Paulist Fathers.

Catholic world online

. (page 115 of 136)
Online LibraryPaulist FathersCatholic world → online text (page 115 of 136)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


philosophy, and to which he has added
a concluding chapter that gives us an
exposition of his method. It Is to this



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



PaMvum.



726



method which we shall, farther on, de-
vote a few words.*



n.

It will readily he perceived that we
cannot even attempt to set forth within
cmr limits the positivist religion and
philosophj in all their details and de-
velopments, and that we must confine
oarselves to their chief points or lead-
ing princtples. We shall take our
analysis firom the works of M. Comte
himself, and from the series of letters
which M. Littr^ formerly inserted in
The NaHoncdy and which he has since
repuhlished in a volmne entitled J?^ro-
lution, Positivism^ (hnservcUisniy Paris,
1851. M. Littr6 has reproduced the
ideas of the master with a fidelity and
disinterestedness rare in a disciple, and
he has over the master the advantage
of style and method.

Positivism assumes as its starting
point that modem society is suffering
from a deeply rooted evil, that it is like
a man in a fever who tosses and turns
in his bed, seeking a position in which
he may rest at ease, and finding none.
Do what it will it can find no stable
position. In vain has it elSected im-
mense progress, for this very progress
turns to its disadvantage. Beside,
what does progress avail if society can-
not enjoy it in order and peace ? But
whence comes this evil, this trouble,
this feverish and sterile agitation?
Evidently it comes from intellectual
and moral anarchy. Nobody any long-
er believes in anything; ibere is no
longer any law, any principle, that unites
all minds in a common symbol ; every
one draws from himself; divided egot-
isms are in mutual conflict, and seek
each other's destruction. If such is the
nature of the malady, the remedy is
obvious. It must be in obtaining a doc-
trine which accepted by all becomes
the doctrine of all, a bond of union for
them, and the principle of peace.

* IC. de Taine has, since thttarticlo was writ-
ten, pobllshed a work on English writers and
literature, which has in certain qoarters been
well spoken of, and which really has some merit,
though of a lighter poiL'-'Tiukujltqsl



But where is this doctrine to be
found? Is it a religious doctrine-
Catholicity, for instance ? The Catho-
lic doctrine, indeed, gave formerly the
result desired, .and realized in the world
an incomparable unify; but it has had
its day ; science has demonstrated the
impossibility of its'* dogmas, and it, in
fact, finds now only here^ and there a
real believer — the great majority have
oeased to believe it. Will Protestant-
ism supply the doctrine needed ? No ;
for Protestantism is only a degenerate
and illogical Catholicism. Will Islam-
ism give it? Islamism has certainly
its grand sides, but its morality is too
defective, and its dogma is hardly loss
repulsive than the Christian. It is,
then, manifest that all existing relig-
ions are impotent for the future to ral-
ly and unite in a common bond the
minds of men. But as religion^ can-
not do it, perhaps philosophy, meta-
physics, can ? Metaphysics is only the
abstract form of religion, resting on the
same basis and sustained by it, and
does nothing but substitute abstract be-
ings that have no reality for the super-
natural beings imagined by religion, and
which science equally rejects. Meta-
physics has, as religion, been indeed
useful, has aided science to show the
inanity of religions dogmas; but, if
useful in the work of destruction, it is
impotent in that of rebuilding, and can
henceforth serve only to perpetuate in-
tellectual anarchy — ^that is to say, only
aggravate the evil instead of curing it.
If, then, the remedy can be found nei-
ther in religion nor in metaphysics,
where can it be found ?

It is to be found in a doctrine which
substitutes for the supernatural beings
of religion, and the abstract entities of
metaphysics, the real beings which
science demonstrates, and the existence
of whichnobody disputes or can dispute.
But how find or how construct such a
doctrine ? The experience of what has
been done in the exact sciences gives
distinctly enough the answer. There
was a time when mathematics, astron-
omy, physics, did not exist, and when
men explained all the phenomena



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



726



PoiMvum.



of nature by ohimerical hjpotheseB.
Now, how has man come forth from
that ignorance ? Bj observing instead
of imagining, as he had hitherto done ;
and in observing phenomena he dis-
covered their laws, and thus, with time
and effort, he sncceeded in creating the
sciences which are called mathematics,
astronomy, nhjsics, chemistry. Can
we doobt, aner this, that by applying
the same method or following the same
process in regard to the science of in-
dividual man, or hiclogy, and the science
of society, or sociologt/, we shall obtain
the same result? And let it not be
said that these sciences are of another
order ; tiie distinction attempted to be
established between them and the ex-
act sdenoes is puerile and unfound-
ed, as science exists only on condi-
tion of being exact, and if not exact it
is no/ science. Biology and sociology
have, it is true, not yet the character
of exact sciences ; but why have they
not ? Simply because they are as yet
in their infancy, as was chemistry two
centuries ago ; because, on the one hand,
tliey have been badly studied, and, on
the other, because they are more com-
plex and less easily mastered. The
difficulties, it is admitted, are therefore
great ; but it is necessary to conquer
them, since the salvation of the world
can be secured on no other condition.

The terms of the problem are now
distinctly stated, together with the
method of its solution. The malady
from which society suffers is intellect-
ual anarchy, and intellectual anarchy
will cease only when we have made of
the sciences of biology and sociology
(it is known what these sciences mean)
sciences as exact as are mathematics,
astronomy, etc ; and to do this it is
only necessary to use the same method
in constructing them that is used
in constructing the so-called exact
sciences.

However, the whole is not yet said.
Observation is, indeed, the true method,
but observation of what? Of moral
phenomena, the operations of the soul ?
But what is the soul ? Who has seen
it ? Certain metaphysicians have, in-



deed, pretended to derive aU scieiioe
from the phenomena of the soul ; bat
this is a gross error ; psychology is an
impossible science. In psychology the
subject, or rather the organ which ob>
serves, is precisely that which is ob-
served — the eye striving to see itself.
To what, then, is observation to be 4^»-
plied ? To the body, to the cerebral or-
gans, and, primarily, to the external
world ; to the inorganic world at .first,
afterward to the organic woild, to min-
erals, plants, animals. The study of
animals is especially serviceable, since
man, at most, has over the animcd only
the advantage of some superior intel-
lectual faculties, and even that advant-
age appears doubtful, observes M*
Comte, if we compare tiie acts of the
mammiferae, the most elevated, with
those of savages, the least developed.

After zoology, the most useful sci-
ence is phrenology, the science whi<^
best teaches us what man really
is. Dr. Gall under this relation has
rendered an immense service, and
created the true science of man. lie
erred, it is true, by too minute detail,
and in wishing to determine at once
the organs of theft, luxury, etc, which
gave fair scope to critidBm ;* but it
would be difficult to resist the aeca-
mulated proofs on which he had es-
tablished his system. In short, sci-
ence is now in the position to give a
classification of eighteen interior iuno-
tions of the brain, or a systematic
tableau of the soul. Thus it is neitb-
er from metaphysics nor from religion,
but from zoology) and, above all, from
phrenology, that we must seek the
knowledge of the laws which govern
intelligence.

However, method alone does not
suffice. There is needed abo a crite-
rion, and here M. Comte confesses
that the difficulty is great

To observe with profit, to be able,
by observation, to abstract from the



* Nothing l8 new under the enn, ears Solomon.
Any one curious on the snhjecl of phrenology
may read, ae M. Oooain has well remarked, in
Plato's THmcttAt^ all that Gall and Sunrsheim,
and their followers, hare really estanlished tn
their pretended science.— IteAXSLaTOii.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



J^9iUw%9nu



787



phenomena their laws, we most have
ttn anterior law, a tjpe^law, to serve
as the term of comparison, in like
manner as a standard is necessary to
determine the value of a coin. Now,
what furnishes this type? Observa-
tion ? But this is only to recommence
the * difficulty. The embarrassment
can be relieved only by reasoning
from anal<^, and a historical theory.
Positivism, after all, then, resorts to
reasoning and theorizmg! The sci*
enoes which are firmly seated on posi-
tive realities began in hypotheses, and
it has been by the aid of hypotheses,
ascertained afterward to be false, that
observation has succeeded in discover-
ing the real laws of these sciences I
It must be the same with biology and
sociology. Humanity began by re-
ligion, and religion has passed through
three phases, fetichism,' polytheism,
and monotheism. Religion, truly, is
only a fiction, but a useful fiction, and
even necessary to the development of
humanity. Fetichism, in ofiering
plants to the adoration of man, taught
him to cultivate them ; polytheism, in
creating supernatural beings, gaye
birth to poetry and the ^e arts;
monotheism, in elevating minds, has
fitted them for the culture of science.
Afler religion came metaphysics,
which, by transforming the dogmas
into abstractions, destroyed them ; and,
by destroying them, opened the way
for positivism* Now, what has taken
place for humanity in general must be
reproduced for each man in particu-
lar ; each one of us must pass through
the religious state and the metaphys-
ical state before we can arrive at the
positivist state. Thus, then, in like
manner as it has been by means of
false hypotheses that the real laws of
the science have been discovered, so
by means of hypotheses equally false,
religion and metaphysics, will be dis-
covered the true laws of biology. .

We confess that we do not very
clearly perceive what relation there is
between this theory and the problem
to be solved. The problem is how to
find a criterion by the aid of which



the true may be distinguished from the
false; but this criterion escapes us
still, and we have for it only a second
method superposed on the first, or
history coming to the aid of physiolo-
gy. True, we are not told what bond
connects the two methods, or how we
are to combine them, and from their
combination obtain the type-law; but
we must not be too difficult, and we
forewarn our readers that they must
not look for any real connection, any
logical nexus, between the various
propositions which we are about to
place before them. Beyond the gross
materialism which follows necessarily
from the positivist premises, all is ar-
bitrary and capricious; the master
says it, and he must be believed on
his word, without being asked for rea-
sons, good or bad. Our readers will
judge for themselves if this be not so,
and that they may not accuse us of
exaggerating anything, we shall give
generally textual citations.

After having presented the formula
of its method, or rather of its two
methods, the positivist school pro-
ceeds to the appUcatton and exposition
of the consequences which are derived
from it or them.

In the very outset they assert that
there are no absolute truths, that all
truth is relative ; the true, the good,
the fair, are such only by a provision-
al title; what was virtue yesterday
may be crime to-day, and what is
crime to-day may be virtue to-morrow*
Thus speaks IVL Littr^:

" The positivist philosophy is exper-
imental; \ • . . it is composed
of relative not absolute notions. • •
. . When man, in the beginning of
his scientific career, launched into un-
restricted researches after the absolute,
he had only this way c^n to him;
now another way has been opened,
that of experience and inductioii.
This way cannot conduct the inquirer
to absolute notions, and when we de-
mand them of reason we demand of
her more than she has. The mind of
man is neither absolute nor infinite,
and to try to obtain from it absolute



Digitized by VjOOQIC



728



I^miivian.



eolations is to go oat of the immuiahU
conditions of human nature."* — LUtriy
dmservcOUmy XevoluUan, and Positive
iim^pp. 5, 38.

If there are no absolute truths,
then there is no God :

^ This condusion," says M. Littr^
^ rests on the decisive results of all
scientific exploration during the long
oourse of the ages, namely, that noth-
ing of what is called first cause is ac-
cessible to the human mind, and the
origin of the world can be explained
neither by many gods nor by one god
alone, neither by nature, chance, nor
atoms. This result, erected into a
principle, gradually takes possession of
modem intelligence, and bears in its
womb the social organization of the fu-
ture of the race. • . If, for a child-
ish and individual satisfaction, the idea
of some theolo^cal being, one or mani-
fold, is retained, it is necessary to re-
duce the conception forthwith to a
nullity, and to purely nominal and su-
pererogatory functions ; for the result
of scientific investigation is, that there
is in the course of things no trace of
miracle or government from above,
and nothing but an unbroken chain of
laws modifiable, within certain limits,
by the action from age to age of man-
kind. As Laplace says, such a being
is henceforth a useless hypothesis."-—
Ib^pp. 279, 298.

The soul has no existence distinct
from that of the body, and therefore
dies with it :

^ This belief (concerning the sor-
vivance of the soul), which might be
true, is not found to be so; sdence
(always science I) has not been able
to establish a single &ct whatever of
a life after death ; and so, like a pond
no longer alimented by inflowing
streams, the opinion of an individual
perpetuity gradually evaporates." — Ib,f
pp. 128.

* M. de Chalambert might bererepW, grantine
man haa no Infinite or absolute notiona^ whicE
no Unite mind can have, it bj no means fol-
lows tbat he has no notions or conceptions of
that which is infinite and absolute, or intuitions
of necessary, eternal, and immntable truth, as
are the first principles of all science, religion,
•ad morals.~TBAHSLATo]i.



There is room for liberty only be-
cause the biok>gical phenomena are
very complex :

^ No sdence," says M. Littr^ (i&,
p. 114), ^< if the phenomenon has no
law, and no power (liberty) if not
complex enough to offer us struggles
duly proportioned to the compHca*-
tion."

It follows from this that the effect
of the progress of science must be to
diminish human liberty, since in pro-
portion as it elucidates questions it
diminishes their complexity.

However, human intelligence must
have an ideal :

^The ideal is its dream and its
worship. Now what will be its ideal?
Humanity itself. Humanity has a
real existence ; it is the great Being,
really a great collective body, having
a regular growth of its own, and pro-
vided, like every individual body,
with temporary organs, which lose their
' activity, wither, and disappear in de-
fault of employment and nutrition"
(t&.,p. 118). ^Formerly, and oonfbnn-
ably to the medium in which they
moved, theology and meti^hysics, its
slave, gave their demonstration of the
divine existence. In like manner
science to-day gives the demonstratioa
of the existence of humanity. It is no
longer possible to mistake the growth
of this ideal — the solidarity of its
most remote past with its most distant
future, and this powerful life of whidi
each man has been, is, and will be an
organ" (»6., p. 288). ^ Humanity is
a real ideal, which it is necessary to
know (education), to love (re%ion),
to embellish (the fine arts), to enridi
(industry), and which therefore holds
our whole existence, individual, do-
mestic, and social, under its suprone
direction" (»6., p. 286).

To love and serve humanity is the
whole positivist moral law. M. Lit-
tr6 says, pp. 291, 292 : <" This moral-
ity is much superior to the morality
of the past, which was founded on
selfishness. The < salvation' of the
theologians is as much a selfish cakn-
lation as the ' enlightened 8elf4ntet>



Digitized by VjOOQIC



JPt^tUufiitru



729



es^ of the materialists. The materi*
alists say, * Do good : it is for thj in-
terest in this Ufe;* the theologians
say, ' Do good : it is for thy interest
in another life/ Never was there a
more perfect system of selfishness or-
ganized in the world ; and if power-
M instincts, and, it is but justice to
add, sacerdotal wisdom, had not in
part counterbalanced the disastrous
eflfects of such an habitual direction,
individual asceticism and aspiration
to salvation would have dissolved all
social bonds.**

It is, we see, no longer God whom
we are to love and serve, but humani-
ty, and as humanity has few or no re*
wards to bestow, the worship we ren-
der her must needs be disinterested.
Selfishness falls in proportion as the
hope of reward vanishes. [But sup-
pose one does not love and serve hu-
manity, will he sufibr punishment or
lose anything in consequence ? If so,
what becomes of the positivist doc-
trine of the disinterestedness of the
worship of humanity ? — ^Tb.]

Such are the solutions offered by
the positivist philosophy on the princi-
pal points of biology, or the science
of the individual ; we proceed now to
sociology, or the science of society.

Positivism, being at once a philoso-
phy and a religion, must admit and
does admit two distinct societies — ^a
temporal society and a spiritual soci-
ety. We begin with the firsL

TTie a^m of the temporal society M.
Littr6,i5., p. 119, explains in the fol-
lowing manner : *' The historic tradi-
tion itself, without anything forced, ar-
bitrary, fortuitous, or transitoiy, con-
ducts us to the reign of industry. Be-
fore industry the whole past sncces-
siTely falls and disappears. For the
modem man industrial activity is the
only temporal occupation, the only
practical activity. ... If the accession
of the industrial regimen is inevitable,
it is also inevitable that the chiefs of
oar industry should be our temporal
chiefs. We have no need of patri-
cians or of gentlemen to lead us to
war and conquest ; we have no need



of kings or kaisers to concentrate in
their own hands the power of the
sword. Their functions, formerly pre-
eminent, are now without employ-
ment (!). But we have need of direct
tors who can conduct the peaceful la^
bors of industry with firmness and in-
telligence, labors which certainly want
neither complication nor difficulty nor
grandeur. It is to this end that all
temporal power must aspire."

If so, if mdustry is the supremo
and last end of humanity, evidently
nothing is to be changed in the pres-
ent condition of property, and that
the wealth of the rich should be aug-
mented rather than diminished. The
constitution of the family must also
be maintained. The marriage bond'
is, therefore, declared indissoluble ; the
positivist law is in this respect even
more severe than the Christian law,
for, not contented with prohibiting di-
vorce, it even forbids second nup-
tials. In the purely political order the
republican form must obtain.

" I have thought ever since Febru-
ary, 1848," said JVL Littre, in 1850, p.
205, << that the establishment of the
republic is definitive in France, hav-
ing for it the guarantee of manners
. which have ceased to be monarchical,
and after this wholly theoretical point
of view, I have constantly lived, and
engage to live, in security."
* This coufidence, wholly positivist,
has been but poorly justified by
events ; yet there are compensations,
and, in reality, the imperial rigimsy
which has succeeded to the republic,
differs not so much as might be sup-
posed from that which the positivists
themselves wished to establish. The
principal conditions demanded by the
positivist republic are: 1. Free dis-
cussion; 2. The preponderance of
the central power; 3. The rigid re-
striction of the parliamentary or local
power to the vote of the budget ; 4.
In fine, the investment of the growing
power in the hands of proletaries or
working-men.

M. Comte and M. Littru both agree
on all these points ; they both have an



Digitized by CjOOQ IC



780



JrOniivWH*



equal horror of parliamentary govem-
ment, under which, sajs M. Littr^,
power passes into the hands of law-
yers, pettifoggers, and sophists. Both
desire three directors ; hut M. Comte
judges it most suitable to choose three
bankers, beciiuse society is industrial,
and bankers, who are the lessors of the
funds of industry, are in a better position
than others to know its wants. M. Lit*
tre (he was writing in Hie Wational in
1850) preferred three eminent prole-
taries. " What is the proletary," ex-
claims he, " operative or peasant, who,
if he has equal intelligence, that he
should not be as capable as M. Thiers
or M. Gui20t of directing political af-
fairs ?** He concedes, however, that
as a counterpoise to the central prole-
tarian power, the Okamher ofI)epu»
ties should be composed of rich men,
who are tlie best fitted by habit to
vote the budget.

Master and disciple both agree, that
Paris should elect the executive gov-
ernment; and that the rest of the
French people should have the right
to obey. Fear you that from such -m
system despotism must result? M,
Littro reassures you, with his strange
apothegm, ^ what is despotism in our
days but government in the hands of
the retrogi-ade parties 'f That is, des-
potism is simply power in the hands
of those whose ideas are different
from ours ? Could he tell his secret
with a more refreshing simplicity?
He has another word which might ex-
cite some uneasiness. " The philo-
sophical genius of the Convention was
not inferior to its political genius, and,
indeed, they were each the necessary
condition of the other. Positivism is
thetr direct heir. The whole positiv-
ist political theory, therefore, like all
revolutionary theories, ends at last in
this : Below, as the very condition of
its existence, the sovereignty of the
plebs ; above, as the ci-own of the edi-
fice, the dictator.

But we pass to the spiritual society.
We have seen under the infiuence of
what sentiments the positive philosophy
was suddenly transformed into a reli-



gion. Madame Gotilde de Yaux had
the initiative, and inspired, in 1845,
the religious thought of M. Comte.
From that moment it was no longer
the intellect but the heart, no longer
intelligence but love, that predomi-
nated in the positivist schooL The
disciples were transformed with the
master. *' I recognize and profess as
the positivist philosophy requires,"
says M. Littr6, p. 298, '' that this af-
fective side of human nature should
always preponderate over the intellec-
tual side." As soon as it was decided
that religion should take the place of
philosophy, M. Comte proclaimed a
great Being and then a high priest The
great Being, who was none other than
humanity itself, was defined to be
^ the collection of all beings, past, pres-
ent, and to come, that freely concur in
the completion of universal order," or
more briefly, but not more clearly,
'^ the continuous whole of convergent
beings."*

The high priest (le gremd pretre)
was, as we have said, M. Comte him-
self. After this came dogma and
worship. The dogma had already its
principal features in philosophy, and
there was little to be added ; but for
worship, le cuUe, all was to be created.
The fertile imagination of M. C<»nte
prompdy provided for it. He en-
gaged at first in compiling and pub-
lishing a positivist catechism, by the
side of which M. Littr6 gravely tells
us " the Catholic catechi?m is only an
embryo." He afterward constructed
a calendar; he commences the new-
era with the year 1793, and names it
Otfcle of the Great CHsis. The year
is divided into thirteen months of
four weeks each ; the months take the
names of thirteen men of superior
genius ; instead of saying January,
February, we must saj' Moses, Aris-
totle, etc. The days have also the



Online LibraryPaulist FathersCatholic world → online text (page 115 of 136)