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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. It is as follows. Each of
our leading conceptions, each branch of our knowledge,
passes successively through three different phases ;
there are three diff"erent ways in Avhich 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.



364 COMTE.

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 sub-
stance 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 resem-
blance, to some other phenomenon, — means the estab-
lishment 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 pro-
duced by opium. The Arabs are content to attribute
it to the "will of God." Moli^re's medical student
accounts for it by a sojporific 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 attend-
ing 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



COMTE. 365

the three stages, — to remove social phenomena from
the sphere of theological and metaphysical concep-
tions, 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, con-
taining the laws of order ; the other dynamical, con-
taining the laws of progress. While 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 in-
stance, 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
Avill 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 homo-
geneous. The gains of such a change are enormous.
The new philosophical unity Avill now in its turn
regenerate all the elements that went to its o^vn



3G6 COMTE.

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 reorganise 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 ensemble or spirit of generality hitherto confined

to philosophy, and to give to philosophy the rigour

and sohdity 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 generahties 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 con-
crete. The former is concerned with the laws that
regulate phenomena in all conceivable cases ; the
latter is concerned with the application of these laws



COMTE. 367

Concrete science relates to objects or beings ; abstract
science to events. Ttie former is particular or de-
scriptive ; the latter is general. Thus, physiology is
an abstract science ; but zoology is concrete. Chem-
istry is abstract ; mineralogy is concrete. It is the
method and knowledge of the abstract sciences that
the Positive Philosophy has to reorganise in a great
whole.

Comte's principle of classification is that the de-
pendence 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 com-
plexity. 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) Mathe-
matics (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 pre-
ceding it, and cannot be fully understood without
them. It follows that the crowning science of tlic



3G8 COMTE.

hierarchy, dealing with the phenomena of hiiman
society, Avill 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 systematisation of the
philosophy of all the sciences from mathematics to
physiology, and his analysis of social evolution, which
is the basis of sociology. Each science contributes its
philosophy. The co-ordination of all these partial
philosophies produces the general Positive Philo-
sophy. ' Thousands had cultivated science, and
with splendid success ; not one had conceived the
philosophy which the sciences when organised 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 organisation 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



COMTE. 369

brought was the organisation 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-or-
dinated the truths and methods of these sciences
into a doctrine ' {G. H. Lewes).

We may interrupt our short exposition here to
remark that Comte's classification of the sciences has
been subjected to a vigorous criticism by Mr, Herbert
Spencer. Mr. Spencer's two chief points are these : —
(1) He denies that the principle of the development
of the sciences is the principle of decreasing gener-
ality ; he asserts that there are as many examples of
the advent of a science being determined by increas-
ing 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. M. Littr6, by far the
most eminent of the scientific followers of Comte,
concedes a certain force to Mr, 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. Mr, Mill,
while admitting the objections as good, if Comte's
arrangement pretended to be the only one possible,
still holds that arrangement as tenable for the pur-
pose with which it was devised. Mr, Lewes asserts

VOL. HI, 2 B



370 COMTE.

against Mr. 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 hier-
archy. 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 accom-
plished in the last three volumes of the Positive Philo-
sophy 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 concep-
tion ; but in the construction of the biological science,
not even the most unphilosophical biologist would fail
to recognise the value of Aristotle's attempt. So for
sociology. Subsequent sociologists may have conceiv-



COMTE. 371

ably to remodel the whole science, yet not the less
will they recognise the merit of the first work which
has facilitated their labours ' (Congreve).

We shall now briefly describe Comte's principal
conceptions in sociology, his position in respect to
which is held by himself, and by others, to raise him
to the level of Descartes or Leibnitz. Of course the
first step was to approach the phenomena of human
character and social existence with the expectation of
finding them as reducible to general laws as the other
phenomena of the universe, and with the hope of'
exploring these laws by the same instruments of obser-
vation and verification as had done such triumphant
work in the case of the latter. Comte separates the
collective facts of society and history from the indi-
vidual phenomena of biology; then he withdraws
these collective facts from the region of external
volition, and places them in the region of law. The
facts of history must be explained, not by providential
interventions, but by referring them to conditions in-
herent in the successive stages of social existence.
This conception makes a science of society possible.
What is the method? It comprises, besides obser-
vation and experiment (which is, in fact, only the
observation of abnormal social states), a certain pecu-
liarity of verification. We begin by deducing every
Avell-known historical situation from the series of its
antecedents. Thus we acquire a body of empirical
generalisations as to social phenomena, and then we
connect the generalisations with the positive theory



372 COMTE.

of human nature. A sociological demonstration lies
in the establishment of an accordance between the
conclusions of historical analysis and the preparatory
conceptions of biological theory. As Mr. Mill puts
it: — 'If a sociological theory, collected from his-
torical evidence, contradicts the established general
laws of human nature ; if (to use M. Comte's in-
stances) 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 phenomena, empirically generalised from his-
tory, 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 generalisations are raised into
positive laws, and sociology becomes a science.' The
result of this method is an exhibition of the events of
human experience in co-ordinated series that manifest
their own graduated connection.

Next, as all investigation proceeds from that which
is known best to that which is unknown or less well
known, and as, in social states, it is the collective
phenomenon that is more easy of access to the
observer than its parts, therefore we must consider



COMTE. 373

and pursue all the elements of a given social state
together and in common. The social organisation
must be viewed and explored as a whole. There is
a nexus between each leading group of social pheno-
mena and other leading groups ; if there is a change
in one of them, that change is accompanied by a
corresponding modification of all the rest. ' Not
only must political institutions and social manners
on the one hand, and manners and ideas on the
other, be always mutually connected; but further,
this consolidated whole must be always connected by
its nature with the corresponding state of the integral
development of humanity, considered in all its aspects
of intellectual, moral and physical activity ' (Comte).

Is there any one element which communicates the
decisive impulse to all the rest, — any predominating
agency in the course of social evolution 1 The answer
is that all the other parts of social existence are asso-
ciated with, and drawn along by, the contemporary
condition of intellectual development. The Eeason
is the superior and preponderant element which settles
the direction in which all the other faculties shall ex-
pand. ' It is only through the more and more marked
influence of the reason over the general conduct of
man and of society that the gradual march of our
race has attained that regularity and persevering con-
tinuity which distinguish it so radically from the
desultory and barren expansion of even the highest
animal orders, which share, and with enhanced
strength, the appetites, the passions, and even the



374 COMTE.

primary sentiments of man.' The history of intel-
lectual development, therefore, is the key to social
evolution, and the key to the history of intellectual
development is the Law of the Three States.

Among other central thoughts in Comte's ex-
planation of history are these : — The displacement
of theological by positive conceptions has been accom-
panied by a gradual rise of an industrial rdgime out
of the military regime; — the great permanent con-
tribution of Catholicism Avas the separation which
it set up between the temporal and the spiritual
powers; — the progress of the race consists in the
increasing preponderance of the distinctively human
elements over the animal elements; — the absolute
tendency of ordinary social theories will be replaced
by an unfailing adherence to the relative point of
view, and from this it follows that the social state,
regarded as a whole, has been as perfect in each
period as the co-existing condition of humanity and
its environment would allow.

The elaboration of these ideas in relation to the
history of the civilisation of the most advanced portion
of the human race occupies two of the volumes of the
Positive Philosophy, and has been accepted by com-
petent persons of very different schools as a master-
piece of rich, luminous, and far-reaching suggestion.
Whatever additions it may receive, and whatever
corrections it may require, this analysis of social
evolution will continue to be regarded as one of the
great achievements of human intellect. The demand



COMTE. 375

for the first of Comte's two works has gone on increas-
ing in a significant degree. It was completed, as we
have said, in 1842. A second edition was pubhshed
in 1864; a third some years afterwards; and while
we write (1876) a fourth is in the press. Three
editions within twelve years of a work of abstract
philosophy in six considerable volumes are the mea-
sure of a very striking influence. On the whole, we
may suspect that no part of Comte's works has had
so much to do with this marked success as his survey
and review of the course of history.

The third volume of the later work, the Positive
Polity, treats of social dynamics, and takes us again
over the ground of historic evolution. It abounds
with remarks of extraordinary fertility and compre-
hensiveness ; but it is often arbitrary ; its views of
the past are strained into coherence with the statical
views of the preceding volume ; and so far as concerns
the period to which the present writer happens to
have given special attention, it is usually slight and
sometimes random. As it was composed in rather
less than six months, and as the author honestly
warns us that he has given all his attention to a
more profound co-ordination, instead of working out
the special explanations more fully, as he had pro-
mised, we need not be surprised if the result is
disappointing to those who had mastered the corre-
sponding portion of the Positive Philosophy. Comte
explains the difference between his two works. In
the first his ' chief object was to discover and demon-



376 COMTE.

strate the laws of progress, and to exhibit in one
unbroken sequence the collective destinies of man-
kind, till then invariably regarded as a series of events
wholly beyond the reach of explanation, and almost
depending on arbitrary will. The present work, on
the contrary, is addressed to those who are already
sufficiently convinced of the certain existence of social
laws, and desire only to have them reduced to a true
and conclusive system.'

What that system is it would take far more space
than we can afford to sketch even in outline. All
we can do is to enumerate some of its main positions.
They are to be drawn not only from the Positive Polity,
but from two other works, — the Positivist Catechism:
a Sicmmary Exposition of the Universal Religion, in
Twelve Dialogues between a Woman and a Priest of
Humanity ; and second. The Suhjedive Synthesis (1856),
which is the first and only volume of a work upon
mathematics announced at the end of the Positive
Philosophy. The system for which the Positive Philo-
sophy is alleged to have been the scientific preparation
contains a Polity and a Religion ; a complete arrange-
ment of life in all its aspects, giving a wider sphere
to Intellect, Energy, and Feeling than could be found
in any of the previous organic types, — Greek, Roman,
or Catholic-feudal. Comte's immense superiority over
such prse-Revolutionary Utopians as the Abb6 Saint
Pierre, no less than over the group of post-revolu-
tionary Utopians, is especially visible in his firm
grasp of the cardinal truth that the improvement of



COMTE. 377

the social organism can only be effected by a moral
development, and never by any changes in mere
political mechanism, or any violences in the way of
an artificial redistribution of wealth. A moral trans-
formation must precede any real advance. The aim,
both in public and private life, is to secure to the
utmost possible extent the victory of the social feeling
over self-love, or Altruism over Egoism. This is the
key to the regeneration of social existence, as it is
the key to that unity of individual life which makes
all our energies converge freely and without wasteful
friction towards a common end. What are the instru-
ments for securing the preponderance of Altruism 1
Clearly they must work from the strongest element
in human nature, and this element is Feeling or the
Heart. Under the Catholic system the supremacy of
Feeling was abused, and the intellect was made its
slave. Then followed a revolt of Intellect against
Sentiment. The business of the new system will be
to bring back the Intellect into a condition, not of
slavery, but of willing ministry to the Feelings. The
subordination never was, and never will be, effected
except by means of a religion, and a religion, to be
final, must include a harmonious synthesis of all our con-
ceptions of the external order of the universe. The
characteristic basis of a religion is the existence of a
Power without us, so superior to ourselves as to com-
mand the complete submission of our whole life. This
basis is to be found in the Positive stage, in Humanity,
past, present, and to come, conceived as the Great Being,



378 COMTE.

A deeper study of the great universal order reveals to
us at length the ruling power within it of the true Great
Being, whose destiny it is to bring that order continually
to perfection by constantly conforming to its laws, and
which thus best represents to us that system as a whole.
This undeniable Providence, the supreme dispenser of our
destinies, becomes in the natural course the common centre
of our affections, our thoughts, and our actions. Although
this Great Being evidently exceeds the utmost strength of
any, even of any collective, human force, its necessary
constitution and its peculiar function endow it with the
truest sympathy towards all its servants. Tlie least
amongst us can and ought constantly to aspire to maintain
and even to improve this Being. This natural object of
all our activity, both public and private, determines the
true general character of the rest of our existence, whether
in feeling or in thought ; which must be devoted to love,
and to know, in order rightly to serve, our Providence,
by a wise use of all the means which it furnishes to us.
Reciprocally this continued service, while strengthening
our true unity, renders us at once both happier and better.

The exaltation of Humanity into the throne occu-
pied by the Supreme Being under monotheistic systems
made all the rest of Comte's construction easy enough.
Utility remains the test of every institution, impulse,
act ; his fabric becomes substantially an arch of utili-
tarian propositions, with an artificial Great Being
inserted at the top to keep them in their place. The
Comtist system is utilitarianism crowned by a fantastic
decoration. Translated into the plainest English, the


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