difficulty is not an
impossibility. Secondly, it might have occurred to M. Comte that a fact
may be studied through the medium of memory, not at the very moment of
our perceiving it, but the moment after: and this is really the mode in
which our best knowledge of our intellectual acts is generally acquired.
We reflect on what we have been doing, when the act is past, but when
its impression in the memory is still fresh. Unless in one of these
ways, we could not have acquired the knowledge, which nobody denies us
to have, of what passes in our minds. M. Comte would scarcely have
affirmed that we are not aware of our own intellectual operations. We
know of our observings and our reasonings, either at the very time, or
by memory the moment after; in either case, by direct knowledge, and not
(like things done by us in a state of somnambulism) merely by their
results. This simple fact destroys the whole of M. Comte's argument.
Whatever we are directly aware of, we can directly observe.

And what Organon for the study of "the moral and intellectual functions"
does M. Comte offer, in lieu of the direct mental observation which he
repudiates? We are almost ashamed to say, that it is Phrenology! Not,
indeed, he says, as a science formed, but as one still to be created;
for he rejects almost all the special organs imagined by phrenologists,
and accepts only their general division of the brain into the three
regions of the propensities, the sentiments, and the intellect,[13] and
the subdivision of the latter region between the organs of meditation
and those of observation. Yet this mere first outline of an
apportionment of the mental functions among different organs, he regards
as extricating the mental study of man from the metaphysical stage, and
elevating it to the positive. The condition of mental science would be
sad indeed if this were its best chance of being positive; for the later
course of physiological observation and speculation has not tended to
confirm, but to discredit, the phrenological hypothesis. And even if
that hypothesis were true, psychological observation would still be
necessary; for how is it possible to ascertain the correspondence
between two things, by observation of only one of them? To establish a
relation between mental functions and cerebral conformations, requires
not only a parallel system of observations applied to each, but (as M.
Comte himself, with some inconsistency, acknowledges) an analysis of the
mental faculties, "des diverses facultés élémentaires," (iii. 573),
conducted without any reference to the physical conditions, since the
proof of the theory would lie in the correspondence between the division
of the brain into organs and that of the mind into faculties, each shown
by separate evidence. To accomplish this analysis requires direct
psychological study carried to a high pitch of perfection; it being
necessary, among other things, to investigate the degree in which mental
character is created by circumstances, since no one supposes that
cerebral conformation does all, and circumstances nothing. The
phrenological study of Mind thus supposes as its necessary preparation
the whole of the Association psychology. Without, then, rejecting any
aid which study of the brain and nerves can afford to psychology (and it
has afforded, and will yet afford, much), we may affirm that M. Comte
has done nothing for the constitution of the positive method of mental
science. He refused to profit by the very valuable commencements made by
his predecessors, especially by Hartley, Brown, and James Mill (if
indeed any of those philosophers were known to him), and left the
psychological branch of the positive method, as well as psychology
itself, to be put in their true position as a part of Positive
Philosophy by successors who duly placed themselves at the twofold point
of view of physiology and psychology, Mr Bain and Mr Herbert Spencer.
This great mistake is not a mere hiatus in M. Comte's system, but the
parent of serious errors in his attempt to create a Social Science. He
is indeed very skilful in estimating the effect of circumstances in
moulding the general character of the human race; were he not, his
historical theory could be of little worth: but in appreciating the
influence which circumstances exercise, through psychological laws, in
producing diversities of character, collective or individual, he is
sadly at fault.

After this summary view of M. Comte's conception of Positive Philosophy,
it remains to give some account of his more special and equally
ambitious attempt to create the Science of Sociology, or, as he
expresses it, to elevate the study of social phaenomena to the positive
state.

He regarded all who profess any political opinions as hitherto divided
between the adherents of the theological and those of the metaphysical
mode of thought: the former deducing all their doctrines from divine
ordinances, the latter from abstractions. This assertion, however,
cannot be intended in the same sense as when the terms are applied to
the sciences of inorganic nature; for it is impossible that acts
evidently proceeding from the human will could be ascribed to the agency
(at least immediate) of either divinities or abstractions. No one ever
regarded himself or his fellow-man as a mere piece of machinery worked
by a god, or as the abode of an entity which was the true author of what
the man himself appeared to do. True, it was believed that the gods, or
God, could move or change human wills, as well as control their
consequences, and prayers were offered to them accordingly, rather as
able to overrule the spontaneous course of things, than as at each
instant carrying it on. On the whole, however, the theological and
metaphysical conceptions, in their application to sociology, had
reference not to the production of phaenomena, but to the rule of duty,
and conduct in life. It is this which was based, either on a divine
will, or on abstract mental conceptions, which, by an illusion of the
rational faculty, were invested with objective validity. On the one
hand, the established rules of morality were everywhere referred to a
divine origin. In the majority of countries the entire civil and
criminal law was looked upon as revealed from above; and it is to the
petty military communities which escaped this delusion, that man is
indebted for being now a progressive being. The fundamental institutions
of the state were almost everywhere believed to have been divinely
established, and to be still, in a greater or less degree, of divine
authority. The divine right of certain lines of kings to rule, and even
to rule absolutely, was but lately the creed of the dominant party in
most countries of Europe; while the divine right of popes and bishops to
dictate men's beliefs (and not respecting the invisible world alone) is
still striving, though under considerable difficulties, to rule mankind.
When these opinions began to be out of date, a rival theory presented
itself to take their place. There were, in truth, many such theories,
and to some of them the term metaphysical, in M. Comte's sense, cannot
justly be applied. All theories in which the ultimate standard of
institutions and rules of action was the happiness of mankind, and
observation and experience the guides (and some such there have been in
all periods of free speculation), are entitled to the name Positive,
whatever, in other respects, their imperfections may be. But these were
a small minority. M. Comte was right in affirming that the prevailing
schools of moral and political speculation, when not theological, have
been metaphysical. They affirmed that moral rules, and even political
institutions, were not means to an end, the general good, but
corollaries evolved from the conception of Natural Rights. This was
especially the case in all the countries in which the ideas of
publicists were the offspring of the Roman Law. The legislators of
opinion on these subjects, when not theologians, were lawyers: and the
Continental lawyers followed the Roman jurists, who followed the Greek
metaphysicians, in acknowledging as the ultimate source of right and
wrong in morals, and consequently in institutions, the imaginary law of
the imaginary being Nature. The first systematizers of morals in
Christian Europe, on any other than a purely theological basis, the
writers on International Law, reasoned wholly from these premises, and
transmitted them to a long line of successors. This mode of thought
reached its culmination in Rousseau, in whose hands it became as
powerful an instrument for destroying the past, as it was impotent for
directing the future. The complete victory which this philosophy gained,
in speculation, over the old doctrines, was temporarily followed by an
equally complete practical triumph, the French Revolution: when, having
had, for the first time, a full opportunity of developing its
tendencies, and showing what it could not do, it failed so conspicuously
as to determine a partial reaction to the doctrines of feudalism and
Catholicism. Between these and the political metaphysics (meta-politics
as Coleridge called it) of the Revolution, society has since oscillated;
raising up in the process a hybrid intermediate party, termed
Conservative, or the party of Order, which has no doctrines of its own,
but attempts to hold the scales even between the two others, borrowing
alternately the arguments of each, to use as weapons against whichever
of the two seems at the moment most likely to prevail.

Such, reduced to a very condensed form, is M. Comte's version of the
state of European opinion on politics and society. An Englishman's
criticism would be, that it describes well enough the general division
of political opinion in France and the countries which follow her lead,
but not in England, or the communities of English origin: in all of
which, divine right died out with the Jacobites, and the law of nature
and natural rights have never been favourites even with the extreme
popular party, who preferred to rest their claims on the historical
traditions of their own country, and on maxims drawn from its law books,
and since they outgrew this standard, almost always base them on general
expediency. In England, the preference of one form of government to
another seldom turns on anything but the practical consequences which it
produces, or which are expected from it. M. Comte can point to little of
the nature of metaphysics in English politics, except "la métaphysique
constitutionnelle," a name he chooses to give to the conventional
fiction by which the occupant of the throne is supposed to be the source
from whence all power emanates, while nothing can be further from the
belief or intention of anybody than that such should really be the case.
Apart from this, which is a matter of forms and words, and has no
connexion with any belief except belief in the proprieties, the severest
criticism can find nothing either worse or better, in the modes of
thinking either of our conservative or of our liberal party, than a
particularly shallow and flimsy kind of positivism. The working classes
indeed, or some portion of them, perhaps still rest their claim to
universal suffrage on abstract right, in addition to more substantial
reasons, and thus far and no farther does metaphysics prevail in the
region of English politics. But politics is not the entire art of social
existence: ethics is a still deeper and more vital part of it: and in
that, as much in England as elsewhere, the current opinions are still
divided between the theological mode of thought and the metaphysical.
What is the whole doctrine of Intuitive Morality, which reigns supreme
wherever the idolatry of Scripture texts has abated and the influence of
Bentham's philosophy has not reached, but the metaphysical state of
ethical science? What else, indeed, is the whole _a priori_ philosophy,
in morals, jurisprudence, psychology, logic, even physical science, for
it does not always keep its hands off that, the oldest domain of
observation and experiment? It has the universal diagnostic of the
metaphysical mode of thought, in the Comtean sense of the word; that of
erecting a mere creation of the mind into a test or _norma_ of external
truth, and presenting the abstract expression of the beliefs already
entertained, as the reason and evidence which justifies them. Of those
who still adhere to the old opinions we need not speak; but when one of
the most vigorous as well as boldest thinkers that English speculation
has yet produced, full of the true scientific spirit, Mr Herbert
Spencer, places in the front of his philosophy the doctrine that the
ultimate test of the truth of a proposition is the inconceivableness of
its negative; when, following in the steps of Mr Spencer, an able
expounder of positive philosophy like Mr Lewes, in his meritorious and
by no means superficial work on Aristotle, after laying, very justly,
the blame of almost every error of the ancient thinkers on their
neglecting to _verify_ their opinions, announces that there are two
kinds of verification, the Real and the Ideal, the ideal test of truth
being that its negative is unthinkable, and by the application of that
test judges that gravitation must be universal even in the stellar
regions, because in the absence of proof to the contrary, "the idea of
matter without gravity is unthinkable;"--when those from whom it was
least to be expected thus set up acquired necessities of thought in the
minds of one or two generations as evidence of real necessities in the
universe, we must admit that the metaphysical mode of thought still
rules the higher philosophy, even in the department of inorganic nature,
and far more in all that relates to man as a moral, intellectual, and
social being.

But, while M. Comte is so far in the right, we often, as already
intimated, find him using the name metaphysical to denote certain
practical conclusions, instead of a particular kind of theoretical
premises. Whatever goes by the different names of the revolutionary, the
radical, the democratic, the liberal, the free-thinking, the sceptical,
or the negative and critical school or party in religion, politics, or
philosophy, all passes with him under the designation of metaphysical,
and whatever he has to say about it forms part of his description of the
metaphysical school of social science. He passes in review, one after
another, what he deems the leading doctrines of the revolutionary school
of politics, and dismisses them all as mere instruments of attack upon
the old social system, with no permanent validity as social truth.

He assigns only this humble rank to the first of all the articles of the
liberal creed, "the absolute right of free examination, or the dogma of
unlimited liberty of conscience." As far as this doctrine only means
that opinions, and their expression, should be exempt from _legal_
restraint, either in the form of prevention or of penalty, M. Comte is a
firm adherent of it: but the _moral_ right of every human being, however
ill-prepared by the necessary instruction and discipline, to erect
himself into a judge of the most intricate as well as the most important
questions that can occupy the human intellect, he resolutely denies.
"There is no liberty of conscience," he said in an early work, "in
astronomy, in physics, in chemistry, even in physiology, in the sense
that every one would think it absurd not to accept in confidence the
principles established in those sciences by the competent persons. If it
is otherwise in politics, the reason is merely because, the old
doctrines having gone by and the new ones not being yet formed, there
are not properly, during the interval, any established opinions." When
first mankind outgrew the old doctrines, an appeal from doctors and
teachers to the outside public was inevitable and indispensable, since
without the toleration and encouragement of discussion and criticism
from all quarters, it would have been impossible for any new doctrines
to grow up. But in itself, the practice of carrying the questions which
more than all others require special knowledge and preparation, before
the incompetent tribunal of common opinion, is, he contends, radically
irrational, and will and ought to cease when once mankind have again
made up their minds to a system of doctrine. The prolongation of this
provisional state, producing an ever-increasing divergence of opinions,
is already, according to him, extremely dangerous, since it is only when
there is a tolerable unanimity respecting the rule of life, that a real
moral control can be established over the self-interest and passions of
individuals. Besides which, when every man is encouraged to believe
himself a competent judge of the most difficult social questions, he
cannot be prevented from thinking himself competent also to the most
important public duties, and the baneful competition for power and
official functions spreads constantly downwards to a lower and lower
grade of intelligence. In M. Comte's opinion, the peculiarly complicated
nature of sociological studies, and the great amount of previous
knowledge and intellectual discipline requisite for them, together with
the serious consequences that may be produced by even, temporary errors
on such subjects, render it necessary in the case of ethics and
politics, still more than of mathematics and physics, that whatever
legal liberty may exist of questioning and discussing, the opinions of
mankind should really be formed for them by an exceedingly small number
of minds of the highest class, trained to the task by the most thorough
and laborious mental preparation: and that the questioning of their
conclusions by any one, not of an equivalent grade of intellect and
instruction, should be accounted equally presumptuous, and more
blamable, than the attempts occasionally made by sciolists to refute the
Newtonian astronomy. All this is, in a sense, true: but we confess our
sympathy with those who feel towards it like the man in the story, who
being asked whether he admitted that six and five make eleven, refused
to give an answer until he knew what use was to be made of it. The
doctrine is one of a class of truths which, unless completed by other
truths, are so liable to perversion, that we may fairly decline to take
notice of them except in connexion with some definite application. In
justice to M. Comte it should be said that he does not wish this
intellectual dominion to be exercised over an ignorant people. Par from
him is the thought of promoting the allegiance of the mass to scientific
authority by withholding from them scientific knowledge. He holds it the
duty of society to bestow on every one who grows up to manhood or
womanhood as complete a course of instruction in every department of
science, from mathematics to sociology, as can possibly be made general:
and his ideas of what is possible in that respect are carried to a
length to which few are prepared to follow him. There is something
startling, though, when closely looked into, not Utopian or chimerical,
in the amount of positive knowledge of the most varied kind which he
believes may, by good methods of teaching, be made the common
inheritance of all persons with ordinary faculties who are born into the
world: not the mere knowledge of results, to which, except for the
practical arts, he attaches only secondary value, but knowledge also of
the mode in which those results were attained, and the evidence on which
they rest, so far as it can be known and understood by those who do not
devote their lives to its study.

We have stated thus fully M. Comte's opinion on the most fundamental
doctrine of liberalism, because it is the clue to much of his general
conception of politics. If his object had only been to exemplify by that
doctrine the purely negative character of the principal liberal and
revolutionary schools of thought, he need not have gone so far: it would
have been enough to say, that the mere liberty to hold and express any
creed, cannot itself _be_ that creed. Every one is free to believe and
publish that two and two make ten, but the important thing is to know
that they make four. M. Comte has no difficulty in making out an equally
strong case against the other principal tenets of what he calls the
revolutionary school; since all that they generally amount to is, that
something ought not to be: which cannot possibly be the whole truth, and
which M. Comte, in general, will not admit to be even part of it. Take
for instance the doctrine which denies to governments any initiative in
social progress, restricting them to the function of preserving order,
or in other words keeping the peace: an opinion which, so far as
grounded on so-called rights of the individual, he justly regards as
purely metaphysical; but does not recognise that it is also widely held
as an inference from the laws of human nature and human affairs, and
therefore, whether true or false, as a Positive doctrine. Believing with
M. Comte that there are no absolute truths in the political art, nor
indeed in any art whatever, we agree with him that the _laisser faire_
doctrine, stated without large qualifications, is both unpractical and
unscientific; but it does not follow that those who assert it are not,
nineteen times out of twenty, practically nearer the truth than those
who deny it. The doctrine of Equality meets no better fate at M. Comte's
hands. He regards it as the erection into an absolute dogma of a mere
protest against the inequalities which came down from the middle ages,
and answer no legitimate end in modern society. He observes, that
mankind in a normal state, having to act together, are necessarily, in
practice, organized and classed with some reference to their unequal
aptitudes, natural or acquired, which demand that some should be under
the direction of others: scrupulous regard being at the same time had to
the fulfilment towards all, of "the claims rightfully inherent in the
dignity of a human being; the aggregate of which, still very
insufficiently appreciated, will constitute more and more the principle
of universal morality as applied to daily use... a grand moral
obligation, which has never been directly denied since the abolition of
slavery" (iv. 51). There is not a word to be said against these
doctrines: but the practical question is one which M. Comte never even
entertains--viz., when, after being properly educated, people are left
to find their places for themselves, do they not spontaneously class
themselves in a manner much more conformable to their unequal or
dissimilar aptitudes, than governments or social institutions are likely
to do it for them? The Sovereignty of the People, again,--that
metaphysical axiom which in France and the rest of the Continent has so
long been the theoretic basis of radical and democratic politics,--he
regards as of a purely negative character, signifying the right of the
people to rid themselves by insurrection of a social order that has
become oppressive; but, when erected into a positive principle of
government, which condemns indefinitely all superiors to "an arbitrary
dependence upon the multitude of their inferiors," he considers it as a
sort of "transportation to peoples of the divine right so much
reproached to kings" (iv. 55, 56). On the doctrine as a metaphysical
dogma or an absolute principle, this criticism is just; but there is
also a Positive doctrine, without any pretension to being absolute,
which claims the direct participation of the governed in their own
government, not as a natural right, but as a means to important ends,
under the conditions and with the limitations which those ends impose.
The general result of M. Comte's criticism on the revolutionary
philosophy, is that he deems it not only incapable of aiding the
necessary reorganization of society, but a serious impediment thereto,
by setting up, on all the great interests of mankind, the mere negation
of authority, direction, or organization, as the most perfect state, and
the solution of all problems: the extreme point of this aberration being
reached by Rousseau and his followers, when they extolled the savage
state, as an ideal from which civilization was only a degeneracy, more
or less marked and complete.

The state of sociological speculation being such as has been
described--divided between a feudal and theological school, now effete,
and a democratic and metaphysical one, of no value except for the
destruction of the former; the problem, how to render the social science
positive, must naturally have presented itself, more or less distinctly,
to superior minds. M. Comte examines and criticises, for the most part
justly, some of the principal efforts which have been made by individual
thinkers for this purpose. But the weak side of his philosophy comes out
prominently in his strictures on the only systematic attempt yet made by
any body of thinkers, to constitute a science, not indeed of social
phenomena generally, but of one great class or division of them. We
mean, of course, political economy, which (with a reservation in favour
of the speculations of Adam Smith as valuable preparatory studies for
science) he deems unscientific, unpositive, and a mere branch of
metaphysics, that comprehensive category of condemnation in which he
places all attempts at positive science which are not in his opinion
directed by a right scientific method. Any one acquainted with the
writings of political economists need only read his few pages of
animadversions on them (iv. 193 to 205), to learn how extremely
superficial M. Comte can sometimes be. He affirms that they have added
nothing really new to the original _aperçus_ of Adam Smith; when every
one who has read them knows that they have added so much as to have
changed the whole aspect of the science, besides rectifying and clearing
up in the most essential points the _aperçus_ themselves. He lays an
almost puerile stress, for the purpose of disparagement, on the
discussions about the meaning of words which are found in the best books
on political economy, as if such discussions were not an indispensable
accompaniment of the progress of thought, and abundant in the history of
every physical science. On the whole question he has but one remark of
any value, and that he misapplies; namely, that the study of the
conditions of national wealth as a detached subject is unphilosophical,
because, all the different aspects of social phaenomena acting and
reacting on one another, they cannot be rightly understood apart: which
by no means proves that the material and industrial phaenomena of
society are not, even by themselves, susceptible of useful
generalizations, but only that these generalizations must necessarily be
relative to a given form of civilization and a given stage of social
advancement. This, we apprehend, is what no political economist would
deny. None of them pretend that the laws of wages, profits, values,
prices, and the like, set down in their treatises, would be strictly
true, or many of them true at all, in the savage state (for example), or
in a community composed of masters and slaves. But they do think, with
good reason, that whoever understands the political economy of a country
with the complicated and manifold civilization of the nations of Europe,
can deduce without difficulty the political economy of any other state
of society, with the particular circumstances of which he is equally
well acquainted.[14] We do not pretend that political economy has never
been prosecuted or taught in a contracted spirit. As often as a study is
cultivated by narrow minds, they will draw from it narrow conclusions.
If a political economist is deficient in general knowledge, he will
exaggerate the importance and universality of the limited class of
truths which he knows. All kinds of scientific men are liable to this
imputation, and M. Comte is never weary of urging it against them;
reproaching them with their narrowness of mind, the petty scale of their
thoughts, their incapacity for large views, and the stupidity of those
they occasionally attempt beyond the bounds of their own subjects.
Political economists do not deserve these reproaches more than other
classes of positive inquirers, but less than most. The principal error
of narrowness with which they are frequently chargeable, is that of
regarding, not any economical doctrine, but their present experience of
mankind, as of universal validity; mistaking temporary or local phases
of human character for human nature itself; having no faith in the
wonderful pliability of the human mind; deeming it impossible, in spite
of the strongest evidence, that the earth can produce human beings of a
different type from that which is familiar to them in their own age, or
even, perhaps, in their own country. The only security against this
narrowness is a liberal mental cultivation, and all it proves is that
a person is not likely to be a good political economist who is nothing
else.

Thus far, we have had to do with M. Comte, as a sociologist, only in his
critical capacity. We have now to deal with him as a constructor--the
author of a sociological system. The first question is that of the
Method proper to the study. His view of this is highly instructive.

The Method proper to the Science of Society must be, in substance, the
same as in all other sciences; the interrogation and interpretation of
experience, by the twofold process of Induction and Deduction. But its
mode of practising these operations has features of peculiarity. In
general, Induction furnishes to science the laws of the elementary
facts, from which, when known, those of the complex combinations are
thought out deductively: specific observation of complex phaenomena
yields no general laws, or only empirical ones; its scientific function
is to verify the laws obtained by deduction. This mode of philosophizing
is not adequate to the exigencies of sociological investigation. In
social phaemomena the elementary facts are feelings and actions, and the
laws of these are the laws of human nature, social facts being the
results of human acts and situations. Since, then, the phaenomena of man
in society result from his nature as an individual being, it might be
thought that the proper mode of constructing a positive Social Science
must be by deducing it from the general laws of human nature, using the
facts of history merely for verification. Such, accordingly, has been
the conception of social science by many of those who have endeavoured
to render it positive, particularly by the school of Bentham. M. Comte
considers this as an error. We may, he says, draw from the universal
laws of human nature some conclusions (though even these, we think,
rather precarious) concerning the very earliest stages of human
progress, of which there are either no, or very imperfect, historical
records. But as society proceeds in its development, its phaenomena are
determined, more and more, not by the simple tendencies of universal
human nature, but by the accumulated influence of past generations over
the present. The human beings themselves, on the laws of whose nature
the facts of history depend, are not abstract or universal but
historical human beings, already shaped, and made what they are, by
human society. This being the case, no powers of deduction could enable
any one, starting from the mere conception of the Being Man, placed in a
world such as the earth may have been before the commencement of human
agency, to predict and calculate the phaenomena of his development such
as they have in fact proved. If the facts of history, empirically
considered, had not given rise to any generalizations, a deductive study
of history could never have reached higher than more or less plausible
conjecture. By good fortune (for the case might easily have been
otherwise) the history of our species, looked at as a comprehensive
whole, does exhibit a determinate course, a certain order of
development: though history alone cannot prove this to be a necessary
law, as distinguished from a temporary accident. Here, therefore, begins
the office of Biology (or, as we should say, of Psychology) in the
social science. The universal laws of human nature are part of the data
of sociology, but in using them we must reverse the method of the
deductive physical sciences: for while, in these, specific experience
commonly serves to verify laws arrived at by deduction, in sociology it
is specific experience which suggests the laws, and deduction which
verifies them. If a sociological theory, collected from historical
evidence, contradicts the established general laws of human nature; if
(to use M. Comte's instances) it implies, in the mass of mankind, any
very decided natural bent, either in a good or in a bad direction; if it
supposes that the reason, in average human beings, predominates over the
desires, or the disinterested desires over the personal; we may know
that history has been misinterpreted, and that the theory is false. On
the other hand, if laws of social phaenomena, empirically generalized
from history, can when once suggested be affiliated to the known laws of
human nature; if the direction actually taken by the developments and
changes of human society, can be seen to be such as the properties of
man and of his dwelling-place made antecedently probable, the empirical
generalizations are raised into positive laws, and Sociology becomes a
science.

Much has been said and written for centuries past, by the practical or
empirical school of politicians, in condemnation of theories founded on
principles of human nature, without an historical basis; and the
theorists, in their turn, have successfully retaliated on the
practicalists. But we know not any thinker who, before M. Comte, had
penetrated to the philosophy of the matter, and placed the necessity of
historical studies as the foundation of sociological speculation on the
true footing. From this time any political thinker who fancies himself
able to dispense with a connected view of the great facts of history, as
a chain of causes and effects, must be regarded as below the level of
the age; while the vulgar mode of using history, by looking in it for
parallel cases, as if any cases were parallel, or as if a single
instance, or even many instances not compared and analysed, could reveal
a law, will be more than ever, and irrevocably, discredited.

The inversion of the ordinary relation between Deduction and Induction
is not the only point in which, according to M. Comte, the Method proper
to Sociology differs from that of the sciences of inorganic nature. The
common order of science proceeds from the details to the whole. The
method of Sociology should proceed from the whole to the details. There
is no universal principle for the order of study, but that of proceeding
from the known to the unknown; finding our way to the facts at whatever
point is most open to our observation. In the phaenomena of the social
state, the collective phaenomenon is more accessible to us than the
parts of which it is composed. This is already, in a great degree, true
of the mere animal body. It is essential to the idea of an organism, and
it is even more true of the social organism than of the individual. The
state of every part of the social whole at any time, is intimately
connected with the contemporaneous state of all the others. Religious
belief, philosophy, science, the fine arts, the industrial arts,
commerce, navigation, government, all are in close mutual dependence on
one another, insomuch that when any considerable change takes place in
one, we may know that a parallel change in all the others has preceded
or will follow it. The progress of society from one general state to
another is not an aggregate of partial changes, but the product of a
single impulse, acting through all the partial agencies, and can
therefore be most easily traced by studying them together. Could it even
be detected in them separately, its true nature could not be understood
except by examining them in the _ensemble_. In constructing, therefore,
a theory of society, all the different aspects of the social
organization must be taken into consideration at once.

Our space is not consistent with inquiring into all the limitations of
this doctrine. It requires many of which M. Comte's theory takes no
account. There is one, in particular, dependent on a scientific artifice
familiar to students of science, especially of the applications of
mathematics to the study of nature. When an effect depends on several
variable conditions, some of which change less, or more slowly, than
others, we are often able to determine, either by reasoning or by
experiment, what would be the law of variation of the effect if its
changes depended only on some of the conditions, the remainder being
supposed constant. The law so found will be sufficiently near the truth
for all times and places in which the latter set of conditions do not
vary greatly, and will be a basis to set out from when it becomes
necessary to allow for the variations of those conditions also. Most of
the conclusions of social science applicable to practical use are of
this description. M. Comte's system makes no room for them. We have seen
how he deals with the part of them which are the most scientific in
character, the generalizations of political economy.

There is one more point in the general philosophy of sociology requiring
notice. Social phaenomena, like all others, present two aspects, the
statical, and the dynamical; the phaenomena of equilibrium, and those of
motion. The statical aspect is that of the laws of social existence,
considered abstractedly from progress, and confined to what is common to
the progressive and the stationary state. The dynamical aspect is that
of social progress. The statics of society is the study of the
conditions of existence and permanence of the social state. The dynamics
studies the laws of its evolution. The first is the theory of the
_consensus,_ or interdependence of social phaenomena. The second is the
theory of their filiation.

The first division M. Comte, in his great work, treats in a much more
summary manner than the second; and it forms, to our thinking, the
weakest part of the treatise. He can hardly have seemed even to himself
to have originated, in the statics of society, anything new,[15] unless
his revival of the Catholic idea of a Spiritual Power may be so
considered. The remainder, with the exception of detached thoughts, in
which even his feeblest productions are always rich, is trite, while in
our judgment far from being always true.

He begins by a statement of the general properties of human nature which
make social existence possible. Man has a spontaneous propensity to the
society of his fellow-beings, and seeks it instinctively, for its own
sake, and not out of regard to the advantages it procures for him,
which, in many conditions of humanity, must appear to him very
problematical. Man has also a certain, though moderate, amount of
natural benevolence. On the other hand, these social propensities are by
nature weaker than his selfish ones; and the social state, being mainly
kept in existence through the former, involves an habitual antagonism
between the two. Further, our wants of all kinds, from the purely
organic upwards, can only be satisfied by means of labour, nor does
bodily labour suffice, without the guidance of intelligence. But labour,
especially when prolonged and monotonous, is naturally hateful, and
mental labour the most irksome of all; and hence a second antagonism,
which must exist in all societies whatever. The character of the society
is principally determined by the degree in which the better incentive,
in each of these cases, makes head against the worse. In both the
points, human nature is capable of great amelioration. The social
instincts may approximate much nearer to the strength of the personal
ones, though never entirely coming up to it; the aversion to labour in
general, and to intellectual labour in particular, may be much weakened,
and the predominance of the inclinations over the reason greatly
diminished, though never completely destroyed. The spirit of improvement
results from the increasing strength of the social instincts, combined
with the growth of an intellectual activity, which guiding the personal
propensities, inspires each individual with a deliberate desire to
improve his condition. The personal instincts left to their own
guidance, and the indolence and apathy natural to mankind, are the
sources which mainly feed the spirit of Conservation. The struggle
between the two spirits is an universal incident of the social state.

The next of the universal elements in human society is family life;
which M. Comte regards as originally the sole, and always the principal,
source of the social feelings, and the only school open to mankind in
general, in which unselfishness can be learnt, and the feelings and
conduct demanded by social relations be made habitual. M. Comte takes
this opportunity of declaring his opinions on the proper constitution of
the family, and in particular of the marriage institution. They are of
the most orthodox and conservative sort. M. Comte adheres not only to
the popular Christian, but to the Catholic view of marriage in its
utmost strictness, and rebukes Protestant nations for having tampered
with the indissolubility of the engagement, by permitting divorce. He
admits that the marriage institution has been, in various respects,
beneficially modified with the advance of society, and that we may not
yet have reached the last of these modifications; but strenuously
maintains that such changes cannot possibly affect what he regards as
the essential principles of the institution--the irrevocability of the
engagement, and the complete subordination of the wife to the husband,
and of women generally to men; which are precisely the great vulnerable
points of the existing constitution of society on this important
subject. It is unpleasant to have to say it of a philosopher, but the
incidents of his life which have been made public by his biographers
afford an explanation of one of these two opinions: he had quarrelled
with his wife.[16] At a later period, under the influence of
circumstances equally personal, his opinions and feelings respecting
women were very much modified, without becoming more rational: in his
final scheme of society, instead of being treated as grown children,
they were exalted into goddesses: honours, privileges, and immunities,
were lavished on them, only not simple justice. On the other question,
the irrevocability of marriage, M. Comte must receive credit for
impartiality, since the opposite doctrine would have better suited his
personal convenience: but we can give him no other credit, for his
argument is not only futile but refutes itself. He says that with
liberty of divorce, life would be spent in a constant succession of
experiments and failures; and in the same breath congratulates himself
on the fact, that modern manners and sentiments have in the main
prevented the baneful effects which the toleration of divorce in
Protestant countries might have been expected to produce. He did not
perceive that if modern habits and feelings have successfully resisted
what he deems the tendency of a less rigorous marriage law, it must be
because modern habits and feelings are inconsistent with the perpetual
series of new trials which he dreaded. If there are tendencies in human
nature which seek change and variety, there are others which demand
fixity, in matters which touch the daily sources of happiness; and one
who had studied history as much as M. Comte, ought to have known that
ever since the nomad mode of life was exchanged for the agricultural,
the latter tendencies have been always gaining ground on the former. All
experience testifies that regularity in domestic relations is almost in
direct proportion to industrial civilization. Idle life, and military
life with its long intervals of idleness, are the conditions to which,
either sexual profligacy, or prolonged vagaries of imagination on that
subject, are congenial. Busy men have no time for them, and have too
much other occupation for their thoughts: they require that home should
be a place of rest, not of incessantly renewed excitement and
disturbance. In the condition, therefore, into which modern society has
passed, there is no probability that marriages would often be contracted
without a sincere desire on both sides that they should be permanent.
That this has been the case hitherto in countries where divorce was
permitted, we have on M. Comte's own showing: and everything leads us to
believe that the power, if granted elsewhere, would in general be used
only for its legitimate purpose--for enabling those who, by a blameless
or excusable mistake, have lost their first throw for domestic
happiness, to free themselves (with due regard for all interests
concerned) from the burthensome yoke, and try, under more favourable
auspices, another chance. Any further discussion of these great social
questions would evidently be incompatible with the nature and limits of
the present paper.

Lastly, a phaenomenon universal in all societies, and constantly
assuming a wider extension as they advance in their progress, is the
co-operation of mankind one with another, by the division of employments
and interchange of commodities and services; a communion which extends
to nations as well as individuals. The economic importance of this
spontaneous organization of mankind as joint workers with and for one
another, has often been illustrated. Its moral effects, in connecting
them by their interests, and as a more remote consequence, by their
sympathies, are equally salutary. But there are some things to be said
on the other side. The increasing specialisation of all employments; the
division of mankind into innumerable small fractions, each engrossed by
an extremely minute fragment of the business of society, is not without
inconveniences, as well moral as intellectual, which, if they could not
be remedied, would be a serious abatement from the benefits of advanced
civilization. The interests of the whole--the bearings of things on the
ends of the social union--are less and less present to the minds of men
who have so contracted a sphere of activity. The insignificant detail
which forms their whole occupation--the infinitely minute wheel they
help to turn in the machinery of society--does not arouse or gratify any
feeling of public spirit, or unity with their fellow-men. Their work is
a mere tribute to physical necessity, not the glad performance of a
social office. This lowering effect of the extreme division of labour
tells most of all on those who are set up as the lights and teachers of
the rest. A man's mind is as fatally narrowed, and his feelings towards
the great ends of humanity as miserably stunted, by giving all his
thoughts to the classification of a few insects or the resolution of a
few equations, as to sharpening the points or putting on the heads of
pins. The "dispersive speciality" of the present race of scientific men,
who, unlike their predecessors, have a positive aversion to enlarged
views, and seldom either know or care for any of the interests of
mankind beyond the narrow limits of their pursuit, is dwelt on by M.
Comte as one of the great and growing evils of the time, and the one
which most retards moral and intellectual regeneration. To contend
against it is one of the main purposes towards which he thinks the
forces of society should be directed. The obvious remedy is a large and
liberal general education, preparatory to all special pursuits: and this
is M. Comte's opinion: but the education of youth is not in his
estimation enough: he requires an agency set apart for obtruding upon
all classes of persons through the whole of life, the paramount claims
of the general interest, and the comprehensive ideas that demonstrate
the mode in which human actions promote or impair it. In other words,
he demands a moral and intellectual authority, charged with the duty of
guiding men's opinions and enlightening and warning their consciences;
a Spiritual Power, whose judgments on all matters of high moment should
deserve, and receive, the same universal respect and deference which is
paid to the united judgment of astronomers in matters astronomical. The
very idea of such an authority implies that an unanimity has been
attained, at least in essentials, among moral and political thinkers,
corresponding or approaching to that which already exists in the other
sciences. There cannot be this unanimity, until the true methods of
positive science have been applied to all subjects, as completely as
they have been applied to the study of physical science: to this,
however, there is no real obstacle; and when once it is accomplished,
the same degree of accordance will naturally follow. The undisputed
authority which astronomers possess in astronomy, will be possessed on
the great social questions by Positive Philosophers; to whom will belong
the spiritual government of society, subject to two conditions: that
they be entirely independent, within their own sphere, of the temporal
government, and that they be peremptorily excluded from all share in it,
receiving instead the entire conduct of education.

This is the leading feature in M. Comte's conception of a regenerated
society; and however much this ideal differs from that which is implied
more or less confusedly in the negative philosophy of the last three
centuries, we hold the amount of truth in the two to be about the same.
M. Comte has got hold of half the truth, and the so-called liberal or
revolutionary school possesses the other half; each sees what the other
does not see, and seeing it exclusively, draws consequences from it
which to the other appear mischievously absurd. It is, without doubt,
the necessary condition of mankind to receive most of their opinions on
the authority of those who have specially studied the matters to which
they relate. The wisest can act on no other rule, on subjects with which
they are not themselves thoroughly conversant; and the mass of mankind
have always done the like on all the great subjects of thought and
conduct, acting with implicit confidence on opinions of which they did
not know, and were often incapable of understanding, the grounds, but on
which as long as their natural guides were unanimous they fully relied,
growing uncertain and sceptical only when these became divided, and
teachers who as far as they could judge were equally competent,
professed contradictory opinions. Any doctrines which come recommended
by the nearly universal verdict of instructed minds will no doubt
continue to be, as they have hitherto been, accepted without misgiving
by the rest. The difference is, that with the wide diffusion of
scientific education among the whole people, demanded by M. Comte, their
faith, however implicit, would not be that of ignorance: it would not be
the blind submission of dunces to men of knowledge, but the intelligent
deference of those who know much, to those who know still more. It is
those who have some knowledge of astronomy, not those who have none at
all, who best appreciate how prodigiously more Lagrange or Laplace knew
than themselves. This is what can be said in favour of M. Comte. On the
contrary side it is to be said, that in order that this salutary
ascendancy over opinion should be exercised by the most eminent
thinkers, it is not necessary that they should be associated and
organized. The ascendancy will come of itself when the unanimity is
attained, without which it is neither desirable nor possible. It is
because astronomers agree in their teaching that astronomy is trusted,
and not because there is an Academy of Sciences or a Royal Society
issuing decrees or passing resolutions. A constituted moral authority
can only be required when the object is not merely to promulgate and
diffuse principles of conduct, but to direct the detail of their
application; to declare and inculcate, not duties, but each person's
duty, as was attempted by the spiritual authority of the middle ages.
From this extreme application of his principle M. Comte does not shrink.
A function of this sort, no doubt, may often be very usefully discharged
by individual members of the speculative class; but if entrusted to any
organized body, would involve nothing less than a spiritual despotism.
This however is what M. Comte really contemplated, though it would
practically nullify that peremptory separation of the spiritual from the
temporal power, which he justly deemed essential to a wholesome state of
society. Those whom an irresistible public opinion invested with the
right to dictate or control the acts of rulers, though without the means
of backing their advice by force, would have all the real power of the
temporal authorities, without their labours or their responsibilities.
M. Comte would probably have answered that the temporal rulers, having
the whole legal power in their hands, would certainly not pay to the
spiritual authority more than a very limited obedience: which amounts to
saying that the ideal form of society which he sets up, is only fit to
be an ideal because it cannot possibly be realized.

That education should be practically directed by the philosophic class,
when there is a philosophic class who have made good their claim to the
place in opinion hitherto filled by the clergy, would be natural and
indispensable. But that all education should be in the hands of a
centralized authority, whether composed of clergy or of philosophers,
and be consequently all framed on the same model, and directed to the
perpetuation of the same type, is a state of things which instead of
becoming more acceptable, will assuredly be more repugnant to mankind,
with every step of their progress in the unfettered exercise of their
highest faculties. We shall see, in the Second Part, the evils with
which the conception of the new Spiritual Power is pregnant, coming out
into full bloom in the more complete development which M. Comte gave to
the idea in his later years.

After this unsatisfactory attempt to trace the outline of Social
Statics, M. Comte passes to a topic on which he is much more at
home--the subject of his most eminent speculations; Social Dynamics, or
the laws of the evolution of human society.

Two questions meet us at the outset: Is there a natural evolution in
human affairs? and is that evolution an improvement? M. Comte resolves
them both in the affirmative by the same answer. The natural progress of
society consists in the growth of our human attributes, comparatively to
our animal and our purely organic ones: the progress of our humanity
towards an ascendancy over our animality, ever more nearly approached
though incapable of being completely realized. This is the character and
tendency of human development, or of what is called civilization; and
the obligation of seconding this movement--of working in the direction
of it--is the nearest approach which M. Comte makes in this treatise to
a general principle or standard of morality.

But as our more eminent, and peculiarly human, faculties are of various
orders, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic, the question presents
itself, is there any one of these whose development is the predominant
agency in the evolution of our species? According to M. Comte, the main
agent in the progress of mankind is their intellectual development.

Not because the intellectual is the most powerful part of our nature,
for, limited to its inherent strength, it is one of the weakest: but
because it is the guiding part, and acts not with its own strength
alone, but with the united force of all parts of our nature which it can
draw after it. In a social state the feelings and propensities cannot
act with their full power, in a determinate direction, unless the
speculative intellect places itself at their head. The passions are,
in the individual man, a more energetic power than a mere intellectual
conviction; but the passions tend to divide, not to unite, mankind: it
is only by a common belief that passions are brought to work together,
and become a collective force instead of forces neutralizing one
another. Our intelligence is first awakened by the stimulus of our
animal wants and of our stronger and coarser desires; and these for
a long time almost exclusively determine the direction in which our
intelligence shall work: but once roused to activity, it assumes more
and more the management of the operations of which stronger impulses are
the prompters, and constrains them to follow its lead, not by its own
strength, but because in the play of antagonistic forces, the path it
points out is (in scientific phraseology) the direction of least
resistance. Personal interests and feelings, in the social state, can
only obtain the maximum of satisfaction by means of co-operation, and
the necessary condition of co-operation is a common belief. All human
society, consequently, is grounded on a system of fundamental opinions,
which only the speculative faculty can provide, and which when provided,
directs our other impulses in their mode of seeking their gratification.
And hence the history of opinions, and of the speculative faculty, has
always been the leading element in the history of mankind.

This doctrine has been combated by Mr Herbert Spencer, in the pamphlet
already referred to; and we will quote, in his own words, the theory he
propounds in opposition to it:--

/#
     "Ideas do not govern and overthrow the world; the world is governed
     or overthrown by feelings, to which ideas serve only as guides. The
     social mechanism does not rest finally upon opinions, but almost
     wholly upon character. Not intellectual anarchy, but moral
     antagonism, is the cause of political crises. All social phaenomena
     are produced by the totality of human emotions and beliefs, of
     which the emotions are mainly predetermined, while the beliefs are
     mainly post-determined. Men's desires are chiefly inherited; but
     their beliefs are chiefly acquired, and depend on surrounding
     conditions; and the most important surrounding conditions depend on
     the social state which the prevalent desires have produced. The
     social state at any time existing, is the resultant of all the
     ambitions, self-interests, fears, reverences, indignations,
     sympathies, &c., of ancestral citizens and existing citizens. The
     ideas current in this social state must, on the average, lie
     congruous with the feelings of citizens, and therefore, on the
     average, with the social state these feelings have produced. Ideas
     wholly foreign to this social state cannot be evolved, and if
     introduced from without, cannot get accepted--or, if accepted, die
     out when the temporary phase of feeling which caused their
     acceptance ends. Hence, though advanced ideas, when once
     established, act upon society and aid its further advance, yet the
     establishment of such ideas depends on the fitness of society for
     receiving them. Practically, the popular character and the social
     state determine what ideas shall be current; instead of the current
     ideas determining the social state and the character. The
     modification of men's moral natures, caused by the continuous
     discipline of social life, which adapts them more and more to
     social relations, is therefore the chief proximate cause of social
     progress."[17]
#/

A great part of these statements would have been acknowledged as true by
M. Comte, and belong as much to his theory as to Mr Spencer's. The
re-action of all other mental and social elements upon the intellectual
not only is fully recognized by him, but his philosophy of history makes
great use of it, pointing out that the principal intellectual changes
could not have taken place unless changes in other elements of society
had preceded; but also showing that these were themselves consequences
of prior intellectual changes. It will not be found, on a fair
examination of what M. Comte has written, that he has overlooked any of
the truth that there is in Mr Spencer's theory. He would not indeed have
said (what Mr Spencer apparently wishes us to say) that the effects
which can be historically traced, for example to religion, were not
produced by the belief in God, but by reverence and fear of him. He
would have said that the reverence and fear presuppose the belief: that
a God must be believed in before he can be feared or reverenced. The
whole influence of the belief in a God upon society and civilization,
depends on the powerful human sentiments which are ready to attach
themselves to the belief; and yet the sentiments are only a social force
at all, through the definite direction given to them by that or some
other intellectual conviction; nor did the sentiments spontaneously
throw up the belief in a God, since in themselves they were equally
capable of gathering round some other object. Though it is true that
men's passions and interests often dictate their opinions, or rather
decide their choice among the two or three forms of opinion, which the
existing condition of human intelligence renders possible, this
disturbing cause is confined to morals, politics, and religion; and it
is the intellectual movement in other regions than these, which is at
the root of all the great changes in human affairs. It was not human
emotions and passions which discovered the motion of the earth, or
detected the evidence of its antiquity; which exploded Scholasticism,
and inaugurated the exploration of nature; which invented printing,
paper, and the mariner's compass. Yet the Reformation, the English and
French revolutions, and still greater moral and social changes yet to
come, are direct consequences of these and similar discoveries. Even
alchemy and astrology were not believed because people thirsted for gold
and were anxious to pry into the future, for these desires are as strong
now as they were then: but because alchemy and astrology were
conceptions natural to a particular stage in the growth of human
knowledge, and consequently determined during that stage the particular
means whereby the passions which always exist, sought their
gratification. To say that men's intellectual beliefs do not determine
their conduct, is like saying that the ship is moved by the steam and
not by the steersman. The steam indeed is the motive power; the
steersman, left to himself, could not advance the vessel a single inch;
yet it is the steersman's will and the steersman's knowledge which
decide in what direction it shall move and whither it shall go.

Examining next what is the natural order of intellectual progress among
mankind, M. Comte observes, that as their general mode of conceiving the
universe must give its character to all their conceptions of detail, the
determining fact in their intellectual history must be the natural
succession of theories of the universe; which, it has been seen,
consists of three stages, the theological, the metaphysical, and the
positive. The passage of mankind through these stages, including the
successive modifications of the theological conception by the rising
influence of the other two, is, to M. Comte's mind, the most decisive
fact in the evolution of humanity. Simultaneously, however, there has
been going on throughout history a parallel movement in the purely
temporal department of things, consisting of the gradual decline of the
military mode of life (originally the chief occupation of all freemen)
and its replacement by the industrial. M. Comte maintains that there
is a necessary connexion and interdependence between this historical
sequence and the other: and he easily shows that the progress of
industry and that of positive science are correlative; man's power to
modify the facts of nature evidently depending on the knowledge he has
acquired of their laws. We do not think him equally successful in
showing a natural connexion between the theological mode of thought and
the military system of society: but since they both belong to the same
age of the world--since each is, in itself, natural and inevitable, and
they are together modified and together undermined by the same cause,
the progress of science and industry, M. Comte is justified in
considering them as linked together, and the movement by which mankind
emerge from them as a single evolution.

These propositions having been laid down as the first principles of
social dynamics, M. Comte proceeds to verify and apply them by a
connected view of universal history. This survey nearly fills two large
volumes, above a third of the work, in all of which there is scarcely a
sentence that does not add an idea. We regard it as by far his greatest
achievement, except his review of the sciences, and in some respects
more striking even than that. We wish it were practicable in the compass
of an essay like the present, to give even a faint conception of the
extraordinary merits of this historical analysis. It must be read to be
appreciated. Whoever disbelieves that the philosophy of history can be
made a science, should suspend his judgment until he has read these
volumes of M. Comte. We do not affirm that they would certainly change
his opinion; but we would strongly advise him to give them a chance.

We shall not attempt the vain task of abridgment, a few words are all we
can give to the subject. M. Comte confines himself to the main stream of
human progress, looking only at the races and nations that led the van,
and regarding as the successors of a people not their actual
descendants, but those who took up the thread of progress after them.
His object is to characterize truly, though generally, the successive
states of society through which the advanced guard of our species has
passed, and the filiation of these states on one another--how each grew
out of the preceding and was the parent of the following state. A more
detailed explanation, taking into account minute differences and more
special and local phaenomena, M. Comte does not aim at, though he does
not avoid it when it falls in his path. Here, as in all his other
speculations, we meet occasional misjudgments, and his historical
correctness in minor matters is now and then at fault; but we may well
wonder that it is not oftener so, considering the vastness of the field,
and a passage in one of his prefaces in which he says of himself that he
_rapidly_ amassed the materials for his great enterprise (vi. 34). This
expression in his mouth does not imply what it would in that of the
majority of men, regard being had to his rare capacity of prolonged and
concentrated mental labour: and it is wonderful that he so seldom gives
cause to wish that his collection of materials had been less "rapid."
But (as he himself remarks) in an inquiry of this sort the vulgarest
facts are the most important. A movement common to all mankind--to all
of them at least who do move--must depend on causes affecting them all;
and these, from the scale on which they operate, cannot require abstruse
research to bring them to light: they are not only seen, but best seen,
in the most obvious, most universal, and most undisputed phaenomena.
Accordingly M. Comte lays no claim to new views respecting the mere
facts of history; he takes them as he finds them, builds almost
exclusively on those concerning which there is no dispute, and only
tries what positive results can be obtained by combining them. Among
the vast mass of historical observations which he has grouped and
co-ordinated, if we have found any errors they are in things which do
not affect his main conclusions. The chain of causation by which he
connects the spiritual and temporal life of each era with one another
and with the entire series, will be found, we think, in all essentials,
irrefragable. When local or temporary disturbing causes have to be taken
into the account as modifying the general movement, criticism has more
to say. But this will only become important when the attempt is made to
write the history or delineate the character of some given society on M.
Comte's principles.

Such doubtful statements, or misappreciations of states of society, as
we have remarked, are confined to cases which stand more or less apart
from the principal line of development of the progressive societies. For
instance, he makes greatly too much of what, with many other Continental
thinkers, he calls the Theocratic state. He regards this as a natural,
and at one time almost an universal, stage of social progress, though
admitting that it either never existed or speedily ceased in the two
ancient nations to which mankind are chiefly indebted for being
permanently progressive. We hold it doubtful if there ever existed what
M. Comte means by a theocracy. There was indeed no lack of societies in
which, the civil and penal law being supposed to have been divinely
revealed, the priests were its authorized interpreters. But this is the
case even in Mussulman countries, the extreme opposite of theocracy. By
a theocracy we understand to be meant, and we understand M. Comte to
mean, a society founded on caste, and in which the speculative,
necessarily identical with the priestly caste, has the temporal
government in its hands or under its control. We believe that no such
state of things ever existed in the societies commonly cited as
theocratic. There is no reason to think that in any of them, the king,
or chief of the government, was ever, unless by occasional usurpation,
a member of the priestly caste.[18] It was not so in Israel, even in the
time of the Judges; Jephtha, for example, was a Gileadite, of the tribe
of Manasseh, and a military captain, as all governors in such an age and
country needed to be. Priestly rulers only present themselves in two
anomalous cases, of which next to nothing is known: the Mikados of Japan
and the Grand Lamas of Thibet: in neither of which instances was the
general constitution of society one of caste, and in the latter of them
the priestly sovereignty is as nominal as it has become in the former.
India is the typical specimen of the institution of caste--the only case
in which we are certain that it ever really existed, for its existence
anywhere else is a matter of more or less probable inference in the
remote past. But in India, where the importance of the sacerdotal order
was greater than in any other recorded state of society, the king not
only was not a priest, but, consistently with the religious law, could
not be one: he belonged to a different caste. The Brahmins were invested
with an exalted character of sanctity, and an enormous amount of civil
privileges; the king was enjoined to have a council of Brahmin advisers;
but practically he took their advice or disregarded it exactly as he
pleased. As is observed by the historian who first threw the light of
reason on Hindoo society,[19] the king, though in dignity, to judge by
the written code, he seemed vastly inferior to the Brahmins, had always
the full power of a despotic monarch: the reason being that he had the
command of the army, and the control of the public revenue. There is no
case known to authentic history in which either of these belonged to the
sacerdotal caste. Even in the cases most favourable to them, the
priesthood had no voice in temporal affairs, except the "consultative"
voice which M. Comte's theory allows to every spiritual power. His
collection of materials must have been unusually "rapid" in this
instance, for he regards almost all the societies of antiquity, except
the Greek and Roman, as theocratic, even Gaul under the Druids, and
Persia under Darius; admitting, however, that in these two countries,
when they emerge into the light of history, the theocracy had already
been much broken down by military usurpation. By what evidence he could
have proved that it ever existed, we confess ourselves unable to divine.

The only other imperfection worth noticing here, which we find in M.
Comte's view of history, is that he has a very insufficient
understanding of the peculiar phaenomena of English development; though
he recognizes, and on the whole correctly estimates, its exceptional
character in relation to the general European movement. His failure
consists chiefly in want of appreciation of Protestantism; which, like
almost all thinkers, even unbelievers, who have lived and thought
exclusively in a Catholic atmosphere, he sees and knows only on its
negative side, regarding the Reformation as a mere destructive movement,
stopped short in too early a stage. He does not seem to be aware that
Protestantism has any positive influences, other than the general ones
of Christianity; and misses one of the most important facts connected
with it, its remarkable efficacy, as contrasted with Catholicism, in
cultivating the intelligence and conscience of the individual believer.
Protestantism, when not merely professed but actually taken into the
mind, makes a demand on the intelligence; the mind is expected to be
active, not passive, in the reception of it. The feeling of a direct
responsibility of the individual immediately to God, is almost wholly
a creation of Protestantism. Even when Protestants were nearly as
persecuting as Catholics (quite as much so they never were); even when
they held as firmly as Catholics that salvation depended on having the
true belief, they still maintained that the belief was not to be
accepted from a priest, but to be sought and found by the believer, at
his eternal peril if he failed; and that no one could answer to God for
him, but that he had to answer for himself. The avoidance of fatal error
thus became in a great measure a question of culture; and there was the
strongest inducement to every believer, however humble, to seek culture
and to profit by it. In those Protestant countries, accordingly, whose
Churches were not, as the Church of England always was, principally
political institutions--in Scotland, for instance, and the New England
States--an amount of education was carried down to the poorest of the
people, of which there is no other example; every peasant expounded the
Bible to his family (many to their neighbours), and had a mind practised
in meditation and discussion on all the points of his religious creed.
The food may not have been the most nourishing, but we cannot be blind
to the sharpening and strengthening exercise which such great topics
gave to the understanding--the discipline in abstraction and reasoning
which such mental occupation brought down to the humblest layman, and
one of the consequences of which was the privilege long enjoyed by
Scotland of supplying the greater part of Europe with professors for its
universities, and educated and skilled workmen for its practical arts.

This, however, notwithstanding its importance, is, in a comprehensive
view of universal history, only a matter of detail. We find no
fundamental errors in M. Comte's general conception of history. He is
singularly exempt from most of the twists and exaggerations which we are
used to find in almost all thinkers who meddle with speculations of this
character. Scarcely any of them is so free (for example) from the
opposite errors of ascribing too much or too little influence to
accident, and to the qualities of individuals. The vulgar mistake of
supposing that the course of history has no tendencies of its own, and
that great events usually proceed from small causes, or that kings, or
conquerors, or the founders of philosophies and religions, can do with
society what they please, no one has more completely avoided or more
tellingly exposed. But he is equally free from the error of those who
ascribe all to general causes, and imagine that neither casual
circumstances, nor governments by their acts, nor individuals of genius
by their thoughts, materially accelerate or retard human progress. This
is the mistake which pervades the instructive writings of the thinker
who in England and in our own times bore the nearest, though a very
remote, resemblance to M. Comte--the lamented Mr Buckle; who, had he not
been unhappily cut off in an early stage of his labours, and before the
complete maturity of his powers, would probably have thrown off an
error, the more to be regretted as it gives a colour to the prejudice
which regards the doctrine of the invariability of natural laws as
identical with fatalism. Mr Buckle also fell into another mistake which
M. Comte avoided, that of regarding the intellectual as the only
progressive element in man, and the moral as too much the same at all
times to affect even the annual average of crime. M. Comte shows, on the
contrary, a most acute sense of the causes which elevate or lower the
general level of moral excellence; and deems intellectual progress in no
other way so beneficial as by creating a standard to guide the moral
sentiments of mankind, and a mode of bringing those sentiments
effectively to bear on conduct.

M. Comte is equally free from the error of considering any practical
rule or doctrine that can be laid down in politics as universal and
absolute. All political truth he deems strictly relative, implying as
its correlative a given state or situation of society. This conviction
is now common to him with all thinkers who are on a level with the age,
and comes so naturally to any intelligent reader of history, that the
only wonder is how men could have been prevented from reaching it
sooner. It marks one of the principal differences between the political
philosophy of the present time and that of the past; but M. Comte
adopted it when the opposite mode of thinking was still general, and
there are few thinkers to whom the principle owes more in the way of
comment and illustration.

Again, while he sets forth the historical succession of systems of
belief and forms of political society, and places in the strongest light
those imperfections in each which make it impossible that any of them
should be final, this does not make him for a moment unjust to the men
or the opinions of the past. He accords with generous recognition the
gratitude due to all who, with whatever imperfections of doctrine or
even of conduct, contributed materially to the work of human
improvement. In all past modes of thought and forms of society he
acknowledged a useful, in many a necessary, office, in carrying mankind
through one stage of improvement into a higher. The theological spirit
in its successive forms, the metaphysical in its principal varieties,
are honoured by him for the services they rendered in bringing mankind
out of pristine savagery into a state in which more advanced modes of
belief became possible. His list of heroes and benefactors of mankind
includes, not only every important name in the scientific movement, from
Thales of Miletus to Fourier the mathematician and Blainville the
biologist, and in the aesthetic from Homer to Manzoni, but the most
illustrious names in the annals of the various religions and
philosophies, and the really great politicians in all states of
society.[20] Above all, he has the most profound admiration for the
services rendered by Christianity, and by the Church of the middle ages.
His estimate of the Catholic period is such as the majority of
Englishmen (from whom we take the liberty to differ) would deem
exaggerated, if not absurd. The great men of Christianity, from St Paul
to St Francis of Assisi, receive his warmest homage: nor does he forget
the greatness even of those who lived and thought in the centuries in
which the Catholic Church, having stopt short while the world had gone
on, had become a hindrance to progress instead of a promoter of it; such
men as Fénélon and St Vincent de Paul, Bossuet and Joseph de Maistre.
A more comprehensive, and, in the primitive sense of the term, more
catholic, sympathy and reverence towards real worth, and every kind of
service to humanity, we have not met with in any thinker. Men who would
have torn each other in pieces, who even tried to do so, if each
usefully served in his own way the interests of mankind, are all
hallowed to him.

Neither is his a cramped and contracted notion of human excellence,
which cares only for certain forms of development. He not only
personally appreciates, but rates high in moral value, the creations of
poets and artists in all departments, deeming them, by their mixed
appeal to the sentiments and the understanding, admirably fitted to
educate the feelings of abstract thinkers, and enlarge the intellectual
horizon of people of the world.[21] He regards the law of progress as
applicable, in spite of appearances, to poetry and art as much as to
science and politics. The common impression to the contrary he ascribes
solely to the fact, that the perfection of aesthetic creation requires
as its condition a consentaneousness in the feelings of mankind, which
depends for its existence on a fixed and settled state of opinions:
while the last five centuries have been a period not of settling, but of
unsettling and decomposing, the most general beliefs and sentiments of
mankind. The numerous monuments of poetic and artistic genius which the
modern mind has produced even under this great disadvantage, are (he
maintains) sufficient proof what great productions it will be capable
of, when one harmonious vein of sentiment shall once more thrill through
the whole of society, as in the days of Homer, of Aeschylus, of Phidias,
and even of Dante.

After so profound and comprehensive a view of the progress of human
society in the past, of which the future can only be a prolongation, it
is natural to ask, to what use does he put this survey as a basis of
practical recommendations? Such recommendations he certainly makes,
though, in the present Treatise, they are of a much less definite
character than in his later writings. But we miss a necessary link;
there is a break in the otherwise close concatenation of his
speculations. We fail to see any scientific connexion between his
theoretical explanation of the past progress of society, and his
proposals for future improvement. The proposals are not, as we might
expect, recommended as that towards which human society has been tending
and working through the whole of history. It is thus that thinkers have
usually proceeded, who formed theories for the future, grounded on
historical analysis of the past. Tocqueville, for example, and others,
finding, as they thought, through all history, a steady progress in the
direction of social and political equality, argued that to smooth this
transition, and make the best of what is certainly coming, is the proper
employment of political foresight. We do not find M. Comte supporting
his recommendations by a similar line of argument. They rest as
completely, each on its separate reasons of supposed utility, as with
philosophers who, like Bentham, theorize on politics without any
historical basis at all. The only bridge of connexion which leads from
his historical speculations to his practical conclusions, is the
inference, that since the old powers of society, both in the region of
thought and of action, are declining and destined to disappear, leaving
only the two rising powers, positive thinkers on the one hand, leaders
of industry on the other, the future necessarily belongs to these:
spiritual power to the former, temporal to the latter. As a specimen of
historical forecast this is very deficient; for are there not the masses
as well as the leaders of industry? and is not theirs also a growing
power? Be this as it may, M. Comte's conceptions of the mode in which
these growing powers should be organized and used, are grounded on
anything rather than on history. And we cannot but remark a singular
anomaly in a thinker of M. Comte's calibre. After the ample evidence he
has brought forward of the slow growth of the sciences, all of which
except the mathematico-astronomical couple are still, as he justly
thinks, in a very early stage, it yet appears as if, to his mind, the
mere institution of a positive science of sociology were tantamount to
its completion; as if all the diversities of opinion on the subject,
which set mankind at variance, were solely owing to its having been
studied in the theological or the metaphysical manner, and as if when
the positive method which has raised up real sciences on other subjects
of knowledge, is similarly employed on this, divergence would at once
cease, and the entire body of positive social inquirers would exhibit
as much agreement in their doctrines as those who cultivate any of the
sciences of inorganic life. Happy would be the prospects of mankind if
this were so. A time such as M. Comte reckoned upon may come; unless
something stops the progress of human improvement, it is sure to come:
but after an unknown duration of hard thought and violent controversy.
The period of decomposition, which has lasted, on his own computation,
from the beginning of the fourteenth century to the present, is not yet
terminated: the shell of the old edifice will remain standing until
there is another ready to replace it; and the new synthesis is barely
begun, nor is even the preparatory analysis completely finished. On
other occasions M. Comte is very well aware that the Method of a science
is not the science itself, and that when the difficulty of discovering
the right processes has been overcome, there remains a still greater
difficulty, that of applying them. This, which is true of all sciences,
is truest of all in Sociology. The facts being more complicated, and
depending on a greater concurrence of forces, than in any other science,
the difficulty of treating them deductively is proportionally increased,
while the wide difference between any one case and every other in some
of the circumstances which affect the result, makes the pretence of
direct induction usually no better than empiricism. It is therefore, out
of all proportion, more uncertain than in any other science, whether two
inquirers equally competent and equally disinterested will take the same
view of the evidence, or arrive at the same conclusion. When to this
intrinsic difficulty is added the infinitely greater extent to which
personal or class interests and predilections interfere with impartial
judgment, the hope of such accordance of opinion among sociological
inquirers as would obtain, in mere deference to their authority, the
universal assent which M. Comte's scheme of society requires, must be
adjourned to an indefinite distance.

M. Comte's own theory is an apt illustration of these difficulties,
since, though prepared for these speculations as no one had ever been
prepared before, his views of social regeneration even in the
rudimentary form in which they appear above-ground in this treatise (not
to speak of the singular system into which he afterwards enlarged them)
are such as perhaps no other person of equal knowledge and capacity
would agree in. Were those views as true as they are questionable, they
could not take effect until the unanimity among positive thinkers, to
which he looked forward, shall have been attained; since the mainspring
of his system is a Spiritual Power composed of positive philosophers,
which only the previous attainment of the unanimity in question could
call into existence. A few words will sufficiently express the outline
of his scheme. A corporation of philosophers, receiving a modest support
from the state, surrounded by reverence, but peremptorily excluded not
only from all political power or employment, but from all riches, and
all occupations except their own, are to have the entire direction of
education: together with, not only the right and duty of advising and
reproving all persons respecting both their public and their private
life, but also a control (whether authoritative or only moral is not
defined) over the speculative class itself, to prevent them from wasting
time and ingenuity on inquiries and speculations of no value to mankind
(among which he includes many now in high estimation), and compel them
to employ all their powers on the investigations which may be judged, at
the time, to be the most urgently important to the general welfare. The
temporal government which is to coexist with this spiritual authority,
consists of an aristocracy of capitalists, whose dignity and authority
are to be in the ratio of the degree of generality of their conceptions
and operations--bankers at the summit, merchants next, then
manufacturers, and agriculturists at the bottom of the scale. No
representative system, or other popular organization, by way of
counterpoise to this governing power, is ever contemplated. The checks
relied upon for preventing its abuse, are the counsels and remonstrances
of the Spiritual Power, and unlimited liberty of discussion and comment
by all classes of inferiors. Of the mode in which either set of
authorities should fulfil the office assigned to it, little is said in
this treatise: but the general idea is, while regulating as little as
possible by law, to make the pressure of opinion, directed by the
Spiritual Power, so heavy on every individual, from the humblest to the
most powerful, as to render legal obligation, in as many cases as
possible, needless. Liberty and spontaneity on the part of individuals
form no part of the scheme. M. Comte looks on them with as great
jealousy as any scholastic pedagogue, or ecclesiastical director of
consciences. Every particular of conduct, public or private, is to be
open to the public eye, and to be kept, by the power of opinion, in the
course which the Spiritual corporation shall judge to be the most right.

This is not a sufficiently tempting picture to have much chance of
making converts rapidly, and the objections to the scheme are too
obvious to need stating. Indeed, it is only thoughtful persons to whom
it will be credible, that speculations leading to this result can
deserve the attention necessary for understanding them. We propose in
the next Essay to examine them as part of the elaborate and coherent
system of doctrine, which M. Comte afterwards put together for the
reconstruction of society. Meanwhile the reader will gather, from what
has been said, that M. Comte has not, in our opinion, created Sociology.
Except his analysis of history, to which there is much to be added, but
which we do not think likely to be ever, in its general features,
superseded, he has done nothing in Sociology which does not require to
be done over again, and better. Nevertheless, he has greatly advanced
the study. Besides the great stores of thought, of various and often of
eminent merit, with which he has enriched the subject, his conception of
its method is so much truer and more profound than that of any one who
preceded him, as to constitute an era in its cultivation. If it cannot
be said of him that he has created a science, it may be said truly that
he has, for the first time, made the creation possible. This is a great
achievement, and, with the extraordinary merit of his historical
analysis, and of his philosophy of the physical sciences, is enough to
immortalize his name. But his renown with posterity would probably have
been greater than it is now likely to be, if after showing the way in
which the social science should be formed, he had not flattered himself
that he had formed it, and that it was already sufficiently solid for
attempting to build upon its foundation the entire fabric of the
Political Art.



       *       *       *       *       *



PART II.

THE LATER SPECULATIONS OF M. COMTE.[22]


The appended list of publications contain the materials for knowing and
estimating what M. Comte termed his second career, in which the
_savant_, historian, and philosopher of his fundamental treatise, came
forth transfigured as the High Priest of the Religion of Humanity. They
include all his writings except the Cours de Philosophic Positive: for
his early productions, and the occasional publications of his later life,
are reprinted as Preludes or Appendices to the treatises here enumerated,
or in Dr Robinet's volume, which, as well as that of M. Littré, also
contains copious extracts from his correspondence.

In the concluding pages of his great systematic work, M. Comte had
announced four other treatises as in contemplation: on Politics; on the
Philosophy of Mathematics; on Education, a project subsequently enlarged
to include the systematization of Morals; and on Industry, or the action
of man upon external nature. Our list comprises the only two of these
which he lived to execute. It further contains a brief exposition of his
final doctrines, in the form of a Dialogue, or, as he terms it, a
Catechism, of which a translation has been published by his principal
English adherent, Mr Congreve. There has also appeared very recently,
under the title of "A General View of Positivism," a translation by Dr
Bridges, of the Preliminary Discourse in six chapters, prefixed to the
Système de Politique Positive. The remaining three books on our list are
the productions of disciples in different degrees. M. Littré, the only
thinker of established reputation who accepts that character, is a
disciple only of the Cours de Philosophie Positive, and can see the weak
points even in that. Some of them he has discriminated and discussed
with great judgment: and the merits of his volume, both as a sketch of
M. Comte's life and an appreciation of his doctrines, would well deserve
a fuller notice than we are able to give it here. M. de Blignières is
a far more thorough adherent; so much so, that the reader of his
singularly well and attractively written condensation and popularization
of his master's doctrines, does not easily discover in what it falls
short of that unqualified acceptance which alone, it would seem, could
find favour with M. Comte. For he ended by casting off M. de Blignières,
as he had previously cast off M. Littré, and every other person who,
having gone with him a certain length, refused to follow him to the end.
The author of the last work in our enumeration, Dr Robinet, is a
disciple after M. Comte's own heart; one whom no difficulty stops, and
no absurdity startles. But it is far from our disposition to speak
otherwise than respectfully of Dr Robinet and the other earnest men, who
maintain round the tomb of their master an organized co-operation for
the diffusion of doctrines which they believe destined to regenerate the
human race. Their enthusiastic veneration for him, and devotion to the
ends he pursued, do honour alike to them and to their teacher, and are
an evidence of the personal ascendancy he exercised over those who
approached him; an ascendancy which for a time carried away even M.
Littré, as he confesses, to a length which his calmer judgment does not
now approve.

These various writings raise many points of interest regarding M.
Comte's personal history, and some, not without philosophic bearings,
respecting his mental habits: from all which matters we shall abstain,
with the exception of two, which he himself proclaimed with great
emphasis, and a knowledge of which is almost indispensable to an
apprehension of the characteristic difference between his second career
and his first. It should be known that during his later life, and even
before completing his first great treatise, M. Comte adopted a rule, to
which he very rarely made any exception: to abstain systematically, not
only from newspapers or periodical publications, even scientific, but
from all reading whatever, except a few favourite poets in the ancient
and modern European languages. This abstinence he practised for the sake
of mental health; by way, as he said, of "_hygiène cérébrale_." We are
far from thinking that the practice has nothing whatever to recommend
it. For most thinkers, doubtless, it would be a very unwise one; but we
will not affirm that it may not sometimes be advantageous to a mind of
the peculiar quality of M. Comte's--one that can usefully devote itself
to following out to the remotest developments a particular line of
meditations, of so arduous a kind that the complete concentration of the
intellect upon its own thoughts is almost a necessary condition of
success. When a mind of this character has laboriously and
conscientiously laid in beforehand, as M. Comte had done, an ample stock
of materials, he may be justified in thinking that he will contribute
most to the mental wealth of mankind by occupying himself solely in
working upon these, without distracting his attention by continually
taking in more matter, or keeping a communication open with other
independent intellects. The practice, therefore, may be legitimate; but
no one should adopt it without being aware of what he loses by it. He
must resign the pretension of arriving at the whole truth on the
subject, whatever it be, of his meditations. That he should effect this,
even on a narrow subject, by the mere force of his own mind, building on
the foundations of his predecessors, without aid or correction from his
contemporaries, is simply impossible. He may do eminent service by
elaborating certain sides of the truth, but he must expect to find that
there are other sides which have wholly escaped his attention. However
great his powers, everything that he can do without the aid of incessant
remindings from other thinkers, is merely provisional, and will require
a thorough revision. He ought to be aware of this, and accept it with
his eyes open, regarding himself as a pioneer, not a constructor. If he
thinks that he can contribute most towards the elements of the final
synthesis by following out his own original thoughts as far as they will
go, leaving to other thinkers, or to himself at a subsequent time, the
business of adjusting them to the thoughts by which they ought to be
accompanied, he is right in doing so. But he deludes himself if he
imagines that any conclusions he can arrive at, while he practises M.
Comte's rule of _hygiène cérébrale_, can possibly be definitive.

Neither is such a practice, in a hygienic point of view, free from the
gravest dangers to the philosopher's own mind. When once he has
persuaded himself that he can work out the final truth on any subject,
exclusively from his own sources, he is apt to lose all measure or
standard by which to be apprized when he is departing from common sense.
Living only with his own thoughts, he gradually forgets the aspect they
present to minds of a different mould from his own; he looks at his
conclusions only from the point of view which suggested them, and from
which they naturally appear perfect; and every consideration which from
other points of view might present itself, either as an objection or as
a necessary modification, is to him as if it did not exist. When his
merits come to be recognised and appreciated, and especially if he
obtains disciples, the intellectual infirmity soon becomes complicated
with a moral one. The natural result of the position is a gigantic
self-confidence, not to say self-conceit. That of M. Comte is colossal.
Except here and there in an entirely self-taught thinker, who has no
high standard with which to compare himself, we have met with nothing
approaching to it. As his thoughts grew more extravagant, his
self-confidence grew more outrageous. The height it ultimately attained
must be seen, in his writings, to be believed.

The other circumstance of a personal nature which it is impossible not
to notice, because M. Comte is perpetually referring to it as the origin
of the great superiority which he ascribes to his later as compared with
his earlier speculations, is the "moral regeneration" which he underwent
from "une angélique influence" and "une incomparable passion privée." He
formed a passionate attachment to a lady whom he describes as uniting
everything which is morally with much that is intellectually admirable,
and his relation to whom, besides the direct influence of her character
upon his own, gave him an insight into the true sources of human
happiness, which changed his whole conception of life. This attachment,
which always remained pure, gave him but one year of passionate
enjoyment, the lady having been cut off by death at the end of that
short period; but the adoration of her memory survived, and became, as
we shall see, the type of his conception of the sympathetic culture
proper for all human beings. The change thus effected in his personal
character and sentiments, manifested itself at once in his speculations;
which, from having been only a philosophy, now aspired to become a
religion; and from having been as purely, and almost rudely, scientific
and intellectual, as was compatible with a character always enthusiastic
in its admirations and in its ardour for improvement, became from this
time what, for want of a better name, may be called sentimental; but
sentimental in a way of its own, very curious to contemplate. In
considering the system of religion, politics, and morals, which in his
later writings M. Comte constructed, it is not unimportant to bear in
mind the nature of the personal experience and inspiration to which he
himself constantly attributed this phasis of his philosophy. But as we
shall have much more to say against, than in favour of, the conclusions
to which he was in this manner conducted, it is right to declare that,
from the evidence of his writings, we really believe the moral influence
of Madame Clotilde de Vaux upon his character to have been of the
ennobling as well as softening character which he ascribes to it. Making
allowance for the effects of his exuberant growth in self-conceit, we
perceive almost as much improvement in his feelings, as deterioration in
his speculations, compared with those of the Philosophie Positive. Even
the speculations are, in some secondary aspects, improved through the
beneficial effect of the improved feelings; and might have been more so,
if, by a rare good fortune, the object of his attachment had been
qualified to exercise as improving an influence over him intellectually
as morally, and if he could have been contented with something less
ambitious than being the supreme moral legislator and religious pontiff
of the human race.

When we say that M. Comte has erected his philosophy into a religion,
the word religion must not be understood in its ordinary sense. He made
no change in the purely negative attitude which he maintained towards
theology: his religion is without a God. In saying this, we have done
enough to induce nine-tenths of all readers, at least in our own
country, to avert their faces and close their ears. To have no religion,
though scandalous enough, is an idea they are partly used to: but to
have no God, and to talk of religion, is to their feelings at once an
absurdity and an impiety. Of the remaining tenth, a great proportion,
perhaps, will turn away from anything which calls itself by the name of
religion at all. Between the two, it is difficult to find an audience
who can be induced to listen to M. Comte without an insurmountable
prejudice. But, to be just to any opinion, it ought to be considered,
not exclusively from an opponent's point of view, but from that of the
mind which propounds it. Though conscious of being in an extremely small
minority, we venture to think that a religion may exist without belief
in a God, and that a religion without a God may be, even to Christians,
an instructive and profitable object of contemplation.

What, in truth, are the conditions necessary to constitute a religion?
There must be a creed, or conviction, claiming authority over the whole
of human life; a belief, or set of beliefs, deliberately adopted,
respecting human destiny and duty, to which the believer inwardly
acknowledges that all his actions ought to be subordinate. Moreover,
there must be a sentiment connected with this creed, or capable of being
invoked by it, sufficiently powerful to give it in fact, the authority
over human conduct to which it lays claim in theory. It is a great
advantage (though not absolutely indispensable) that this sentiment
should crystallize, as it were, round a concrete object; if possible a
really existing one, though, in all the more important cases, only
ideally present. Such an object Theism and Christianity offer to the
believer: but the condition may be fulfilled, if not in a manner
strictly equivalent, by another object. It has been said that whoever
believes in "the Infinite nature of Duty," even if he believe in nothing
else, is religious. M. Comte believes in what is meant by the infinite
nature of duty, but ho refers the obligations of duty, as well as all
sentiments of devotion, to a concrete object, at once ideal and real;
the Human Race, conceived as a continuous whole, including the past, the
present, and the future. This great collective existence, this "Grand
Etre," as he terms it, though the feelings it can excite are necessarily
very different from those which direct themselves towards an ideally
perfect Being, has, as he forcibly urges, this advantage in respect to
us, that it really needs our services, which Omnipotence cannot, in any
genuine sense of the term, be supposed to do: and M. Comte says, that
assuming the existence of a Supreme Providence (which he is as far from
denying as from affirming), the best, and even the only, way in which we
can rightly worship or serve Him, is by doing our utmost to love and
serve that other Great Being, whose inferior Providence has bestowed on
us all the benefits that we owe to the labours and virtues of former
generations. It may not be consonant to usage to call this a religion;
but the term so applied has a meaning, and one which is not adequately
expressed by any other word. Candid persons of all creeds may be willing
to admit, that if a person has an ideal object, his attachment and sense
of duty towards which are able to control and discipline all his other
sentiments and propensities, and prescribe to him a rule of life, that
person has a religion: and though everyone naturally prefers his own
religion to any other, all must admit that if the object of this
attachment, and of this feeling of duty, is the aggregate of our
fellow-creatures, this Religion of the Infidel cannot, in honesty and
conscience, be called an intrinsically bad one. Many, indeed, may be
unable to believe that this object is capable of gathering round it
feelings sufficiently strong: but this is exactly the point on which a
doubt can hardly remain in an intelligent reader of M. Comte: and we
join with him in contemning, as equally irrational and mean, the
conception of human nature as incapable of giving its love and devoting
its existence to any object which cannot afford in exchange an eternity
of personal enjoyment.

The power which may be acquired over the mind by the idea of the general
interest of the human race, both as a source of emotion and as a motive
to conduct, many have perceived; but we know not if any one, before M.
Comte, realized so fully as he has done, all the majesty of which that
idea is susceptible. It ascends into the unknown recesses of the past,
embraces the manifold present, and descends into the indefinite and
unforeseeable future, forming a collective Existence without assignable
beginning or end, it appeals to that feeling of the Infinite, which is
deeply rooted in human nature, and which seems necessary to the
imposingness of all our highest conceptions. Of the vast unrolling web
of human life, the part best known to us is irrevocably past; this we
can no longer serve, but can still love: it comprises for most of us the
far greater number of those who have loved us, or from whom we have
received benefits, as well as the long series of those who, by their
labours and sacrifices for mankind, have deserved to be held in
everlasting and grateful remembrance. As M. Comte truly says, the
highest minds, even now, live in thought with the great dead, far more
than with the living; and, next to the dead, with those ideal human
beings yet to come, whom they are never destined to see. If we honour as
we ought those who have served mankind in the past, we shall feel that
we are also working for those benefactors by serving that to which their
lives were devoted. And when reflection, guided by history, has taught
us the intimacy of the connexion of every age of humanity with every
other, making us see in the earthly destiny of mankind the playing out
of a great drama, or the action of a prolonged epic, all the generations
of mankind become indissolubly united into a single image, combining all
the power over the mind of the idea of Posterity, with our best feelings
towards the living world which surrounds us, and towards the
predecessors who have made us what we are. That the ennobling power of
this grand conception may have its full efficacy, we should, with M.
Comte, regard the Grand Etre, Humanity, or Mankind, as composed, in the
past, solely of those who, in every age and variety of position, have
played their part worthily in life. It is only as thus restricted that
the aggregate of our species becomes an object deserving our veneration.
The unworthy members of it are best dismissed from our habitual
thoughts; and the imperfections which adhered through life, even to
those of the dead who deserve honourable remembrance, should be no
further borne in mind than is necessary not to falsify our conception of
facts. On the other hand, the Grand Etre in its completeness ought to
include not only all whom we venerate, but all sentient beings to which
we owe duties, and which have a claim on our attachment. M. Comte,
therefore, incorporates into the ideal object whose service is to be the
law of our life, not our own species exclusively, but, in a subordinate
degree, our humble auxiliaries, those animal races which enter into real
society with man, which attach themselves to him, and voluntarily
co-operate with him, like the noble dog who gives his life for his human
friend and benefactor. For this M. Comte has been subjected to unworthy
ridicule, but there is nothing truer or more honourable to him in the
whole body of his doctrines. The strong sense he always shows of the
worth of the inferior animals, and of the duties of mankind towards
them, is one of the very finest traits of his character.

We, therefore, not only hold that M. Comte was justified in the attempt
to develope his philosophy into a religion, and had realized the
essential conditions of one, but that all other religions are made
better in proportion as, in their practical result, they are brought to
coincide with that which he aimed at constructing. But, unhappily, the
next thing we are obliged to do, is to charge him with making a complete
mistake at the very outset of his operations--with fundamentally
misconceiving the proper office of a rule of life. He committed the
error which is often, but falsely, charged against the whole class of
utilitarian moralists; he required that the test of conduct should also
be the exclusive motive to it. Because the good of the human race is the
ultimate standard of right and wrong, and because moral discipline
consists in cultivating the utmost possible repugnance to all conduct
injurious to the general good, M. Comte infers that the good of others
is the only inducement on which we should allow ourselves to act; and
that we should endeavour to starve the whole of the desires which point
to our personal satisfaction, by denying them all gratification not
strictly required by physical necessities. The golden rule of morality,
in M. Comte's religion, is to live for others, "vivre pour autrui." To
do as we would be done by, and to love our neighbour as ourself, are not
sufficient for him: they partake, he thinks, of the nature of personal
calculations. We should endeavour not to love ourselves at all. We shall
not succeed in it, but we should make the nearest approach to it
possible. Nothing less will satisfy him, as towards humanity, than the
sentiment which one of his favourite writers, Thomas à Kempis, addresses
to God: Amem te plus quam me, nec me nisi propter te. All education and
all moral discipline should have but one object, to make altruism (a
word of his own coming) predominate over egoism. If by this were only
meant that egoism is bound, and should be taught, always to give way to
the well-understood interests of enlarged altruism, no one who
acknowledges any morality at all would object to the proposition.
But M. Comte, taking his stand on the biological fact that organs are
strengthened by exercise and atrophied by disuse, and firmly convinced
that each of our elementary inclinations has its distinct cerebral
organ, thinks it the grand duty of life not only to strengthen the
social affections by constant habit and by referring all our actions to
them, but, as far as possible, to deaden the personal passions and
propensities by desuetude. Even the exercise of the intellect is
required to obey as an authoritative rule the dominion of the social
feelings over the intelligence (du coeur sur l'esprit). The physical and
other personal instincts are to be mortified far beyond the demands of
bodily health, which indeed the morality of the future is not to insist
much upon, for fear of encouraging "les calculs personnels." M. Comte
condemns only such austerities as, by diminishing the vigour of the
constitution, make us less capable of being useful to others. Any
indulgence, even in food, not necessary to health and strength, he
condemns as immoral. All gratifications except those of the affections,
are to be tolerated only as "inevitable infirmities." Novalis said of
Spinoza that he was a God-intoxicated man: M. Comte is a
morality-intoxicated man. Every question with him is one of morality,
and no motive but that of morality is permitted.

The explanation of this we find in an original mental twist, very common
in French thinkers, and by which M. Comte was distinguished beyond them
all. He could not dispense with what he called "unity." It was for the
sake of Unity that a religion was, in his eyes, desirable. Not in the
mere sense of Unanimity, but in a far wider one. A religion must be
something by which to "systematize" human life. His definition of it, in
the "Catéchisme," is "the state of complete unity which distinguishes
our existence, at once personal and social, when all its parts, both
moral and physical, converge habitually to a common destination....
Such a harmony, individual and collective, being incapable of complete
realization in an existence so complicated as ours, this definition of
religion characterizes the immovable type towards which tends more and
more the aggregate of human efforts. Our happiness and our merit consist
especially in approaching as near as possible to this unity, of which
the gradual increase constitutes the best measure of real improvement,
personal or social." To this theme he continually returns, and argues
that this unity or harmony among all the elements of our life is not
consistent with the predominance of the personal propensities, since
these drag us in different directions; it can only result from the
subordination of them all to the social icelings, which may be made to
act in a uniform direction by a common system of convictions, and which
differ from the personal inclinations in this, that we all naturally
encourage them in one another, while, on the contrary, social life is a
perpetual restraint upon the selfish propensities.

The _fons errorum_ in M. Comte's later speculations is this inordinate
demand for "unity" and "systematization." This is the reason why it does
not suffice to him that all should be ready, in case of need, to
postpone their personal interests and inclinations to the requirements
of the general good: he demands that each should regard as vicious any
care at all for his personal interests, except as a means to the good of
others--should be ashamed of it, should strive to cure himself of it,
because his existence is not "systematized," is not in "complete unity,"
as long as he cares for more than one thing. The strangest part of the
matter is, that this doctrine seems to M. Comte to be axiomatic. That
all perfection consists in unity, he apparently considers to be a maxim
which no sane man thinks of questioning. It never seems to enter into
his conceptions that any one could object _ab initio_, and ask, why this
universal systematizing, systematizing, systematizing? Why is it
necessary that all human life should point but to one object, and be
cultivated into a system of means to a single end? May it not be the
fact that mankind, who after all are made up of single human beings,
obtain a greater sum of happiness when each pursues his own, under the
rules and conditions required by the good of the rest, than when each
makes the good of the rest his only subject, and allows himself no
personal pleasures not indispensable to the preservation of his
faculties? The regimen of a blockaded town should be cheerfully
submitted to when high purposes require it, but is it the ideal
perfection of human existence? M. Comte sees none of these difficulties.
The only true happiness, he affirms, is in the exercise of the
affections. He had found it so for a whole year, which was enough to
enable him to get to the bottom of the question, and to judge whether he
could do without everything else. Of course the supposition was not to
be heard of that any other person could require, or be the better for,
what M. Comte did not value. "Unity" and "systematization" absolutely
demanded that all other people should model themselves after M. Comte.
It would never do to suppose that there could be more than one road to
human happiness, or more than one ingredient in it.

The most prejudiced must admit that this religion without theology is
not chargeable with relaxation of moral restraints. On the contrary, it
prodigiously exaggerates them. It makes the same ethical mistake as the
theory of Calvinism, that every act in life should be done for the glory
of God, and that whatever is not a duty is a sin. It does not perceive
that between the region of duty and that of sin there is an intermediate
space, the region of positive worthiness. It is not good that persons
should be bound, by other people's opinion, to do everything that they
would deserve praise for doing. There is a standard of altruism to which
all should be required to come up, and a degree beyond it which is not
obligatory, but meritorious. It is incumbent on every one to restrain
the pursuit of his personal objects within the limits consistent with
the essential interests of others. What those limits are, it is the
province of ethical science to determine; and to keep all individuals
and aggregations of individuals within them, is the proper office of
punishment and of moral blame. If in addition to fulfilling this
obligation, persons make the good of others a direct object of
disinterested exertions, postponing or sacrificing to it even innocent
personal indulgences, they deserve gratitude and honour, and are fit
objects of moral praise. So long as they are in no way compelled to this
conduct by any external pressure, there cannot be too much of it; but a
necessary condition is its spontaneity; since the notion of a happiness
for all, procured by the self-sacrifice of each, if the abnegation is
really felt to be a sacrifice, is a contradiction. Such spontaneity by
no means excludes sympathetic encouragement; but the encouragement
should take the form of making self-devotion pleasant, not that of
making everything else painful. The object should be to stimulate
services to humanity by their natural rewards; not to render the pursuit
of our own good in any other manner impossible, by visiting it with the
reproaches of other and of our own conscience. The proper office of
those sanctions is to enforce upon every one, the conduct necessary to
give all other persons their fair chance: conduct which chiefly consists
in not doing them harm, and not impeding them in anything which without
harming others does good to themselves. To this must of course be added,
that when we either expressly or tacitly undertake to do more, we are
bound to keep our promise. And inasmuch as every one, who avails himself
of the advantages of society, leads others to expect from him all such
positive good offices and disinterested services as the moral
improvement attained by mankind has rendered customary, he deserves
moral blame if, without just cause, he disappoints that expectation.
Through this principle the domain of moral duty is always widening.
When what once was uncommon virtue becomes common virtue, it comes to be
numbered among obligations, while a degree exceeding what has grown
common, remains simply meritorious.

M. Comte is accustomed to draw most of his ideas of moral cultivation
from the discipline of the Catholic Church. Had he followed that
guidance in the present case, he would have been less wide of the mark.
For the distinction which we have drawn was fully recognized by the
sagacious and far-sighted men who created the Catholic ethics. It is
even one of the stock reproaches against Catholicism, that it has two
standards of morality, and does not make obligatory on all Christians
the highest rule of Christian perfection. It has one standard which,
faithfully acted up to, suffices for salvation, another and a higher
which when realized constitutes a saint. M. Comte, perhaps
unconsciously, for there is nothing that he would have been more
unlikely to do if he had been aware of it, has taken a leaf out of the
book of the despised Protestantism. Like the extreme Calvinists, he
requires that all believers shall be saints, and damns then (after his
own fashion) if they are not.

Our conception of human life is different. We do not conceive life to be
so rich in enjoyments, that it can afford to forego the cultivation of
all those which address themselves to what M. Comte terms the egoistic
propensities. On the contrary, we believe that a sufficient
gratification of these, short of excess, but up to the measure which
renders the enjoyment greatest, is almost always favourable to the
benevolent affections. The moralization of the personal enjoyments we
deem to consist, not in reducing them to the smallest possible amount,
but in cultivating the habitual wish to share them with others, and with
all others, and scorning to desire anything for oneself which is
incapable of being so shared. There is only one passion or inclination
which is permanently incompatible with this condition--the love of
domination, or superiority, for its own sake; which implies, and is
grounded on, the equivalent depression of other people. As a rule of
conduct, to be enforced by moral sanctions, we think no more should be
attempted than to prevent people from doing harm to others, or omitting
to do such good as they have undertaken. Demanding no more than this,
society, in any tolerable circumstances, obtains much more; for the
natural activity of human nature, shut out from all noxious directions,
will expand itself in useful ones. This is our conception of the moral
rule prescribed by the religion of Humanity. But above this standard
there is an unlimited range of moral worth, up to the most exalted
heroism, which should be fostered by every positive encouragement,
though not converted into an obligation. It is as much a part of our
scheme as of M. Comte's, that the direct cultivation of altruism, and
the subordination of egoism to it, far beyond the point of absolute
moral duty, should be one of the chief aims of education, both
individual and collective. We even recognize the value, for this end, of
ascetic discipline, in the original Greek sense of the word. We think
with Dr Johnson, that he who has never denied himself anything which is
not wrong, cannot be fully trusted for denying himself everything which
is so. We do not doubt that children and young persons will one day be
again systematically disciplined in self-mortification; that they will
be taught, as in antiquity, to control their appetites, to brave
dangers, and submit voluntarily to pain, as simple exercises in
education. Something has been lost as well as gained by no longer giving
to every citizen the training necessary for a soldier. Nor can any pains
taken be too great, to form the habit, and develop the desire, of being
useful to others and to the world, by the practice, independently of
reward and of every personal consideration, of positive virtue beyond
the bounds of prescribed duty. No efforts should be spared to associate
the pupil's self-respect, and his desire of the respect of others, with
service rendered to Humanity; when possible, collectively, but at all
events, what is always possible, in the persons of its individual
members. There are many remarks and precepts in M. Comte's volumes,
which, as no less pertinent to our conception of morality than to his,
we fully accept. For example; without admitting that to make "calculs
personnels" is contrary to morality, we agree with him in the opinion,
that the principal hygienic precepts should be inculcated, not solely or
principally as maxims of prudence, but as a matter of duty to others,
since by squandering our health we disable ourselves from rendering to
our fellow-creatures the services to which they are entitled. As M.
Comte truly says, the prudential motive is by no means fully sufficient
for the purpose, even physicians often disregarding their own precepts.
The personal penalties of neglect of health are commonly distant, as
well as more or less uncertain, and require the additional and more
immediate sanction of moral responsibility. M. Comte, therefore, in this
instance, is, we conceive, right in principle; though we have not the
smallest doubt that he would have gone into extreme exaggeration in
practice, and would have wholly ignored the legitimate liberty of the
individual to judge for himself respecting his own bodily conditions,
with due relation to the sufficiency of his means of knowledge, and
taking the responsibility of the result.

Connected with the same considerations is another idea of M. Comte,
which has great beauty and grandeur in it, and the realization of which,
within the bounds of possibility, would be a cultivation of the social
feelings on a most essential point. It is, that every person who lives
by any useful work, should be habituated to regard himself not as an
individual working for his private benefit, but as a public functionary;
and his wages, of whatever sort, as not the remuneration or
purchase-money of his labour, which should be given freely, but as the
provision made by society to enable him to carry it on, and to replace
the materials and products which have been consumed in the process. M.
Comte observes, that in modern industry every one in fact works much
more for others than for himself, since his productions are to be
consumed by others, and it is only necessary that his thoughts and
imagination should adapt themselves to the real state of the fact. The
practical problem, however, is not quite so simple, for a strong sense
that he is working for others may lead to nothing better than feeling
himself necessary to them, and instead of freely giving his commodity,
may only encourage him to put a high price upon it. What M. Comte really
means is that we should regard working for the benefit of others as a
good in itself; that we should desire it for its own sake, and not for
the sake of remuneration, which cannot justly be claimed for doing what
we like: that the proper return for a service to society is the
gratitude of society: and that the moral claim of any one in regard to
the provision for his personal wants, is not a question of _quid pro
quo_ in respect to his co-operation, but of how much the circumstances
of society permit to be assigned to him, consistently with the just
claims of others. To this opinion we entirely subscribe. The rough
method of settling the labourer's share of the produce, the competition
of the market, may represent a practical necessity, but certainly not a
moral ideal. Its defence is, that civilization has not hitherto been
equal to organizing anything better than this first rude approach to an
equitable distribution. Rude as it is, we for the present go less wrong
by leaving the thing to settle itself, than by settling it artificially
in any mode which has yet been tried. But in whatever manner that
question may ultimately be decided, the true moral and social idea of
Labour is in no way affected by it. Until labourers and employers
perform the work of industry in the spirit in which soldiers perform
that of an army, industry will never be moralized, and military life
will remain, what, in spite of the anti-social character of its direct
object, it has hitherto been--the chief school of moral co-operation.

Thus far of the general idea of M. Comte's ethics and religion. We must
now say something of the details. Here we approach the ludicrous side of
the subject: but we shall unfortunately have to relate other things far
more really ridiculous.

There cannot be a religion without a _cultus._ We use this term for want
of any other, for its nearest equivalent, worship, suggests a different
order of ideas. We mean by it, a set of systematic observances, intended
to cultivate and maintain the religious sentiment. Though M. Comte
justly appreciates the superior efficacy of acts, in keeping up and
strengthening the feeling which prompts them, over any mode whatever of
mere expression, he takes pains to organize the latter also with great
minuteness. He provides an equivalent both for the private devotions,
and for the public ceremonies, of other faiths. The reader will be
surprised to learn, that the former consists of prayer. But prayer, as
understood by M. Comte, does not mean asking; it is a mere outpouring of
feeling; and for this view of it he claims the authority of the
Christian mystics. It is not to be addressed to the Grand Etre, to
collective Humanity; though he occasionally carries metaphor so far as
to style this a goddess. The honours to collective Humanity are reserved
for the public celebrations. Private adoration is to be addressed to it
in the persons of worthy individual representatives, who may be either
living or dead, but must in all cases be women; for women, being the
_sexe aimant_, represent the best attribute of humanity, that which
ought to regulate all human life, nor can Humanity possibly be
symbolized in any form but that of a woman. The objects of private
adoration are the mother, the wife, and the daughter, representing
severally the past, the present, and the future, and calling into active
exercise the three social sentiments, veneration, attachment, and
kindness. We are to regard them, whether dead or alive, as our guardian
angels, "les vrais anges gardiens." If the last two have never existed,
or if, in the particular case, any of the three types is too faulty for
the office assigned to it, their place may be supplied by some other
type of womanly excellence, even by one merely historical. Be the object
living or dead, the adoration (as we understand it) is to be addressed
only to the idea. The prayer consists of two parts; a commemoration,
followed by an effusion. By a commemoration M. Comte means an effort of
memory and imagination, summoning up with the utmost possible vividness
the image of the object: and every artifice is exhausted to render the
image as life-like, as close to the reality, as near an approach to
actual hallucination, as is consistent with sanity. This degree of
intensity having been, as far as practicable, attained, the effusion
follows. Every person should compose his own form of prayer, which
should be repeated not mentally only, but orally, and may be added
to or varied for sufficient cause, but never arbitrarily. It may be
interspersed with passages from the best poets, when they present
themselves spontaneously, as giving a felicitous expression to the
adorer's own feeling. These observances M. Comte practised to the memory
of his Clotilde, and he enjoins them on all true believers. They are to
occupy two hours of every day, divided into three parts; at rising, in
the middle of the working hours, and in bed at night. The first, which
should be in a kneeling attitude, will commonly be the longest, and the
second the shortest. The third is to be extended as nearly as possible
to the moment of falling asleep, that its effect may be felt in
disciplining even the dreams.

The public _cultus_ consists of a series of celebrations or festivals,
eighty-four in the year, so arranged that at least one occurs in every
week. They are devoted to the successive glorification of Humanity
itself; of the various ties, political and domestic, among mankind; of
the successive stages in the past evolution of our species; and of the
several classes into which M. Comte's polity divides mankind. M. Comte's
religion has, moreover, nine Sacraments; consisting in the solemn
consecration, by the priests of Humanity, with appropriate exhortations,
of all the great transitions in life; the entry into life itself, and
into each of its successive stages: education, marriage, the choice of a
profession, and so forth. Among these is death, which receives the name
of transformation, and is considered as a passage from objective
existence to subjective--to living in the memory of our
fellow-creatures. Having no eternity of objective existence to offer,
M. Comte's religion gives it all he can, by holding out the hope of
subjective immortality--of existing in the remembrance and in the
posthumous adoration of mankind at large, if we have done anything to
deserve remembrance from them; at all events, of those whom we loved
during life; and when they too are gone, of being included in the
collective adoration paid to the Grand Etre. People are to be taught to
look forward to this as a sufficient recompense for the devotion of a
whole life to the service of Humanity. Seven years after death, comes
the last Sacrament: a public judgment, by the priesthood, on the memory
of the defunct. This is not designed for purposes of reprobation, but of
honour, and any one may, by declaration during life, exempt himself from
it. If judged, and found worthy, he is solemnly incorporated with the
Grand Etre, and his remains are transferred from the civil to the
religious place of sepulture: "le bois sacré" qui doit entourer chaque
temple de l'Humanité."

This brief abstract gives no idea of the minuteness of M. Comte's
prescriptions, and the extraordinary height to which he carries the
mania for regulation by which Frenchmen are distinguished among
Europeans, and M. Comte among Frenchmen. It is this which throws an
irresistible air of ridicule over the whole subject. There is nothing
really ridiculous in the devotional practices which M. Comte recommends
towards a cherished memory or an ennobling ideal, when they come
unprompted from the depths of the individual feeling; but there is
something ineffably ludicrous in enjoining that everybody shall practise
them three times daily for a period of two hours, not because his
feelings require them, but for the premeditated, purpose of getting his
feelings up. The ludicrous, however, in any of its shapes, is a
phaenomenon with which M. Comte seems to have been totally unacquainted.
There is nothing in his writings from which it could be inferred that he
knew of the existence of such things as wit and humour. The only writer
distinguished for either, of whom he shows any admiration, is Molière,
and him he admires not for his wit but for his wisdom. We notice this
without intending any reflection on M. Comte; for a profound conviction
raises a person above the feeling of ridicule. But there are passages in
his writings which, it really seems to us, could have been written by no
man who had ever laughed. We will give one of these instances. Besides
the regular prayers, M. Comte's religion, like the Catholic, has need of
forms which can be applied to casual and unforeseen occasions. These, he
says, must in general be left to the believer's own choice; but he
suggests as a very suitable one the repetition of "the fundamental
formula of Positivism," viz., "l'amour pour principe, l'ordre pour base,
et le progrès pour but." Not content, however, with an equivalent for
the Paters and Aves of Catholicism, he must have one for the sign of the
cross also; and he thus delivers himself:[23] "Cette expansion peut être
perfectionnée par des signes universels.... Afin de mieux développer
l'aptitude nécessaire de la formule positiviste à représenter toujours
la condition humaine, il convient ordinairement de l'énoncer en touchant
successivement les principaux organes que la théorie cérébrale assigne à
ses trois éléments." This _may_ be a very appropriate mode of expressing
one's devotion to the Grand Etre: but any one who had appreciated its
effect on the profane reader, would have thought it judicious to keep it
back till a considerably more advanced stage in the propagation of the
Positive Religion.

As M. Comte's religion has a _cultus_, so also it has a clergy, who are
the pivot of his entire social and political system. Their nature and
office will be best shown by describing his ideal of political society
in its normal state, with the various classes of which it is composed.

The necessity of a Spiritual Power, distinct and separate from the
temporal government, is the essential principle of M. Comte's political
scheme; as it may well be, since the Spiritual Power is the only
counterpoise he provides or tolerates, to the absolute dominion of the
civil rulers. Nothing can exceed his combined detestation and contempt
for government by assemblies, and for parliamentary or representative
institutions in any form. They are an expedient, in his opinion, only
suited to a state of transition, and even that nowhere but in England.
The attempt to naturalize them in France, or any Continental nation, he
regards as mischievous quackery. Louis Napoleon's usurpation is
absolved, is made laudable to him, because it overthrew a representative
government. Election of superiors by inferiors, except as a
revolutionary expedient, is an abomination in his sight. Public
functionaries of all kinds should name their successors, subject to the
approbation of their own superiors, and giving public notice of the
nomination so long beforehand as to admit of discussion, and the timely
revocation of a wrong choice. But, by the side of the temporal rulers,
he places another authority, with no power to command, but only to
advise and remonstrate. The family being, in his mind as in that of
Frenchmen generally, the foundation and essential type of all society,
the separation of the two powers commences there. The spiritual, or
moral and religious power, in a family, is the women of it. The
positivist family is composed of the "fundamental couple," their
children, and the parents of the man, if alive. The whole government of
the household, except as regards the education of the children, resides
in the man; and even over that he has complete power, but should forbear
to exert it. The part assigned to the women is to improve the man
through his affections, and to bring up the children, who, until the age
of fourteen, at which scientific instruction begins, are to be educated
wholly by their mother. That women may be better fitted for these
functions, they are peremptorily excluded from all others. No woman is
to work for her living. Every woman is to be supported by her husband or
her male relations, and if she has none of these, by the State. She is
to have no powers of government, even domestic, and no property. Her
legal rights of inheritance are preserved to her, that her feelings of
duty may make her voluntarily forego them. There are to be no marriage
portions, that women may no longer be sought in marriage from interested
motives. Marriages are to be rigidly indissoluble, except for a single
cause. It is remarkable that the bitterest enemy of divorce among all
philosophers, nevertheless allows it, in a case which the laws of
England, and of other countries reproached by him with tolerating
divorce, do not admit: namely, when one of the parties has been
sentenced to an infamizing punishment, involving loss of civil rights.
It is monstrous that condemnation, even for life, to a felon's
punishment, should leave an unhappy victim bound to, and in the wife's
case under the legal authority of, the culprit. M. Comte could feel for
the injustice in this special case, because it chanced to be the
unfortunate situation of his Clotilde. Minor degrees of unworthiness may
entitle the innocent party to a legal separation, but without the power
of re-marriage. Second marriages, indeed, are not permitted by the
Positive Religion. There is to be no impediment to them by law, but
morality is to condemn them, and every couple who are married
religiously as well as civilly are to make a vow of eternal widowhood,
"le veuvage éternel." This absolute monogamy is, in M. Comte's opinion,
essential to the complete fusion between two beings, which is the
essence of marriage; and moreover, eternal constancy is required by the
posthumous adoration, which is to be continuously paid by the survivor
to one who, though objectively dead, still lives "subjectively." The
domestic spiritual power, which resides in the women of the family, is
chiefly concentrated in the most venerable of them, the husband's
mother, while alive. It has an auxiliary in the influence of age,
represented by the husband's father, who is supposed to have passed the
period of retirement from active life, fixed by M. Comte (for he fixes
everything) at sixty-three; at which age the head of the family gives up
the reins of authority to his son, retaining only a consultative voice.

This domestic Spiritual Power, being principally moral, and confined to
a private life, requires the support and guidance of an intellectual
power exterior to it, the sphere of which will naturally be wider,
extending also to public life. This consists of the clergy, or
priesthood, for M. Comte is fond of borrowing the consecrated
expressions of Catholicism to denote the nearest equivalents which his
own system affords. The clergy are the theoretic or philosophical class,
and are supported by an endowment from the State, voted periodically,
but administered by themselves. Like women, they are to be excluded from
all riches, and from all participation in power (except the absolute
power of each over his own household). They are neither to inherit, nor
to receive emolument from any of their functions, or from their writings
or teachings of any description, but are to live solely on their small
salaries. This M. Comte deems necessary to the complete
disinterestedness of their counsel. To have the confidence of the
masses, they must, like the masses, be poor. Their exclusion from
political and from all other practical occupations is indispensable for
the same reason, and for others equally peremptory. Those occupations
are, he contends, incompatible with the habits of mind necessary to
philosophers. A practical position, either private or public, chains the
mind to specialities and details, while a philosopher's business is with
general truths and connected views (vues d'ensemble). These, again,
require an habitual abstraction from details, which unfits the mind for
judging well and rapidly of individual cases. The same person cannot be
both a good theorist and a good practitioner or ruler, though
practitioners and rulers ought to have a solid theoretic education. The
two kinds of function must be absolutely exclusive of one another: to
attempt them both, is inconsistent with fitness for either. But as men
may mistake their vocation, up to the age of thirty-five they are
allowed to change their career.

To the clergy is entrusted the theoretic or scientific instruction of
youth. The medical art also is to be in their hands, since no one is fit
to be a physician who does not study and understand the whole man, moral
as well as physical. M. Comte has a contemptuous opinion of the existing
race of physicians, who, he says, deserve no higher name than that of
veterinaires, since they concern themselves with man only in his animal,
and not in his human character. In his last years, M. Comte (as we learn
from Dr Robinet's volume) indulged in the wildest speculations on
medical science, declaring all maladies to be one and the same disease,
the disturbance or destruction of "l'unité cérébrale." The other
functions of the clergy are moral, much more than intellectual. They are
the spiritual directors, and venerated advisers, of the active or
practical classes, including the political. They are the mediators in
all social differences; between the labourers, for instance, and their
employers. They are to advise and admonish on all important violations
of the moral law. Especially, it devolves on them to keep the rich and
powerful to the performance of their moral duties towards their
inferiors. If private remonstrance fails, public denunciation is to
follow: in extreme cases they may proceed to the length of
excommunication, which, though it only operates through opinion, yet if
it carries opinion with it, may, as M. Comte complacently observes, be
of such powerful efficacy, that the richest man may be driven to produce
his subsistence by his own manual labour, through the impossibility of
inducing any other person to work for him. In this as in all other
cases, the priesthood depends for its authority on carrying with it the
mass of the people--those who, possessing no accumulations, live on the
wages of daily labour; popularly but incorrectly termed the working
classes, and by French writers, in their Roman law phraseology,
proletaires. These, therefore, who are not allowed the smallest
political rights, are incorporated into the Spiritual Power, of which
they form, after women and the clergy, the third element.

It remains to give an account of the Temporal Power, composed of the
rich and the employers of labour, two classes who in M. Comte's system
are reduced to one, for he allows of no idle rich. A life made up of
mere amusement and self-indulgence, though not interdicted by law, is to
be deemed so disgraceful, that nobody with the smallest sense of shame
would choose to be guilty of it. Here, we think, M. Comte has lighted on
a true principle, towards which the tone of opinion in modern Europe is
more and more tending, and which is destined to be one of the
constitutive principles of regenerated society. We believe, for example,
with him, that in the future there will be no class of landlords living
at ease on their rents, but every landlord will be a capitalist trained
to agriculture, himself superintending and directing the cultivation of
his estate. No one but he who guides the work, should have the control
of the tools. In M. Comte's system, the rich, as a rule, consist of the
"captains of industry:" but the rule is not entirely without exception,
for M. Comte recognizes other useful modes of employing riches. In
particular, one of his favourite ideas is that of an order of Chivalry,
composed of the most generous and self-devoted of the rich, voluntarily
dedicating themselves, like knights-errant of old, to the redressing of
wrongs, and the protection of the weak and oppressed. He remarks, that
oppression, in modern life, can seldom reach, or even venture to attack,
the life or liberty of its victims (he forgets the case of domestic
tyranny), but only their pecuniary means, and it is therefore by the
purse chiefly that individuals can usefully interpose, as they formerly
did by the sword. The occupation, however, of nearly all the rich, will
be the direction of labour, and for this work they will be educated.
Reciprocally, it is in M. Comte's opinion essential, that all directors
of labour should be rich. Capital (in which he includes land) should be
concentrated in a few holders, so that every capitalist may conduct the
most extensive operations which one mind is capable of superintending.
This is not only demanded by good economy, in order to take the utmost
advantage of a rare kind of practical ability, but it necessarily
follows from the principle of M. Comte's scheme, which regards a
capitalist as a public functionary. M. Comte's conception of the
relation of capital to society is essentially that of Socialists, but he
would bring about by education and opinion, what they aim at effecting
by positive institution. The owner of capital is by no means to consider
himself its absolute proprietor. Legally he is not to be controlled in
his dealings with it, for power should be in proportion to
responsibility: but it does not belong to him for his own use; he is
merely entrusted by society with a portion of the accumulations made by
the past providence of mankind, to be administered for the benefit of
the present generation and of posterity, under the obligation of
preserving them unimpaired, and handing them down, more or less
augmented, to our successors. He is not entitled to dissipate them, or
divert them from the service of Humanity to his own pleasures. Nor has
he a moral right to consume on himself the whole even of his profits. He
is bound in conscience, if they exceed his reasonable wants, to employ
the surplus in improving either the efficiency of his operations, or the
physical and mental condition of his labourers. The portion of his gains
which he may appropriate to his own use, must be decided by himself,
under accountability to opinion; and opinion ought not to look very
narrowly into the matter, nor hold him to a rigid reckoning for any
moderate indulgence of luxury or ostentation; since under the great
responsibilities that will be imposed on him, the position of an
employer of labour will be so much less desirable, to any one in whom
the instincts of pride and vanity are not strong, than the "heureuse
insouciance" of a labourer, that those instincts must be to a certain
degree indulged, or no one would undertake the office. With this
limitation, every employer is a mere administrator of his possessions,
for his work-people and for society at large. If he indulges himself
lavishly, without reserving an ample remuneration for all who are
employed under him, he is morally culpable, and will incur sacerdotal
admonition. This state of things necessarily implies that capital should
be in few hands, because, as M. Comte observes, without great riches,
the obligations which society ought to impose, could not be fulfilled
without an amount of personal abnegation that it would be hopeless to
expect. If a person is conspicuously qualified for the conduct of an
industrial enterprise, but destitute of the fortune necessary for
undertaking it, M. Comte recommends that he should be enriched by
subscription, or, in cases of sufficient importance, by the State. Small
landed proprietors and capitalists, and the middle classes altogether,
he regards as a parasitic growth, destined to disappear, the best of the
body becoming large capitalists, and the remainder proletaires. Society
will consist only of rich and poor, and it will be the business of the
rich to make the best possible lot for the poor. The remuneration of the
labourers will continue, as at present, to be a matter of voluntary
arrangement between them and their employers, the last resort on either
side being refusal of co-operation, "refus de concours," in other words,
a strike or a lock-out; with the sacerdotal order for mediators in case
of need. But though wages are to be an affair of free contract, their
standard is not to be the competition of the market, but the application
of the products in equitable proportion between the wants of the
labourers and the wants and dignity of the employer. As it is one of M.
Comte's principles that a question cannot be usefully proposed without
an attempt at a solution, he gives his ideas from the beginning as to
what the normal income of a labouring family should be. They are on such
a scale, that until some great extension shall have taken place in the
scientific resources of mankind, it is no wonder he thinks it necessary
to limit as much as possible the number of those who are to be supported
by what is left of the produce. In the first place the labourer's
dwelling, which is to consist of seven rooms, is, with all that it
contains, to be his own property: it is the only landed property he is
allowed to possess, but every family should be the absolute owner of all
things which are destined for its exclusive use. Lodging being thus
independently provided for, and education and medical attendance being
secured gratuitously by the general arrangements of society, the pay of
the labourer is to consist of two portions, the one monthly, and of
fixed amount, the other weekly, and proportioned to the produce of his
labour. The former M. Comte fixes at 100 francs (£4) for a month of 28
days; being £52 a year: and the rate of piece-work should be such as to
make the other part amount to an average of seven francs (5_s_. _6d_.)
per working day.

Agreeably to M. Comte's rule, that every public functionary should
appoint his successor, the capitalist has unlimited power of
transmitting his capital by gift or bequest, after his own death or
retirement. In general it will be best bestowed entire upon one person,
unless the business will advantageously admit of subdivision. He will
naturally leave it to one or more of his sons, if sufficiently
qualified; and rightly so, hereditary being, in M. Comte's opinion,
preferable to acquired wealth, as being usually more generously
administered. But, merely as his sons, they have no moral right to it.
M. Comte here recognizes another of the principles, on which we believe
that the constitution of regenerated society will rest. He maintains (as
others in the present generation have done) that the father owes nothing
to his son, except a good education, and pecuniary aid sufficient for an
advantageous start in life: that he is entitled, and may be morally
bound, to leave the bulk of his fortune to some other properly selected
person or persons, whom he judges likely to make a more beneficial use
of it. This is the first of three important points, in which M. Comte's
theory of the family, wrong as we deem it in its foundations, is in
advance of prevailing theories and existing institutions. The second is
the re-introduction of adoption, not only in default of children, but to
fulfil the purposes, and satisfy the sympathetic wants, to which such
children as there are may happen to be inadequate. The third is a most
important point--the incorporation of domestics as substantive members
of the family. There is hardly any part of the present constitution of
society more essentially vicious, and morally injurious to both parties,
than the relation between masters and servants. To make this a really
human and a moral relation, is one of the principal desiderata in social
improvement. The feeling of the vulgar of all classes, that domestic
service has anything in it peculiarly mean, is a feeling than which
there is none meaner. In the feudal ages, youthful nobles of the highest
rank thought themselves honoured by officiating in what is now called a
menial capacity, about the persons of superiors of both sexes, for whom
they felt respect: and, as M. Comte observes, there are many families
who can in no other way so usefully serve Humanity, as by ministering to
the bodily wants of other families, called to functions which require
the devotion of all their thoughts. "We will add, by way of supplement
to M. Comte's doctrine, that much of the daily physical work of a
household, even in opulent families, if silly notions of degradation,
common to all ranks, did not interfere, might very advantageously be
performed by the family itself, at least by its younger members; to whom
it would give healthful exercise of the bodily powers, which has now to
be sought in modes far less useful, and also a familiar acquaintance
with the real work of the world, and a moral willingness to take their
share of its burthens, which, in the great majority of the better-off
classes, do not now get cultivated at all.

We have still to speak of the directly political functions of the rich,
or, as M. Comte terms them, the patriciate. The entire political
government is to be in their hands. First, however, the existing nations
are to be broken up into small republics, the largest not exceeding the
size of Belgium, Portugal, or Tuscany; any larger nationalities being
incompatible with the unity of wants and feelings, which is required,
not only to give due strength to the sentiment of patriotism (always
strongest in small states), but to prevent undue compression; for no
territory, M. Comte thinks, can without oppression be governed from a
distant centre. Algeria, therefore, is to be given up to the Arabs,
Corsica to its inhabitants, and France proper is to be, before the end
of the century, divided into seventeen republics, corresponding to the
number of considerable towns: Paris, however, (need it be said?)
succeeding to Rome as the religious metropolis of the world. Ireland,
Scotland, and Wales, are to be separated from England, which is of
course to detach itself from all its transmarine dependencies. In each
state thus constituted, the powers of government are to be vested in a
triumvirate of the three principal bankers, who are to take the foreign,
home, and financial departments respectively. How they are to conduct
the government and remain bankers, does not clearly appear; but it must
be intended that they should combine both offices, for they are to
receive no pecuniary remuneration for the political one. Their power is
to amount to a dictatorship (M. Comte's own word): and he is hardly
justified in saying that he gives political power to the rich, since he
gives it over the rich and every one else, to three individuals of the
number, not even chosen by the rest, but named by their predecessors. As
a check on the dictators, there is to be complete freedom of speech,
writing, printing, and voluntary association; and all important acts of
the government, except in cases of emergency, are to be announced
sufficiently long beforehand to ensure ample discussion. This, and the
influences of the Spiritual Power, are the only guarantees provided
against misgovernment. When we consider that the complete dominion of
every nation of mankind is thus handed over to only four men--for the
Spiritual Power is to be under the absolute and undivided control of a
single Pontiff for the whole human race--one is appalled at the picture
of entire subjugation and slavery, which is recommended to us as the
last and highest result of the evolution of Humanity. But the conception
rises to the terrific, when we are told the mode in which the single
High Priest of Humanity is intended to use his authority. It is the most
warning example we know, into what frightful aberrations a powerful and
comprehensive mind may be led by the exclusive following out of a single
idea.

The single idea of M. Comte, on this subject, is that the intellect
should be wholly subordinated to the feelings; or, to translate the
meaning out of sentimental into logical language, that the exercise of
the intellect, as of all our other faculties, should have for its sole
object the general good. Every other employment of it should be
accounted not only idle and frivolous, but morally culpable. Being
indebted wholly to Humanity for the cultivation to which we owe our
mental powers, we are bound in return to consecrate them wholly to her
service. Having made up his mind that this ought to be, there is with M.
Comte but one step to concluding that the Grand Pontiff of Humanity must
take care that it shall be; and on this foundation he organizes an
elaborate system for the total suppression of all independent thought.
He does not, indeed, invoke the arm of the law, or call for any
prohibitions. The clergy are to have no monopoly. Any one else may
cultivate science if he can, may write and publish if he can find
readers, may give private instruction if anybody consents to receive it.
But since the sacerdotal body will absorb into itself all but those whom
it deems either intellectually or morally unequal to the vocation, all
rival teachers will, as he calculates, be so discredited beforehand,
that their competition will not be formidable. Within the body itself,
the High Priest has it in his power to make sure that there shall be no
opinions, and no exercise of mind, but such as he approves; for he alone
decides the duties and local residence of all its members, and can even
eject them from the body. Before electing to be under this rule, we feel
a natural curiosity to know in what manner it is to be exercised.
Humanity has only yet had one Pontiff, whose mental qualifications for
the post are not likely to be often surpassed, M. Comte himself. It is
of some importance to know what are the ideas of this High Priest,
concerning the moral and religious government of the human intellect.

One of the doctrines which M. Comte most strenuously enforces in his
later writings is, that during the preliminary evolution of humanity,
terminated by the foundation of Positivism, the free development of our
forces of all kinds was the important matter, but that from this time
forward the principal need is to regulate them. Formerly the danger was
of their being insufficient, but henceforth, of their being abused. Let
us express, in passing, our entire dissent from this doctrine. Whoever
thinks that the wretched education which mankind as yet receive, calls
forth their mental powers (except those of a select few) in a sufficient
or even tolerable degree, must be very easily satisfied: and the abuse
of them, far from becoming proportionally greater as knowledge and
mental capacity increase, becomes rapidly less, provided always that the
diffusion of those qualities keeps pace with their growth. The abuse of
intellectual power is only to be dreaded, when society is divided
between a few highly cultivated intellects and an ignorant and stupid
multitude. But mental power is a thing which M. Comte does not want--or
wants infinitely less than he wants submission and obedience. Of all the
ingredients of human nature, he continually says, the intellect most
needs to be disciplined and reined-in. It is the most turbulent "le plus
perturbateur," of all the mental elements; more so than even the selfish
instincts. Throughout the whole modern transition, beginning with
ancient Greece (for M. Comte tells us that we have always been in a
state of revolutionary transition since then), the intellect has been in
a state of systematic insurrection against "le coeur." The
metaphysicians and literati (lettrés), after helping to pull down the
old religion and social order, are rootedly hostile to the construction
of the new, and desiring only to prolong the existing scepticism and
intellectual anarchy, which secure to them a cheap social ascendancy,
without the labour of earning it by solid scientific preparation. The
scientific class, from whom better might have been expected, are, if
possible, worse. Void of enlarged views, despising all that is too large
for their comprehension, devoted exclusively each to his special
science, contemptuously indifferent to moral and political interests,
their sole aim is to acquire an easy reputation, and in France (through
paid Academies and professorships) personal lucre, by pushing their
sciences into idle and useless inquiries (speculations oiseuses), of no
value to the real interests of mankind, and tending to divert the
thoughts from them. One of the duties most incumbent on opinion and on
the Spiritual Power, is to stigmatize as immoral, and effectually
suppress, these useless employments of the speculative faculties. All
exercise of thought should be abstained from, which has not some
beneficial tendency, some actual utility to mankind. M. Comte, of
course, is not the man to say that it must be a merely material utility.
If a speculation, though it has no doctrinal, has a logical value--if it
throws any light on universal Method--it is still more deserving of
cultivation than if its usefulness was merely practical: but, either as
method or as doctrine, it must bring forth fruits to Humanity, otherwise
it is not only contemptible, but criminal.

That there is a portion of truth at the bottom of all this, we should be
the last to deny. No respect is due to any employment of the intellect
which does not tend to the good of mankind. It is precisely on a level
with any idle amusement, and should be condemned as waste of time, if
carried beyond the limit within which amusement is permissible. And
whoever devotes powers of thought which could render to Humanity
services it urgently needs, to speculations and studies which it could
dispense with, is liable to the discredit attaching to a well-grounded
suspicion of caring little for Humanity. But who can affirm positively
of any speculations, guided by right scientific methods, on subjects
really accessible to the human faculties, that they are incapable of
being of any use? Nobody knows what knowledge will prove to be of use,
and what is destined to be useless. The most that can be said is that
some kinds are of more certain, and above all, of more present utility
than others. How often the most important practical results have been
the remote consequence of studies which no one would have expected to
lead to them! Could the mathematicians, who, in the schools of
Alexandria, investigated the properties of the ellipse, have foreseen
that nearly two thousand years afterwards their speculations would
explain the solar system, and a little later would enable ships safely
to circumnavigate the earth? Even in M. Comte's opinion, it is well for
mankind that, in those early days, knowledge was thought worth pursuing
for its own sake. Nor has the "foundation of Positivism," we imagine, so
far changed the conditions of human existence, that it should now be
criminal to acquire, by observation and reasoning, a knowledge of the
facts of the universe, leaving to posterity to find a use for it. Even
in the last two or three years, has not the discovery of new metals,
which may prove important even in the practical arts, arisen from one of
the investigations which M. Comte most unequivocally condemns as idle,
the research into the internal constitution of the sun? How few,
moreover, of the discoveries which have changed the face of the world,
either were or could have been arrived at by investigations aiming
directly at the object! Would the mariner's compass ever have been found
by direct efforts for the improvement of navigation? Should we have
reached the electric telegraph by any amount of striving for a means of
instantaneous communication, if Franklin had not identified electricity
with lightning, and Ampère with magnetism? The most apparently
insignificant archaeological or geological fact, is often found to throw
a light on human history, which M. Comte, the basis of whose social
philosophy is history, should be the last person to disparage. The
direction of the entrance to the three great Pyramids of Ghizeh, by
showing the position of the circumpolar stars at the time when they were
built, is the best evidence we even now have of the immense antiquity of
Egyptian civilization.[24] The one point on which M. Comte's doctrine
has some colour of reason, is the case of sidereal astronomy: so little
knowledge of it being really accessible to us, and the connexion of that
little with any terrestrial interests being, according to all our means
of judgment, infinitesimal. It is certainly difficult to imagine how any
considerable benefit to humanity can be derived from a knowledge of the
motions of the double stars: should these ever become important to us it
will be in so prodigiously remote an age, that we can afford to remain
ignorant of them until, at least, all our moral, political, and social
difficulties have been settled. Yet the discovery that gravitation
extends even to those remote regions, gives some additional strength to
the conviction of the universality of natural laws; and the habitual
meditation on such vast objects and distances is not without an
aesthetic usefulness, by kindling and exalting the imagination, the
worth of which in itself, and even its re-action on the intellect, M.
Comte is quite capable of appreciating. He would reply, however, that
there are better means of accomplishing these purposes. In the same
spirit he condemns the study even of the solar system, when extended to
any planets but those which are visible to the naked eye, and which
alone exert an appreciable gravitative influence on the earth. Even the
perturbations he thinks it idle to study, beyond a mere general
conception of them, and thinks that astronomy may well limit its domain
to the motions and mutual action of the earth, sun, and moon. He looks
for a similar expurgation of all the other sciences. In one passage he
expressly says that the greater part of the researches which are really
accessible to us are idle and useless. He would pare down the dimensions
of all the sciences as narrowly as possible. He is continually repeating
that no science, as an abstract study, should be carried further than is
necessary to lay the foundation for the science next above it, and so
ultimately for moral science, the principal purpose of them all. Any
further extension of the mathematical and physical sciences should be
merely "episodic;" limited to what may from time to time be demanded by
the requirements of industry and the arts; and should be left to the
industrial classes, except when they find it necessary to apply to the
sacerdotal order for some additional development of scientific theory.
This, he evidently thinks, would be a rare contingency, most physical
truths sufficiently concrete and real for practice being empirical.
Accordingly in estimating the number of clergy necessary for France,
Europe, and our entire planet (for his forethought extends thus far),
he proportions it solely to their moral and religious attributions
(overlooking, by the way, even their medical); and leaves nobody with
any time to cultivate the sciences, except abortive candidates for the
priestly office, who having been refused admittance into it for
insufficiency in moral excellence or in strength of character, may be
thought worth retaining as "pensioners" of the sacerdotal order, on
account of their theoretic abilities.

It is no exaggeration to say, that M. Comte gradually acquired a real
hatred for scientific and all purely intellectual pursuits, and was bent
on retaining no more of them than was strictly indispensable. The
greatest of his anxieties is lest people should reason, and seek to
know, more than enough. He regards all abstraction and all reasoning as
morally dangerous, by developing an inordinate pride (orgueil), and
still more, by producing dryness (scheresse). Abstract thought, he says,
is not a wholesome occupation for more than a small number of human
beings, nor of them for more than a small part of their time. Art, which
calls the emotions into play along with and more than the reason, is the
only intellectual exercise really adapted to human nature. It is
nevertheless indispensable that the chief theories of the various
abstract sciences, together with the modes in which those theories were
historically and logically arrived at, should form a part of universal
education: for, first, it is only thus that the methods can be learnt,
by which to attain the results sought by the moral and social sciences:
though we cannot perceive that M. Comte got at his own moral and social
results by those processes. Secondly, the principal truths of the
subordinate sciences are necessary to the systematization (still
systematization!) of our conceptions, by binding together our notions of
the world in a set of propositions, which are coherent, and are a
sufficiently correct representation of fact for our practical wants.
Thirdly, a familiar knowledge of the invariable laws of natural
phaenomena is a great elementary lesson of submission, which, he is
never weary of saying, is the first condition both of morality and of
happiness. For these reasons, he would cause to be taught, from the age
of fourteen to that of twenty-one, to all persons, rich and poor, girls
or youths, a knowledge of the whole series of abstract sciences, such as
none but the most highly instructed persons now possess, and of a far
more systematic and philosophical character than is usually possessed
even by them. (N.B.--They are to learn, during the same years, Greek and
Latin, having previously, between the ages of seven and fourteen, learnt
the five principal modern languages, to the degree necessary for
reading, with due appreciation, the chief poetical compositions in
each.) But they are to be taught all this, not only without encouraging,
but stifling as much as possible, the examining and questioning spirit.
The disposition which should be encouraged is that of receiving all on
the authority of the teacher. The Positivist faith, even in its
scientific part, is _la foi démontrable_, but ought by no means to be
_la foi toujours démontrée_. The pupils have no business to be
over-solicitous about proof. The teacher should not even present the
proofs to them in a complete form, or as proofs. The object of
instruction is to make them understand the doctrines themselves,
perceive their mutual connexion, and form by means of them a consistent
and _systematized_ conception of nature. As for the demonstrations, it
is rather desirable than otherwise that even theorists should forget
them, retaining only the results. Among all the aberrations of
scientific men, M. Comte thinks none greater than the pedantic anxiety
they show for complete proof, and perfect rationalization of scientific
processes. It ought to be enough that the doctrines afford an
explanation of phaenomena, consistent with itself and with known facts,
and that the processes are justified by their fruits. This over-anxiety
for proof, he complains, is breaking down, by vain scruples, the
knowledge which seemed to have been attained; witness the present state
of chemistry. The demand of proof for what has been accepted by
Humanity, is itself a mark of "distrust, if not hostility, to the
sacerdotal order" (the naïveté of this would be charming, if it were not
deplorable), and is a revolt against the traditions of the human race.
So early had the new High Priest adopted the feelings and taken up the
inheritance of the old. One of his favourite aphorisms is the strange
one, that the living are more and more governed by the dead. As is not
uncommon with him, he introduces the dictum in one sense, and uses it in
another. What he at first means by it, is that as civilization advances,
the sum of our possessions, physical and intellectual, is due in a
decreasing proportion to ourselves, and in an increasing one to our
progenitors. The use he makes of it is, that we should submit ourselves
more and more implicitly to the authority of previous generations, and
suffer ourselves less and less to doubt their judgment, or test by our
own reason the grounds of their opinions. The unwillingness of the human
intellect and conscience, in their present state of "anarchy," to sign
their own abdication, lie calls "the insurrection of the living against
the dead." To this complexion has Positive Philosophy come at last!

Worse, however, remains to be told. M. Comte selects a hundred volumes
of science, philosophy, poetry, history, and general knowledge, which he
deems a sufficient library for every positivist, even of the theoretic
order, and actually proposes a systematic holocaust of books in
general--it would almost seem of all books except these. Even that to
which he shows most indulgence, poetry, except the very best, is to
undergo a similar fate, with the reservation of select passages, on the
ground that, poetry being intended to cultivate our instinct of ideal
perfection, any kind of it that is less than the best is worse than
none. This imitation of the error, we will call it the crime, of the
early Christians--and in an exaggerated form, for even they destroyed
only those writings of pagans or heretics which were directed against
themselves--is the one thing in M. Comte's projects which merits real
indignation. When once M. Comte has decided, all evidence on the other
side, nay, the very historical evidence on which he grounded his
decision, had better perish. When mankind have enlisted under his
banner, they must burn their ships. There is, though in a less offensive
form, the same overweening presumption in a suggestion he makes, that
all species of animals and plants which are useless to man should be
systematically rooted out. As if any one could presume to assert that
the smallest weed may not, as knowledge advances, be found to have some
property serviceable to man. When we consider that the united power of
the whole human race cannot reproduce a species once eradicated--that
what is once done, in the extirpation of races, can never be repaired;
one can only be thankful that amidst all which the past rulers of
mankind have to answer for, they have never come up to the measure of
the great regenerator of Humanity; mankind have not yet been under the
rule of one who assumes that he knows all there is to be known, and that
when he has put himself at the head of humanity, the book of human
knowledge may be closed.

Of course M. Comte does not make this assumption consistently. He does
not imagine that he actually possesses all knowledge, but only that he
is an infallible judge what knowledge is worth possessing. He does not
believe that mankind have reached in all directions the extreme limits
of useful and laudable scientific inquiry. He thinks there is a large
scope for it still, in adding to our power over the external world, but
chiefly in perfecting our own physical, intellectual, and moral nature.
He holds that all our mental strength should be economized, for the
pursuit of this object in the mode leading most directly to the end.
With this view, some one problem should always be selected, the solution
of which would be more important than any other to the interests of
humanity, and upon this the entire intellectual resources of the
theoretic mind should be concentrated, until it is either resolved, or
has to be given up as insoluble: after which mankind should go on to
another, to be pursued with similar exclusiveness. The selection of this
problem of course rests with the sacerdotal order, or in other words,
with the High Priest. We should then see the whole speculative intellect
of the human race simultaneously at work on one question, by orders from
above, as a French minister of public instruction once boasted that a
million of boys were saying the same lesson during the same half-hour in
every town and village of France. The reader will be anxious to know,
how much better and more wisely the human intellect will be applied
under this absolute monarchy, and to what degree this system of
government will be preferable to the present anarchy, in which every
theorist does what is intellectually right in his own eyes. M. Comte has
not left us in ignorance on this point. He gives us ample means of
judging. The Pontiff of Positivism informs us what problem, in his
opinion, should be selected before all others for this united pursuit.

What this problem is, we must leave those who are curious on the subject
to learn from the treatise itself. When they have done so, they will be
qualified to form their own opinion of the amount of advantage which the
general good of mankind would be likely to derive, from exchanging the
present "dispersive speciality" and "intellectual anarchy" for the
subordination of the intellect to the _coeur_, personified in a High
Priest, prescribing a single problem for the undivided study of the
theoretic mind.

We have given a sufficient general idea of M. Comte's plan for the
regeneration of human society, by putting an end to anarchy, and
"systematizing" human thought and conduct under the direction of
feeling. But an adequate conception will not have been formed of the
height of his self-confidence, until something more has been told. Be it
known, then, that M. Comte by no means proposes this new constitution of
society for realization in the remote future. A complete plan of
measures of transition is ready prepared, and he determines the year,
before the end of the present century, in which the new spiritual and
temporal powers will be installed, and the regime of our maturity will
begin. He did not indeed calculate on converting to Positivism, within
that time, more than a thousandth part of all the heads of families in
Western Europe and its offshoots beyond the Atlantic. But he fixes the
time necessary for the complete political establishment of Positivism at
thirty-three years, divided into three periods, of seven, five, and
twenty-one years respectively. At the expiration of seven, the direction
of public education in France would be placed in M. Comte's hands. In
five years more, the Emperor Napoleon, or his successor, will resign his
power to a provisional triumvirate, composed of three eminent
proletaires of the positivist faith; for proletaires, though not fit for
permanent rule, are the best agents of the transition, being the most
free from the prejudices which are the chief obstacle to it. These
rulers will employ the remaining twenty-one years in preparing society
for its final constitution; and after duly installing the Spiritual
Power, and effecting the decomposition of France into the seventeen
republics before mentioned, will give over the temporal government of
each to the normal dictatorship of the three bankers. A man may be
deemed happy, but scarcely modest, who had such boundless confidence in
his own powers of foresight, and expected so complete a triumph of his
own ideas on the reconstitution of society within the possible limits of
his lifetime. If he could live (he said) to the age of Pontenelle, or of
Hobbes, or even of Voltaire, he should see all this realized, or as good
as realized. He died, however, at sixty, without leaving any disciple
sufficiently advanced to be appointed his successor. There is now a
College, and a Director, of Positivism; but Humanity no longer possesses
a High Priest.

What more remains to be said may be despatched more summarily. Its
interest is philosophic rather than practical. In his four volumes of
"Politique Positive," M. Comte revises and reelaborates the scientific
and historical expositions of his first treatise. His object is to
systematize (again to systematize) knowledge from the human or
subjective point of view, the only one, he contends, from which a real
synthesis is possible. For (he says) the knowledge attainable by us of
the laws of the universe is at best fragmentary, and incapable of
reduction to a real unity. An objective synthesis, the dream of
Descartes and the best thinkers of old, is impossible. The laws of the
real world are too numerous, and the manner of their working into one
another too intricate, to be, as a general rule, correctly traced and
represented by our reason. The only connecting principle in our
knowledge is its relation to our wants, and it is upon that we must
found our systematization. The answer to this is, first, that there is
no necessity for an universal synthesis; and secondly, that the same
arguments may be used against the possibility of a complete subjective,
as of a complete objective systematization. A subjective synthesis must
consist in the arrangement and co-ordination of all useful knowledge, on
the basis of its relation to human wants and interests. But those wants
and interests are, like the laws of the universe, extremely
multifarious, and the order of preference among them in all their
different gradations (for it varies according to the degree of each)
cannot be cast into precise general propositions. M. Comte's subjective
synthesis consists only in eliminating from the sciences everything that
he deems useless, and presenting as far as possible every theoretical
investigation as the solution of a practical problem. To this, however,
he cannot consistently adhere; for, in every science, the theoretic
truths are much more closely connected with one another than with the
human purposes which they eventually serve, and can only be made to
cohere in the intellect by being, to a great degree, presented as if
they were truths of pure reason, irrespective of any practical
application.

There are many things eminently characteristic of M. Comte's second
career, in this revision of the results of his first. Under the head of
Biology, and for the better combination of that science with Sociology
and Ethics, he found that he required a new system of Phrenology, being
justly dissatisfied with that of Gall and his successors. Accordingly he
set about constructing one _è priori_, grounded on the best enumeration
and classification he could make of the elementary faculties of our
intellectual, moral, and animal nature; to each of which he assigned an
hypothetical place in the skull, the most conformable that he could to
the few positive facts on the subject which he considered as
established, and to the general presumption that functions which react
strongly on one another must have their organs adjacent: leaving the
localities avowedly to be hereafter verified, by anatomical and
inductive investigation. There is considerable merit in this attempt,
though it is liable to obvious criticisms, of the same nature as his own
upon Gall. But the characteristic thing is, that while presenting all
this as hypothesis waiting for verification, he could not have taken its
truth more completely for granted if the verification had been made. In
all that he afterwards wrote, every detail of his theory of the brain is
as unhesitatingly asserted, and as confidently built upon, as any other
doctrine of science. This is his first great attempt in the "Subjective
Method," which, originally meaning only the subordination of the pursuit
of truth to human uses, had already come to mean drawing truth itself
from the fountain of his own mind. He had become, on the one hand,
almost indifferent to proof, provided he attained theoretic coherency,
and on the other, serenely confident that even the guesses which
originated with himself could not but come out true.

There is one point in his later view of the sciences, which appears to
us a decided improvement on his earlier. He adds to the six fundamental
sciences of his original scale, a seventh under the name of Morals,
forming the highest step of the ladder, immediately after Sociology:
remarking that it might, with still greater propriety, be termed
Anthropology, being the science of individual human nature, a study,
when rightly understood, more special and complicated than even that of
Society. For it is obliged to take into consideration the diversities of
constitution and temperament (la réaction cérébrale des viscères
végétatifs) the effects of which, still very imperfectly understood, are
highly important in the individual, but in the theory of society may be
neglected, because, differing in different persons, they neutralize one
another on the large scale. This is a remark worthy of M. Comte in his
best days; and the science thus conceived is, as he says, the true
scientific foundation of the art of Morals (and indeed of the art of
human life), which, therefore, may, both philosophically and
didactically, be properly combined with it.

His philosophy of general history is recast, and in many respects
changed; we cannot but say, greatly for the worse. He gives much greater
development than before to the Fetishistic, and to what he terms the
Theocratic, periods. To the Fetishistic view of nature he evinces a
partiality, which appears strange in a Positive philosopher. But the
reason is that Fetish-worship is a religion of the feelings, and not at
all of the intelligence. He regards it as cultivating universal love: as
a practical fact it cultivates much rather universal fear. He looks upon
Fetishism as much more akin to Positivism than any of the forms of
Theology, inasmuch as these consider matter as inert, and moved only by
forces, natural and supernatural, exterior to itself: while Fetishism
resembles Positivism in conceiving matter as spontaneously active, and
errs only by not distinguishing activity from life. As if the
superstition of the Fetishist consisted only in believing that the
objects which produce the phaenomena of nature involuntarily, produce
them voluntarily. The Fetishist thinks not merely that his Fetish is
alive, but that it can help him in war, can cure him of diseases, can
grant him prosperity, or afflict him with all the contrary evils.
Therein consists the lamentable effect of Fetishism--its degrading and
prostrating influence on the feelings and conduct, its conflict with all
genuine experience, and antagonism to all real knowledge of nature.

M. Comte had also no small sympathy with the Oriental theocracies, as he
calls the sacerdotal castes, who indeed often deserved it by their early
services to intellect and civilization; by the aid they gave to the
establishment of regular government, the valuable though empirical
knowledge they accumulated, and the height to which they helped to carry
some of the useful arts. M. Comte admits that they became oppressive,
and that the prolongation of their ascendancy came to be incompatible
with further improvement. But he ascribes this to their having arrogated
to themselves the temporal government, which, so far as we have any
authentic information, they never did. The reason why the sacerdotal
corporations became oppressive, was because they were organized: because
they attempted the "unity" and "systematization" so dear to M. Comte,
and allowed no science and no speculation, except with their leave and
under their direction. M. Comte's sacerdotal order, which, in his
system, has all the power that ever they had, would be oppressive in the
same manner; with no variation but that which arises from the altered
state of society and of the human mind.

M. Comte's partiality to the theocracies is strikingly contrasted with
his dislike of the Greeks, whom as a people he thoroughly detests, for
their undue addiction to intellectual speculation, and considers to have
been, by an inevitable fatality, morally sacrificed to the formation of
a few great scientific intellects,--principally Aristotle, Archimedes,
Apollonius, and Hipparchus. Any one who knows Grecian history as it can
now be known, will be amazed at M. Comte's travestie of it, in which the
vulgarest historical prejudices are accepted and exaggerated, to
illustrate the mischiefs of intellectual culture left to its own
guidance.

There is no need to analyze further M. Comte's second view of universal
history. The best chapter is that on the Romans, to whom, because they
were greater in practice than in theory, and for centuries worked
together in obedience to a social sentiment (though only that of their
country's aggrandizement), M. Comte is as favourably affected, as he is
inimical to all but a small selection of eminent thinkers among the
Greeks. The greatest blemish in this chapter is the idolatry of Julius
Caesar, whom M. Comte regards as one of the most illustrious characters
in history, and of the greatest practical benefactors of mankind. Caesar
had many eminent qualities, but what he did to deserve such praise we
are at a loss to discover, except subverting a free government: that
merit, however, with M. Comte, goes a great way. It did not, in his
former days, suffice to rehabilitate Napoleon, whose name and memory he
regarded with a bitterness highly honourable to himself, and whose
career he deemed one of the greatest calamities in modern history. But
in his later writings these sentiments are considerably mitigated: he
regards Napoleon as a more estimable "dictator" than Louis Philippe, and
thinks that his greatest error was re-establishing the Academy of
Sciences! That this should be said by M. Comte, and said of Napoleon,
measures the depth to which his moral standard had fallen.

The last volume which he published, that on the Philosophy of
Mathematics, is in some respects a still sadder picture of intellectual
degeneracy than those which preceded it. After the admirable résumé of
the subject in the first volume of his first great work, we expected
something of the very highest order when he returned to the subject for
a more thorough treatment of it. But, being the commencement of a
Synthèse Subjective, it contains, as might be expected, a great deal
that is much more subjective than mathematical. Nor of this do we
complain: but we little imagined of what nature this subjective matter
was to be. M. Comte here joins together the two ideas, which, of all
that he has put forth, are the most repugnant to the fundamental
principles of Positive Philosophy. One of them is that on which we have
just commented, the assimilation between Positivism and Fetishism. The
other, of which we took notice in a former article, was the "liberté
facultative" of shaping our scientific conceptions to gratify the
demands not solely of objective truth, but of intellectual and aesthetic
suitability. It would be an excellent thing, M. Comte thinks, if science
could be deprived of its _sécheresse_, and directly associated with
sentiment. Now it is impossible to prove that the external world, and
the bodies composing it, are not endowed with feeling, and voluntary
agency. It is therefore highly desirable that we should educate
ourselves into imagining that they are. Intelligence it will not do to
invest them with, for some distinction must be maintained between simple
activity and life. But we may suppose that they feel what is done to
them, and desire and will what they themselves do. Even intelligence,
which we must deny to them in the present, may be attributed to them in
the past. Before man existed, the earth, at that time an intelligent
being, may have exerted "its physico-chemical activity so as to improve
the astronomical order by changing its principal coefficients. Our
planet may be supposed to have rendered its orbit less excentric, and
thereby more habitable, by planning a long series of explosions,
analogous to those from which, according to the best hypotheses, comets
proceed. Judiciously reproduced, similar shocks may have rendered the
inclination of the earth's axis better adapted to the future wants of
the Grand Etre. _A fortiori_ the Earth may have modified its own figure,
which is only beyond our intervention because our spiritual ascendancy
has not at its disposal a sufficient material force." The like may be
conceived as having been done by each of the other planets, in concert,
possibly, with the Earth and with one another. "In proportion as each
planet improved its own condition, its life exhausted itself by excess
of innervation; but with the consolation of rendering its self-devotion
more efficacious, when the extinction of its special functions, first
animal, and finally vegetative, reduced it to the universal attributes
of feeling and activity."[25] This stuff, though he calls it fiction, he
soon after speaks of as belief (croyance), to be greatly recommended, as
at once satisfying our natural curiosity, and "perfecting our unity"
(again unity!) "by supplying the gaps in our scientific notions with
poetic fictions, and developing sympathetic emotions and aesthetic
inspirations: the world being conceived as aspiring to second mankind in
ameliorating the universal order under the impulse of the Grand Etre."
And he obviously intends that we should be trained to make these
fantastical inventions permeate all our associations, until we are
incapable of conceiving the world and Nature apart from them, and they
become equivalent to, and are in fact transformed into, real beliefs.

Wretched as this is, it is singularly characteristic of M. Comte's later
mode of thought. A writer might be excused for introducing into an
avowed work of fancy this dance of the planets, and conception of an
animated Earth. If finely executed, he might even be admired for it. No
one blames a poet for ascribing feelings, purposes, and human
propensities to flowers. Because a conception might be interesting, and
perhaps edifying, in a poem, M. Comte would have it imprinted on the
inmost texture of every human mind in ordinary prose. If the imagination
were not taught its prescribed lesson equally with the reason, where
would be Unity? "It is important that the domain of fiction should
become as _systematic_ as that of demonstration, in order that their
mutual harmony may be conformable to their respective destinations, both
equally directed towards the continual increase of _unity_, personal and
social."[26]

Nor is it enough to have created the Grand Fétiche (so he actually
proposes to call the Earth), and to be able to include it and all
concrete existence in our adoration along with the Grand Etre. It is
necessary also to extend Positivist Fetishism to purely abstract
existence; to "animate" the laws as well as the facts of nature. It is
not sufficient to have made physics sentimental, mathematics must be
made so too. This does not at first seem easy; but M. Comte finds the
means of accomplishing it. His plan is, to make Space also an object of
adoration, under the name of the Grand Milieu, and consider it as the
representative of Fatality in general. "The final _unity_ disposes us to
cultivate sympathy by developing our gratitude to whatever serves the
Grand Etre. It must dispose us to venerate the Fatality on which reposes
the whole aggregate of our existence." We should conceive this Fatality
as having a fixed seat, and that seat must be considered to be Space,
which should be conceived as possessing feeling, but not activity or
intelligence. And in our abstract speculations we should imagine all our
conceptions as located in free Space. Our images of all sorts, down to
our geometrical diagrams, and even our ciphers and algebraic symbols,
should always be figured to ourselves as written in space, and not on
paper or any other material substance. M. Comte adds that they should be
conceived as green on a white ground.

We cannot go on any longer with this. In spite of it all, the volume on
mathematics is full of profound thoughts, and will be very suggestive to
those who take up the subject after M. Comte. What deep meaning there
is, for example, in the idea that the infinitesimal calculus is a
conception analogous to the corpuscular hypothesis in physics; which
last M. Comte has always considered as a logical artifice; not an
opinion respecting matters of fact. The assimilation, as it seems to us,
throws a flood of light on both conceptions; on the physical one still
more than the mathematical. We might extract many ideas of similar,
though none perhaps of equal, suggestiveness. But mixed with these, what
pitiable _niaiseries_! One of his great points is the importance of the
"moral and intellectual properties of numbers." He cultivates a
superstitious reverence for some of them. The first three are sacred,
_les nombres sacrés_: One being the type of all Synthesis, Two of all
Combination, which he now says _is_ always binary (in his first treatise
he only said that we may usefully represent it to ourselves as being
so), and Three of all Progression, which not only requires three terms,
but as he now maintains, never ought to have any more. To these sacred
numbers all our mental operations must be made, as far as possible, to
adjust themselves. Next to them, he has a great partiality for the
number seven; for these whimsical reasons: "Composed of two progressions
followed by a synthesis, or of one progression between two couples, the
number seven, coming next after the sum of the three sacred numbers,
determines the largest group which we can distinctly imagine.
Reciprocally, it marks the limit of the divisions which we can directly
conceive in a magnitude of any kind." The number seven, therefore, must
be foisted in wherever possible, and among other things, is to be made
the basis of numeration, which is hereafter to be septimal instead of
decimal: producing all the inconvenience of a change of system, not only
without getting rid of, but greatly aggravating, the disadvantages of
the existing one. But then, he says, it is absolutely necessary that the
basis of numeration should be a prime number. All other people think it
absolutely necessary that it should not, and regard the present basis as
only objectionable in not being divisible enough. But M. Comte's puerile
predilection for prime numbers almost passes belief. His reason is that
they are the type of irreductibility: each of them is a kind of ultimate
arithmetical fact. This, to any one who knows M. Comte in his later
aspects, is amply sufficient. Nothing can exceed his delight in anything
which says to the human mind, Thus far shalt thou go and no farther. If
prime numbers are precious, doubly prime numbers are doubly so; meaning
those which are not only themselves prime numbers, but the number which
marks their place in the series of prime numbers is a prime number.
Still greater is the dignity of trebly prime numbers; when the number
marking the place of this second number is also prime. The number
thirteen fulfils these conditions: it is a prime number, it is the
seventh prime number, and seven is the fifth prime number. Accordingly
he has an outrageous partiality to the number thirteen. Though one of
the most inconvenient of all small numbers, he insists on introducing it
everywhere.

These strange conceits are connected with a highly characteristic
example of M. Comte's frenzy for regulation. He cannot bear that
anything should be left unregulated: there ought to be no such thing as
hesitation; nothing should remain arbitrary, for _l'arbitraire_ is
always favourable to egoism. Submission to artificial prescriptions is
as indispensable as to natural laws, and he boasts that under the reign
of sentiment, human life may be made equally, and even more, regular
than the courses of the stars. But the great instrument of exact
regulation for the details of life is numbers: fixed numbers, therefore,
should be introduced into all our conduct. M. Comte's first application
of this system was to the correction of his own literary style.
Complaint had been made, not undeservedly, that in his first great work,
especially in the latter part of it, the sentences and paragraphs were
long, clumsy, and involved. To correct this fault, of which he was
aware, he imposed on himself the following rules. No sentence was to
exceed two lines of his manuscript, equivalent to five of print. No
paragraph was to consist of more than seven sentences. He further
applied to his prose writing the rule of French versification which
forbids a _hiatus_(the concourse of two vowels), not allowing it to
himself even at the break between two sentences or two paragraphs; nor
did he permit himself ever to use the same word twice, either in the
same sentence or in two consecutive sentences, though belonging to
different paragraphs: with the exception of the monosyllabic
auxiliaries.[27] All this is well enough, especially the first two
precepts, and a good way of breaking through a bad habit. But M. Comte
persuaded himself that any arbitrary restriction, though in no way
emanating from, and therefore necessarily disturbing, the natural order
and proportion of the thoughts, is a benefit in itself, and tends to
improve style. If it renders composition vastly more difficult, he
rejoices at it, as tending to confine writing to superior minds.
Accordingly, in the Synthèse Subjective, he institutes the following
"plan for all compositions of importance." "Every volume really capable
of forming a distinct treatise" should consist of "seven chapters,
besides the introduction and the conclusion; and each of these should be
composed of three parts." Each third part of a chapter should be divided
into "seven sections, each composed of seven groups of sentences,
separated by the usual break of line. Normally formed, the section
offers a central group of seven sentences, preceded and followed by
three groups of five: the first section of each part reduces to three
sentences three of its groups, symmetrically placed; the last section
gives seven sentences to each of its extreme groups. These rules of
composition make prose approach to the regularity of poetry, when
combined with my previous reduction of the maximum length of a sentence
to two manuscript or five printed lines, that is, 250 letters."
"Normally constructed, great poems consist of thirteen cantos,
decomposed into parts, sections, and groups like my chapters, saving the
complete equality of the groups and of the sections." "This difference
of structure between volumes of poetry and of philosophy is more
apparent than real, for the introduction and the conclusion of a poem
should comprehend six of its thirteen cantos," leaving, therefore, the
cabalistic numeber seven for the body of the poem. And all this
regulation not being sufficiently meaningless, fantastic, and
oppressive, he invents an elaborate system for compelling each of his
sections and groups to begin with a letter of the alphabet, determined
beforehand, the letters being selected so as to compose words having
"a synthetic or sympathetic signification," and as close a relation as
possible to the section or part to which they are appropriated.

Others may laugh, but we could far rather weep at this melancholy
decadence of a great intellect. M. Comte used to reproach his early
English admirers with maintaining the "conspiracy of silence" concerning
his later performances. The reader can now judge whether such reticence
is not more than sufficiently explained by tenderness for his fame, and
a conscientious fear of bringing undeserved discredit on the noble
speculations of his early career.

M. Comte was accustomed to consider Descartes and Leibnitz as his
principal precursors, and the only great philosophers (among many
thinkers of high philosophic capacity) in modern times. It was to their
minds that he considered his own to bear the nearest resemblance. Though
we have not so lofty an opinion of any of the three as M. Comte had, we
think the assimilation just: thes were, of all recorded thinkers, the
two who bore most resemblance to M. Comte. They were like him in
earnestness, like him, though scarcely equal to him, in confidence in
themselves; they had the same extraordinary power of concatenation and
co-ordination; they enriched human knowledge with great truths and great
conceptions of method; they were, of all great scientific thinkers, the
most consistent, and for that reason often the most absurd, because they
shrank from no consequences, however contrary to common sense, to which
their premises appeared to lead. Accordingly their names have come down
to us associated with grand thoughts, with most important discoveries,
and also with some of the most extravagantly wild and ludicrously absurd
conceptions and theories which ever were solemnly propounded by
thoughtful men. "We think M. Comte as great as either of these
philosophers, and hardly more extravagant. Were we to speak our whole
mind, we should call him superior to them: though not intrinsically, yet
by the exertion of equal intellectual power in a more advanced state of
human preparation; but also in an age less tolerant of palpable
absurdities, and to which those he has committed, if not in themselves
greater, at least appear more ridiculous.


THE END.



FOOTNOTES:

[1] See the Chapter on Efficient Causes in Reid's "Essays on the Active
Powers," which is avowedly grounded on Newton's ideas.

[2] Mr Herbert Spencer, who also distinguishes between abstract and
concrete sciences, employs the terms in a different sense from that
explained above. He calls a science abstract when its truths are merely
ideal; when, like the truths of geometry, they are not exactly true of
real things--or, like the so-called law of inertia (the persistence in
direction and velocity of a motion once impressed) are "involved" in
experience but never actually seen in it, being always more or less
completely frustrated. Chemistry and biology he includes, on the
contrary, among concrete sciences, because chemical combinations and
decompositions, and the physiological action of tissues, do actually
take place (as our senses testify) in the manner in which the scientific
propositions state them to take place. We will not discuss the logical
or philological propriety of either use of the terms abstract and
concrete, in which twofold point of view very few of the numerous
acceptations of these words are entirely defensible: but of the two
distinctions M. Comte's answers to by far the deepest and most vital
difference. Mr Spencer's is open to the radical objection, that it
classifies truths not according to their subject-matter or their mutual
relations, but according to an unimportant difference in the manner in
which we come to know them. Of what consequence is it that the law of
inertia (considered as an exact truth) is not generalized from our
direct perceptions, but inferred by combining with the movements which
we see, those which we should see if it were not for the disturbing
causes? In either case we are equally certain that it _is_ an exact
truth: for every dynamical law is perfectly fulfilled even when it seems
to be counteracted. There must, we should think, be many truths in
physiology (for example) which are only known by a similar indirect
process; and Mr Spencer would hardly detach these from the body of the
science, and call them abstract and the remainder concrete.

[3] Système de Politique Positive, ii. 36.

[4] The strongest case which Mr Spencer produces of a scientifically
ascertained law, which, though belonging to a later science, was
necessary to the scientific formation of one occupying an earlier place
in M. Comte's series, is the law of the accelerating force of gravity;
which M. Comte places in Physics, but without which the Newtonian theory
of the celestial motions could not have been discovered, nor could even
now be proved. This fact, as is judiciously remarked by M. Littré, is
not valid against the plan of M. Comte's classification, but discloses a
slight error in the detail. M. Comte should not have placed the laws of
terrestrial gravity under Physics. They are part of the general theory
of gravitation, and belong to astronomy. Mr Spencer has hit one of the
weak points in M. Comte's scientific scale; weak however only because
left unguarded. Astronomy, the second of M. Comte's abstract sciences,
answers to his own definition of a concrete science. M. Comte however
was only wrong in overlooking a distinction. There _is_ an abstract
science of astronomy, namely, the theory of gravitation, which would
equally agree with and explain the facts of a totally different solar
system from the one of which our earth forms a part. The actual facts of
our own system, the dimensions, distances, velocities, temperatures,
physical constitution, &c., of the sun, earth, and planets, are properly
the subject of a concrete science, similar to natural history; but the
concrete is more inseparably united to the abstract science than in any
other case, since the few celestial facts really accessible to us are
nearly all required for discovering and proving the law of gravitation
as an universal property of bodies, and have therefore an indispensable
place in the abstract science as its fundamental data.

[5] The only point at which the general principle of the series fails in
its application, is the subdivision of Physics; and there, as the
subordination of the different branches scarcely exists, their order is
of little consequence. Thermology, indeed, is altogether an exception to
the principle of decreasing generality, heat, as Mr Spencer truly says
being as universal as gravitation. But the place of Thermology is marked
out, within certain narrow limits, by the ends of the classification,
though not by its principle. The desideratum is, that every science
should precede those which cannot be scientifically constitute or
rationally studied until it is known. It is as a means to this end, that
the arrangement of the phaenomena in the order of their dependence on
one another is important. Now, though heat is as universal a phaenomenon
as any which external nature presents, its laws do not affect, in any
manner important to us, the phaenomena of Astronomy, and operate in the
other branches of Physics only as slight modifying agencies, the
consideration of which may be postponed to a rather advanced stage. But
the phaenomena of Chemistry and Biology depend on them often for their
very existence. The ends of the classification require therefore that
Thermology should precede Chemistry and Biology, but do not demand that
it should be thrown farther back. On the other hand, those same ends, in
another point of view, require that it should be subsequent to
Astronomy, for reasons not of doctrine but of method: Astronomy being
the best school of the true art of interpreting Nature, by which
Thermology profits like other sciences, but which it was ill adapted to
originate.

[6] The philosophy of the subject is perhaps nowhere so well expressed
as in the "Système de Politique Positive" (iii. 41). "Conçu logiquement,
l'ordre suivant lequel nos principales théories accomplissent
l'évolution fondamentale résulte nécessairement de leur dépendence
mutuelle. Toutes les sciences peuvent, sans doute, être ébauchées à la
fois: leur usage pratique exige même cette culture simultanée. Mais
elle ne peut concerner que les inductions propres à chaque classe de
spéculations. Or cet essor inductif ne saurait fournir des principes
suffisants qu'envers les plus simples études. Partout ailleurs, ils ne
peuvent être établis qu'en subordonnant chaque genre d'inductions
scientifiques à l'ensemble des déductions emanées des domaines moins
compliqués, et dès-lors moins dépendants. Ainsi nos diverses théories
reposent dogmatiquement les unes sur les autres, suivant un ordre
invariable, qui doit régler historiquement leur avénement décisif, les
plus indépendantes ayant toujours dû se développer plus tôt."

[7] "Science," says Mr Spencer in his "Genesis," "while purely inductive
is purely qualitative.... All quantitative prevision is reached
deductively; induction can achieve only qualitative prevision." Now, if
we remember that the very first accurate quantitative law of physical
phaenomena ever established, the law of the accelerating force of
gravity, was discovered and proved by Galileo partly at least by
experiment; that the quantitative laws on which the whole theory of the
celestial motions is grounded, were generalized by Kepler from direct
comparison of observations; that the quantitative law of the
condensation of gases by pressure, the law of Boyle and Mariotte, was
arrived at by direct experiment; that the proportional quantities in
which every known substance combines chemically with every other, were
ascertained by innumerable experiments, from which the general law of
chemical equivalents, now the ground of the most exact quantitative
previsions, was an inductive generalization; we must conclude that Mr
Spencer has committed himself to a general proposition, which a very
slight consideration of truths perfectly known to him would have shown
to be unsustainable.

Again, in the very pamphlet in which Mr Spencer defends himself against
the supposition of being a disciple of M. Comte ("The Classification of
the Sciences," p. 37), he speaks of "M. Comte's adherent, Mr Buckle."
Now, except in the opinion common to both, that history may be made a
subject of science, the speculations of these two thinkers are not only
different, but run in different channels, M. Comte applying himself
principally to the laws of evolution common to all mankind, Mr Buckle
almost exclusively to the diversities: and it may be affirmed without
presumption, that they neither saw the same truths, nor fell into the
same errors, nor defended their opinions, either true or erroneous, by
the same arguments. Indeed, it is one of the surprising things in the
case of Mr Buckle as of Mr Spencer, that being a man of kindred genius,
of the same wide range of knowledge, and devoting himself to
speculations of the same kind, he profited so little by M. Comte.

These oversights prove nothing against the general accuracy of Mr
Spencer's acquirements. They are mere lapses of inattention, such as
thinkers who attempt speculations requiring that vast multitudes of
facts should be kept in recollection at once, can scarcely hope always
to avoid.

[8] We refer particularly to the mystical metaphysics connected with the
negative sign, imaginary quantities, infinity and infinitesimals, &c,
all cleared up and put on a rational footing in the highly philosophical
treatises of Professor De Morgan.

[9] Those who wish to see this idea followed out, are referred to "A
System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive." It is not irrelevant to
state that M. Comte, soon after the publication of that work, expressed,
both in a letter (published in M. Littré's volume) and in print, his
high approval of it (especially of the Inductive part) as a real
contribution to the construction of the Positive Method. But we cannot
discover that he was indebted to it for a single idea, or that it
influenced, in the smallest particular, the course of his subsequent
speculations.

[10] The force, however, of this last consideration has been much
weakened by the progress of discovery since M. Comte left off studying
chemistry; it being now probable that most if not all substances, even
elementary, are susceptible of _allotropic_ forms; as in the case of
oxygen and ozone, the two forms of phosphorus, &c.

[11] Thus; by considering prussic acid as a compound of hydrogen and
cyanogen rather than of hydrogen and the elements of cyanogen (carbon
and nitrogen), it is assimilated to a whole class of acid compounds
between hydrogen and other substances, and a reason is thus found for
its agreeing in their acid properties.

[12] According to Sir William Hamilton, as many as six; but numerical
precision in such matters is out of the question, and it is probable
that different minds have the power in different degrees.

[13] Or, as afterwards corrected by him, the appetites and emotions, the
active capacities, and the intellectual faculties; "le coeur," "le
caractère," and "l'esprit."

[14] M. Littré, who, though a warm admirer, and accepting the position
of a disciple of M. Comte, is singularly free from his errors, makes the
equally ingenious and just remark, that Political Economy corresponds in
social science to the theory of the nutritive functions in biology,
which M. Comte, with all good physiologists, thinks it not only
permissible but a great and fundamental improvement to treat, in the
first place, separately, as the necessary basis of the higher branches
of the science: although the nutritive functions can no more be
withdrawn _in fact_ from the influence of the animal and human
attributes, than the economical phaenomena of society from that of the
political and moral.

[15] Indeed his claim to be the creator of Sociology does not extend to
this branch of the science; on the contrary, he, in a subsequent work,
expressly declares that the real founder of it was Aristotle, by whom
the theory of the conditions of social existence was carried as far
towards perfection as was possible in the absence of any theory of
Progress. Without going quite this length, we think it hardly possible
to appreciate too highly the merit of those early efforts, beyond which
little progress had been made, until a very recent period, either in
ethical or in political science.

[16] It is due to them both to say, that he continued to express, in
letters which have been published, a high opinion of her, both morally
and intellectually; and her persistent and strong concern for his
interests and his fame is attested both by M. Littré and by his own
correspondence.

[17] "Of the Classification of the Sciences," pp. 37, 38.

[18] In the case of Egypt we admit that there may be cited against us
the authority of Plato, in whose Politicus it is said that the king of
Egypt must be a member of the priestly caste, or if by usurpation a
member of any other caste acquired the sovereignty he must be initiated
with the sacerdotal order. But Plato was writing of a state of things
which already belonged to the past; nor have we any assurance that his
information on Egyptian institutions was authentic and accurate. Had the
king been necessarily or commonly a member of the priestly order, it is
most improbable that the careful Herodotus, of whose comprehensive work
an entire book was devoted to a minute account of Egypt and its
institutions, and who collected his information from Egyptian priests in
the country itself, would have been ignorant of a part so important, and
tending so much to exalt the dignity of the priesthood, who were much
more likely to affirm it falsely to Plato than to withhold the knowledge
of it if true from Heredotus. Not only is Herodotus silent respecting
any such law or custom, but he thinks it needful to mention that in one
particular instance the king (by name Sethôs) was a priest, which he
would scarcely have done if this had been other than an exceptional
case. It is likely enough that a king of Egypt would learn the hieratic
character, and would not suffer any of the mysteries of law or religion
which were in the keeping of the priests to be withheld from him; and
this was very probably all the foundation which existed for the
assertion of the Eleatic stranger in Plato's dialogue.

[19] Mill, History of British India, book ii. chap. iii.

[20] At a somewhat later period M. Comte drew up what he termed a
Positivist Calendar, in which every day was dedicated to some benefactor
of humanity (generally with the addition of a similar but minor
luminary, to be celebrated in the room of his principal each bissextile
year). In this no kind of human eminence, really useful, is omitted,
except that which is merely negative and destructive. On this principle
(which is avowed) the French _philosophes_ as such are excluded, those
only among them being admitted who, like Voltaire and Diderot, had
claims to admission on other grounds: and the Protestant religious
reformers are left out entirely, with the curious exception of George
Fox--who is included, we presume, in consideration of his Peace
principles.

[21] He goes still further and deeper in a subsequent work. "L'art
ramène doucement à la réalite les contemplations trop abstraites du
théoricien, tandis qu'il pousse noblement le praticien aux speculations
désinteressées." Système de Politique Positive, i. 287.

[22] 1. _Système de Politique Positive, ou Traité de Sociologie,
instituant la Religion de l'Humanité_. 4 vols. 8vo. Paris: 1851--1854.

2. _Catéchisme Positiviste, ou Sommaire Exposition de la Religion
Universelle, en onze Entretiens Systématiques entre une Femme et un
Prêtre de l'Humanité_. 1 vol. 12mo. Paris: 1852.

3. _Appel aux Conservateurs_. Paris: 1855 (brochure).

4. _Synthèse Subjective, ou Système Universel des Conceptions propres
à l'Etat Normal de l'Humanité_. Tome Premier, contenant le Système de
Logique Positive, ou Traité de Philosophie Mathématique. 8vo. Paris:
1856.

5. _Auguste Comte et la Philosophie Positive_. Par E. LITTRE. 1 vol.
8vo. Paris: 1863.

6. _Exposition Abrégée et Populaire de la Philosophie et de la Religion
Positives_. PAR CÉLESTIN DE BLIGNIÈRES, ancien élève de l'Ecole
Polytechnique. 1 vol. 12mo. Paris: 1857.

7. _Notice sur l'Oeuvre et sur la Vie d'Auguste Comte_. Par le DOCTEUR
ROBINET, son Médecin, et l'un de ses treize Exécuteurs Testamentaires. 1
vol. 8vo. Paris: 1860.

[23] Système de Politique Positive, iv. 100.

[24] See Sir John Herschel's Outlines of Astronomy, § 319.

[25] Synthèse Subjective, pp. 10, 11.

[26] Synthèse Subjective, pp. 11, 12.





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