Positivism transformed science into philosophy; complete positivism now transforms philosophy into religion. The transformation of philosophy into religion does not yield a religion of science because, having overcome modern prejudices, Comte now unhesitatingly ranks art above science.
Now that the break-up with the academic world was complete, the positivists placed their hopes on an alliance with women and proletarians. However, this aspect of his work is difficult to accept for a contemporary reader, in particular because it involves the utopian idea of the virgin mother, which means parthenogenesis for human beings. As for the proletarians, he saw them as spontaneous positivists, just as the positivists were systematic proletarians! The mind, then, is not destined to rule but to serve, not, however, as the slave of the heart, but as its servant Bourdeau Science thus retains an essential function.
The cerebral table distinguishes ten affective forces, five intellectual functions, and three practical qualities; these correspond to the heart, mind, and character, respectively. The functions being ordered according to increasing energy and decreasing dignity, the dominance of the heart can be considered a datum from positive biology. This classification is indispensable for an understanding of the System.
Historically, the conception of the System began with this table, of which different versions were elaborated in succession from Conceptually, it is the first application of the subjective method, understood as feedback from sociology to the sciences that precede it, starting with the nearest. In this way, the sociologist helps the biologist define the cerebral functions, a task in which, most often, the biologist simply takes up again the divisions of folk psychology. Today, we are no longer used to associate positivism and politics. However, the later was present from the outset, when Comte served as secretary of Saint-Simon, and it was quite influential at the end of the nineteenth century.
The two main tenets of positive politics are : there is no society without government; the proper functioning of society requires a spiritual power independent from the temporal power. The first principle has two sides. A positive one : in order to understand why there must be a government, we have to consider how social life works. The title of the fiftieth lesson of the Course reads: Social statics, or theory of spontaneous order of human society.
But, for positivism, spontaneous order covers all natural phenomena and is moreover neither perfect nor immutable. In general, human action aims to substitute for this natural order an artificial one, more in line with our desires. Government action is only a special case, applied to the spontaneous order intrinsic to human society, which is determined by division of labor. The increasing specialization which accompanied it, even if it is the sine qua non condition of progress, threatens the cohesion of society.
Regarding the second principle, one usually remembers only the idea of spiritual power but such a power can be understood only in its relation to temporal power: by nature it is a moderating power, which presupposes the existence of a temporal power, which in contrast does not presuppose the existence of a spiritual power. Furthermore, Comte strongly disagrees with historical materialism : it is ideas that rule the world, in the sense that there is no sustainable social order without a minimal consensus on the principles that govern life in society. Initially, Comte planed to entrust this new spiritual power to scientists, because he saw science not only as the rational basis for our action upon nature, but also as the spiritual basis of social order.
Since at least half a century, positive politics is discarded as reactionary and totalitarian and it is true that, in many respects, Comte was resolutely anti modern but, specially in his later writings, he also held ideas which sound amazingly in keeping with contemporary concerns. For instance, he had an acute feeling for the way humanity is dependent on astronomical conditions: assume small changes in the elliptical orbit of Earth, in the inclination of Ecliptic, and life, at least life as we know it, would have been impossible.
In spite of the Copernican revolution, Earth remains for each of us the firm, unshakable ground upon which everything stands. Politics is grounded in geopolitics, where geo retains its etymological meaning, Gaia , and where Earth is understood as a planet in the solar system. This cosmic character of positive politics helps to understand what could appear as an inconsistency.
Such a suggestion is quite puzzling, being incompatible with the received view, according to which he was a supporter of centralisation, but, as soon as we take account of the distinction between temporal and spiritual power, the inconsistency disappears. According to the kind of power we are considering, the situation changes totally. Centralisation applies only to spiritual power Comte had clearly in mind the Papacy and temporal power is by nature local. There is a lot of passages where the correlation is clearly stated. This follows from the fact that the mind does not know boundaries; a spiritual power has no choice but to be catholic, that is, universal.
Its domain is the planet Earth. From this, we have at least two consequences. The first one is a strong interest in European reconstruction, a political priority between and , but not anymore in , after the triumph of nationalism. The second one is the realization that States as we know them are a historical product, which did not exist before , and there is no reason to believe that they will exist for ever.
Comte was also one of the first anti-colonialists. Much before socialists, English positivists objected to Victorian imperialism see Claeys In this context, Comte and his followers discussed also extensively the respective merits of Christianity and Islam. Turks were greatly appreciative of their secularism, which represented a solution to many of the problems of the Ottoman Empire. Ahmed Reza, an influent politician, was overtly positivist.
While the different forms of deism preserve the idea of God and dissolve religion into a vague religiosity, Comte proposes exactly the contrary: a religion with neither God nor the supernatural. His project had little success; he even accomplished a tour de force by uniting both believers and non-believers against him.
Comte also defines religion as a consensus, analogous to what health is for the body. Religion has two functions, according to the point of view from which one considers existence: in its moral function, religion should govern each individual; in its political function, it should unite all individuals. Religion also has three components, corresponding to the threefold division of the cerebral table: doctrine, worship, and moral rule discipline.
At first, Comte had followed the traditional order and presented doctrine before worship, but he soon gave priority to worship, and saw this change as a considerable step forward. In the positivist religion, worship, doctrine and moral rule all have the same object, namely Humanity, which must be loved, known, and served.
Already the General Conclusions of the Course compared the concept of Humanity to that of God, affirming the moral superiority of the former. But only in does Comte make the substitution explicitly; sociological synthesis comes to replace theological synthesis. Membership of Humanity is sociological, not biological. The positivists set up a whole system of prayers, hymns, and sacraments Wright Thus, the worship of Humanity takes is the worship of great men.
Unlike the French revolutionary calendar, which followed the rhythm of the seasons, the positivist calendar takes its inspiration from history and pays homage to great men from all nations and all times. The wish to maintain the distinction between temporal and spiritual powers led Comte and his followers to demand the separation of Church and State. It has been noticed less often, however, that the two forms of power stand in differing relations to space.
The religious society is by its nature catholic, in the sense of universal, and therefore has no boundaries other than those of the planet; the surface of a State meets different demands, which impose rather strict geographic limits.
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Nevertheless, its main application is related to the issue: centralization against local powers, which is another aspect of the spatial dimension of politics. Of the two political models constantly confronted in the Course , Comte clearly prefers the French one. Its characteristic alliance of the monarchy with the people against the aristocracy was accompanied by a centralization that the Revolution contented itself with consolidating.
One might therefore be led to believe that Comte was a partisan of centralized political that is: temporal power, whereas the contrary was in fact the case, as he proposed to divide France into seventeen administrative regions, more or less equivalent to the old provinces , v. Centralization applies only to the spiritual power. Positivism asserted very early its wish to construct a moral doctrine that owes nothing to the supernatural.
If we need a spiritual power, it is because social questions are quite often moral rather than political. The reforms of society must be made in a determined order: one has to change ideas, then morals les moeurs ; the word is difficult to translate: it is something like ways of acting, habits, les us et coutumes , and only then institutions.
But with the System , the moral doctrine ethics changes status and becomes a science, whose task is to extend sociology in order to take individual phenomena into account, in particular affective ones. While it is important to acknowledge the innateness of the sympathetic instincts, one is forced to admit their native weakness: the supremacy of the egoistic tendencies is so clear that it is itself one of the most striking traits in our nature.
The great human problem is to reverse the natural order and to teach ourselves to live for others.
The only way in which altruism can win, is to ally itself with the mind, to make it its servant and not its slave. The heart, without the light of reason, is blind. Left to itself, affectivity is characterized by its inconsistency and instability. That is why the inside has to be regulated, that is, disciplined. And this task is assigned to the outside, because exterior reality is the best of regulators. Whatever its own defects may be, the order that science discloses in nature is, by its indifference to our desires, a source of discipline.
The same interest in biology led him to link medicine to moral doctrine and even to religion. To remedy this and to respect the unity of our nature, he proposed giving the new clergy a role in medicine, considering for example that there is no better endorsement of a rule of hygiene than a religious decree. Before dying, he still had the time to outline, in his letters to Audiffrent, the rudiments of a sociological theory of diseases.
On the whole, the System was not well received. However, it is impossible to confine oneself merely to the Course. The early works had made a strong impression on some of the best minds of the time; they remain required reading for everyone wishing to understand positive philosophy, as they are still among the best introductions to the subject. The Course was not part of the initial project, which Comte never lost sight of; the work is best considered as a parenthesis, admittedly open for twenty years, but which Comte had meant to close very quickly.
The reason why Comte had always presented the Plan of as fundamental is that, beginning with the very title, one finds the two themes that he planned to think through in their relation to one another: science and society. The foremost question is a political one: how should society be reorganized?
Science, although present from the beginning, plays a secondary role as the means to achieve the chosen goal. Only when the question arises of what distinguishes Comte from the latter does science enter into the picture. Yet the same cannot be said of the positive polity. But his own project for the reorganization of society presents a similar problem. In his writings, it is difficult to distinguish that which concerns objective social science from a reform program that reflects only a personal stand. Apart from that difficulty, the weaknesses of the positive polity are numerous.
Among them, those that are the most conspicuous criticism of human rights, praise of dictatorship are not necessarily the most serious, for objections to the former are easily answered. For example, while Comte criticizes freedom of conscience, he is always highly supportive of freedom of expression.
We should also find his deep respect for spontaneity reassuring, considering that it is an important part of our idea of freedom. More serious, perhaps, seem to be the consequences of the rejection of psychology. However, considering only the weaknesses of the positive polity would not be fair. The order of time, he said, is not past-present-future, but rather past-future-present. See the Other Internet Resources section below. The most complete edition, which is an anastatic reprint of previously published volumes essentially — and — , is:.
Bessly, Frederic Harrison translated in the second half of the 19th century the most important works. So, after the original text, we give the reference to these English translations, even if they are not easily accessible. Bourdeau ehess.
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Introduction 2. Biography 3. The Formative Years: The Collaboration with Saint-Simon and the Early Writings The early writings remain the required starting point for everyone who wishes to understand the goal that Comte incessantly pursued. Comte took over three ideas from the complex thought of Saint-Simon: The contrast between organic and critical periods in history, of which the Revolution had just provided an example.
The idea of industrial society. In , under the influence, notably, of B. Constant and J. Say, Saint-Simon had turned himself into an apostle of industry. As an attentive observer of the industrial revolution that was going on before his eyes, he understood that it would completely change all existing social relations.
Heretofore, we had lived in military societies: man acted on man, and power belonged to the warrior class. Henceforth, trade would replace war, and man would mainly concern himself with acting on nature. Comte drew the quite mistaken conclusion that the era of wars was over Aron The idea of spiritual power. It resulted from an observation and a conviction. Saint-Simon observed the role of science in modern society: he suggested, for example, that public funds be made available to finance scientific research.
He was also convinced of the religious nature of social cohesion and, therefore, of the need for a priestly class in charge of maintaining it. This belief led him to the idea of a science of social organization, linking these two components: religion would become an application of science, permitting enlightened men to govern the ignorant.
So, instead of trying to destroy every form of religious life, one should entrust to the learned the spiritual power left weakened by the decline of traditional religions. It is also within this framework that the text he wrote in on the reorganization of European society has to be understood: handling international relations are one of the main attributes of spiritual power, as shown by the medieval papacy. Among the remaining sciences, leaving sociology aside for the moment, two occupy a pre-eminent place: Astronomy and biology are, by their nature, the two principal branches of natural philosophy.
They, the complement of each other, include the general system of our fundamental conceptions in their rational harmony. The solar system and Man are the extremes within which our ideas will forever be included. The system first, and then Man, according to the course of our speculative reason: and the reverse in the active process: the laws of the system determining those of Man, and remaining unaffected by them. Comte as great as either of these philosophers [Descartes and Leibniz], and hardly more extravagant. Were we to speak of our whole mind, we should call him superior to them: not intrinsically, but by the exertion of equal intellectual power 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 Mill , p.
And earlier, he said: We, therefore, not only hold that M. Comte was justified in the attempt to develop his philosophy into a religion, and had realized the essential conditions of one, but that other religions are made better in proportion as, in their practical result, the 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. Mill , p. Politics is grounded in geopolitics, where geo retains its etymological meaning, Gaia , and where Earth is understood as a planet in the solar system This cosmic character of positive politics helps to understand what could appear as an inconsistency. A new edition has yet to appear.
Chapman, Parsons gives some selections from the sociology lessons. Dalmont; reprinted, Paris: Vrin, introduction to b, published separately. Dalmont; reprinted, Paris: Fayard, Translated as: Appeal to Conservatives , London: Trubner, New edition, Paris: Editions du Sandre, Carneiro et P. Fedi; Geneva: Droz. Fletcher ed. Haac ed. Jones ed.
Robson ed. Secondary literature Arbousse-Bastide, P. Aron, R. Bensaude, B. Bourdeau, M. Bourdeau, M, and Chazel, F. Braunstein, J. Cashdollars, C. Claeys, G. Clauzade, L. De Boni, Cl. II, Paris: Le Cerf, Dixon, Th. Fedi, L. Feichtinger, J. Forbes, G. Gane, M. Gouhier, H. Grange, J. Guillin, V. Hale, Ch.
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Contemporary Cultural Concerns B. Applied, Industrial and Organizational Psychology N. Social Work L. Applied Social and Behavioral Sciences D. James D. His first academic appointment was at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was promoted to Associate Professor in and to Full Professor in Wright was the Editor in Chief of the scholarly journal Social Science Research from until His previous editing experience also includes a twenty-year stint as editor of the Aldine de Gruyter book series Social Institutions and Social Change, two editions of the Handbook of Survey Research Academic Press, ; Emerald Publishing, , and service on the editorial boards of numerous journals.
He is the author of 21 books and scholarly monographs on topics ranging from homelessness to research methods to NASCAR, and he has published more than journal articles, book chapters, reviews, essays and polemics. Wright lives with his wife Christine Stewart and their multiple dogs and cats in Winter Springs, Florida, where in his spare time he likes to cook fancy meals for large crowds.
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