men’s minds were in the theological state, political events, for example, were explained by the will of the gods, and political authority based on divine right. In the metaphysical state of mind, then, to retain our instance, political authority was based on the sovereignty of the people, and social facts were explained by the figment of a falling away from a state of nature. When the positive method has been finally extended to society, as it has been to chemistry and physiology, these social facts will be resolved, as their ultimate analysis, into relations with one another, and instead of seeking causes in the old sense of the word, men will only examine the conditions of social existence. When that stage has been reached, not merely the greater part, but the whole, of our knowledge will be impressed with one character, the character, namely, of positivity or scientificalness; and all our conceptions in every part of knowledge will be thoroughly homogeneous. The gains of such a change are enormous. The new philosophical unity will now in its turn regenerate all the elements that went to its own formation. The mind will pursue knowledge without the wasteful jar and friction of conflicting methods and mutually hostile conceptions; education will be regenerated; and society will reorganize itself on the only possible solid base—a homogeneous philosophy.
The Positive Philosophy has another object besides the demonstration of the necessity and propriety of a science of society. This object is to show the sciences as branches from a single trunk,—is to give to science the ensembleClassification of sciences. or spirit or generality hitherto confined to philosophy, and to give to philosophy the rigour and solidity of science. Comte’s special object is a study of social physics, a science that before his advent was still to be formed; his second object is a review of the methods and leading generalities of all the positive sciences already formed, so that we may know both what system of inquiry to follow in our new science, and also where the new science will stand in relation to other knowledge.
The first step in this direction is to arrange scientific method and positive knowledge in order, and this brings us to another cardinal element in the Comtist system, the classification of the sciences. In the front of the inquiry lies one main division, that, namely, between speculative and practical knowledge. With the latter we have no concern. Speculative or theoretic knowledge is divided into abstract and concrete. The former is concerned with the laws that regulate phenomena in all conceivable cases: the latter is concerned with the application of these laws. Concrete science relates to objects or beings; abstract science to events. The former is particular or descriptive; the latter is general. Thus, physiology is an abstract science; but zoology is concrete. Chemistry is abstract; mineralogy is concrete. It is the method and knowledge of the abstract sciences that the Positive Philosophy has to reorganize in a great whole.
Comte’s principle of classification is that the dependence and order of scientific study follows the dependence of the phenomena. Thus, as has been said, it represents both the objective dependence of the phenomena and the subjective dependence of our means of knowing them. The more particular and complex phenomena depend upon the simpler and more general. The latter are the more easy to study. Therefore science will begin with those attributes of objects which are most general, and pass on gradually to other attributes that are combined in greater complexity. Thus, too, each science rests on the truths of the sciences that precede it, while it adds to them the truths by which it is itself constituted. Comte’s series or hierarchy is arranged as follows:— (1) Mathematics (that is, number, geometry, and mechanics), (2) Astronomy, (3) Physics, (4) Chemistry, (5) Biology, (6) Sociology. Each of the members of this series is one degree more special than the member before it, and depends upon the facts of all the members preceding it, and cannot be fully understood without them. It follows that the crowning science of the hierarchy, dealing with the phenomena of human society, will remain longest under the influence of theological dogmas and abstract figments, and will be the last to pass into the positive stage. You cannot discover the relations of the facts of human society without reference to the conditions of animal life; you cannot understand the conditions of animal life without the laws of chemistry; and so with the rest.
This arrangement of the sciences, and the Law of the Three
States, are together explanatory of the course of human thought
and knowledge. They are thus the double key of
Comte’s systematization of the philosophy of all theThe double
positive philosophy. sciences from mathematics to physiology, and his analysis of social evolution, which is the base of sociology. Each science contributes its philosophy. The co-ordination of all these partial philosophies produces the general Positive Philosophy. “Thousands had cultivated science, and with splendid success; not one had conceived the philosophy which the sciences when organized would naturally evolve. A few had seen the necessity of extending the scientific method to all inquiries, but no one had seen how this was to be effected. . . The Positive Philosophy is novel as a philosophy, not as a collection of truths never before suspected. Its novelty is the organization of existing elements. Its very principle implies the absorption of all that great thinkers had achieved; while incorporating their results it extended their methods. . . . What tradition brought was the results; what Comte brought was the organization of these results. He always claimed to be the founder of the Positive Philosophy. That he had every right to such a title is demonstrable to all who distinguish between the positive sciences and the philosophy which co-ordinated the truths and methods of these sciences into a doctrine.”—G. H. Lewes.
Comte’s classification of the sciences has been subjected to a vigorous criticism by Herbert Spencer. Spencer’s two chief points are these:—(1) He denies that the principle of the development of the sciences is the principle ofCriticism on Comte’s classification. decreasing generality; he asserts that there are as many examples of the advent of a science being determined by increasing generality as by increasing speciality. (2) He holds that any grouping of the sciences in a succession gives a radically wrong idea of their genesis and their interdependence; no true filiation exists; no science develops itself in isolation; no one is independent, either logically or historically. Littré, by far the most eminent of the scientific followers of Comte, concedes a certain force to Spencer’s objections, and makes certain secondary modifications in the hierarchy in consequence, while still cherishing his faith in the Comtist theory of the sciences. J. S. Mill, while admitting the objections as good, if Comte’s arrangement pretended to be the only one possible, still holds the arrangement as tenable for the purpose with which it was devised. G. H. Lewes asserts against Spencer that the arrangement in a series is necessary, on grounds similar to those which require that the various truths constituting a science should be systematically co-ordinated although in nature the phenomena are intermingled.
The first three volumes of the Positive Philosophy contain an exposition of the partial philosophies of the five sciences that precede sociology in the hierarchy. Their value has usually been placed very low by the special followers of the sciences concerned; they say that the knowledge is second-hand, is not coherent, and is too confidently taken for final. The Comtist replies that the task is philosophic; and is not to be judged by the minute accuracies of science. In these three volumes Comte took the sciences roughly as he found them. His eminence as a man of science must be measured by his only original work in that department,—the construction, namely, of the new science of society. This work is accomplished in the last three volumes of the Positive Philosophy, and the second and third volumes of the Positive Polity. The Comtist maintains that even if these five volumes together fail in laying down correctly and finally the lines of the new science, still they are the first solution of a great problem hitherto unattempted. “Modern biology has got beyond Aristotle’s conception; but in the construction of the biological science, not even the most unphilosophical biologist would fail to recognize the value of Aristotle’s attempt. So for sociology. Subsequent sociologists may have conceivably to