in the following uncompromising terms—“In the name of the Past and of the Future, the servants of Humanity—both its philosophical and its practical servants—come forward to claim as their due the general direction of this world. Their object is to constitute at length a real Providence in all departments,—moral, intellectual and material. Consequently they exclude once for all from political supremacy all the different servants of God—Catholic, Protestant or Deist—as being at once behindhand and a cause of disturbance.” A few weeks after this invitation, a very different person stepped forward to constitute himself a real Providence.
In 1852 Comte published the Catechism of Positivism. In the preface to it he took occasion to express his approval of Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état of the 2nd of December,—“a fortunate crisis which has set aside the parliamentary system and instituted a dictatorial republic.” Whatever we may think of the political sagacity of such a judgment, it is due to Comte to say that he did not expect to see his dictatorial republic transformed into a dynastic empire, and, next, that he did expect from the Man of December freedom of the press and of public meeting. His later hero was the emperor Nicholas, “the only statesman in Christendom,”—as unlucky a judgment as that which placed Dr Francia in the Comtist Calendar.
In 1857 he was attacked by cancer, and died peaceably on the 5th of September of that year. The anniversary is celebrated by ceremonial gatherings of his French and English followers, who then commemorate the name andDeath. the services of the founder of their religion. By his will he appointed thirteen executors who were to preserve his rooms at 10 rue Monsieur-le-Prince as the headquarters of the new religion of Humanity.
In proceeding to give an Outline of Comte’s system, we shall consider the Positive Polity as the more or less legitimate sequel of the Positive Philosophy, notwithstanding the deep gulf which so eminent a critic as J. S. MillComte’s philosophic consistency. insisted upon fixing between the earlier and the later work. There may be, as we think there is, the greatest difference in their value, and the temper is not the same, nor the method. But the two are quite capable of being regarded, and for the purposes of an account of Comte’s career ought to be regarded, as an integral whole. His letters when he was a young man of one-and-twenty, and before he had published a word, show how strongly present the social motive was in his mind, and in what little account he should hold his scientific works, if he did not perpetually think of their utility for the species. “I feel,” he wrote, “that such scientific reputation as I might acquire would give more value, more weight, more useful influence to my political sermons.” In 1822 he published a Plan of the Scientific Works necessary to reorganize Society.Early writing. In this he points out that modern society is passing through a great crisis, due to the conflict of two opposing movements,—the first, a disorganizing movement owing to the break-up of old institutions and beliefs; the second, a movement towards a definite social state, in which all means of human prosperity will receive their most complete development and most direct application. How is this crisis to be dealt with? What are the undertakings necessary in order to pass successfully through it towards an organic state? The answer to this is that there are two series of works. The first is theoretic or spiritual, aiming at the development of a new principle of co-ordinating social relations, and the formation of the system of general ideas which are destined to guide society. The second work is practical or temporal; it settles the distribution of power, and the institutions that are most conformable to the spirit of the system which has previously been thought out in the course of the theoretic work. As the practical work depends on the conclusions of the theoretical, the latter must obviously come first in order of execution.
In 1826 this was pushed farther in a most remarkable piece called Considerations on the Spiritual Power—the main object of which is to demonstrate the necessity of instituting a spiritual power, distinct from the temporal power and independent of it. In examining the conditions of a spiritual power proper for modern times, he indicates in so many terms the presence in his mind of a direct analogy between his proposed spiritual power and the functions of the Catholic clergy at the time of its greatest vigour and most complete independence,—that is to say, from about the middle of the 11th century until towards the end of the 13th. He refers to de Maistre’s memorable book, Du Pape, as the most profound, accurate and methodical account of the old spiritual organization, and starts from that as the model to be adapted to the changed intellectual and social conditions of the modern time. In the Positive Philosophy, again (vol. v. p. 344), he distinctly says that Catholicism, reconstituted as a system on new intellectual foundations, would finally preside over the spiritual reorganization of modern society. Much else could be quoted to the same effect. If unity of career, then, means that Comte, from the beginning designed the institution of a spiritual power, and the systematic reorganization of life, it is difficult to deny him whatever credit that unity may be worth, and the credit is perhaps not particularly great. Even the readaptation of the Catholic system to a scientific doctrine was plainly in his mind thirty years before the final execution of the Positive Polity, though it is difficult to believe that he foresaw the religious mysticism in which the task was to land him. A great analysis was to precede a great synthesis, but it was the synthesis on which Comte’s vision was centred from the first. Let us first sketch the nature of the analysis. Society is to be reorganized on the base of knowledge. What is the sum and significance of knowledge? That is the question which Comte’s first master-work professes to answer.
The Positive Philosophy opens with the statement of a certain law of which Comte was the discoverer, and which has always been treated both by disciples and dissidents as the key to his system. This is the Law of the Three States.Law of the Three States. It is as follows. Each of our leading conceptions, each branch of our knowledge, passes successively through three different phases; there are three different ways in which the human mind explains phenomena, each way following the other in order. These three stages are the Theological, the Metaphysical and the Positive. Knowledge, or a branch of knowledge, is in the Theological state, when it supposes the phenomena under consideration to be due to immediate volition, either in the object or in some supernatural being. In the Metaphysical state, for volition is substituted abstract force residing in the object, yet existing independently of the object; the phenomena are viewed as if apart from the bodies manifesting them; and the properties of each substance have attributed to them an existence distinct from that substance. In the Positive state, inherent volition or external volition and inherent force or abstraction personified have both disappeared from men’s minds, and the explanation of a phenomenon means a reference of it, by way of succession or resemblance, to some other phenomenon,—means the establishment of a relation between the given fact and some more general fact. In the Theological and Metaphysical state men seek a cause or an essence; in the Positive they are content with a law. To borrow an illustration from an able English disciple of Comte:—“Take the phenomenon of the sleep produced by opium. The Arabs are content to attribute it to the ‘will of God.’ Molière’s medical student accounts for it by a soporific principle contained in the opium. The modern physiologist knows that he cannot account for it at all. He can simply observe, analyse and experiment upon the phenomena attending the action of the drug, and classify it with other agents analogous in character.”—(Dr Bridges.)
The first and greatest aim of the Positive Philosophy is to advance the study of society into the third of the three stages,—to remove social phenomena from the sphere of theological and metaphysical conceptions, and to introduce among them the same scientific observation of their laws which has given us physics, chemistry, physiology. Social physics will consist of the conditions and relations of the facts of society, and will have two departments,—one, statical, containing the laws of order; the other dynamical, containing the laws of progress. While