Thrbughout the preceding sketch we have re Positi,e marked the legitimate tendency of all true science philosophy towards a more definite and positive character ;
HISTOIZICAL SKETCH. LESsAy 1. § IV.
less mixed up with gratuitous theories, particulaxly with those resting on metaphysical grounds, and (more especially) less influenced by views of a higher kind, which, however important for their own exalted purposes, are misplaced in philosophy, and at once lose their proper character and influence and destroy that of science, when unwisely introduced into its discussions.
The most recent and complete development of these principles and the systematic embodiment of them, carried out indeed into more precise details, and involving an elaborate exemplification of their application in what professes to be a complete scheme of human knowledge, constitutes the 11 Positive Philosophy " as expounded by M. Comte.
To the subject of this system it will be peculiarly necemary to devote a fe w remarks, as at once eminently characteristic of the science of the age and bearing pointedly on the object of the present essay.
M. Comte regards all science as capable of classification, according to the degree of perfection at which each branch has arrived in connection with certain conditions of the human mind and cultivation of the faculties employed in bringing it to per
ESSAY 1. § IV ] POSITIVISM.
fection, a perfection which is attained only after a gradual process of improvement in the correct apprehension of first principles, and an emancipation from peculiar prepossessions which always at first impede its a4vance, and in this respect he considers that every science must necessarily pass through three distinct stages.
(L) The "Theological " stage I is that in which the mind seeks 11 absolute cognitions " and views of the intimate nature of things, and represents all phenomena as produced by a direct arbitrary action of superior beings.
(.2.) In the 11 Metaphysical " state this supernatural agency is replaced by scarcely less mysterious abstract principles, supposed inherent in matter, and an imagined real existence or operation by efficient causation, ascribed to what axe purely intellectual abstractions.
(3.) In the 11 Positive" state, both of these former modes of conception axe strictly banished from pbilosophy, and no ideas admitted but those which simply result from inductive generalisation.
I Philos. Positive, vol. i. V. 4, et seq.
Omissions ill Comte's
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ ESSAY 1. § it.
In this state the mind renounces all idea of seeking absolute knowledge of the essence of things, and contents itself only with, their invariable relations, and endeavours successively to reduce them to higher and fewer ~rst principles.
In the extended scheme of the whole cycle of sciences which the author traces out in conneciion with this view, there seem, however, to be two grand omissions:
M. Comte excludes from his scheme the wavetheory of light, because he regards it go, involvingthe hypothesis of the real existence of an universally diffused ether, and thus being, as yet, in the 11 metaphysical " condition. But in point of fact, to whatever extent some philosophers may have speculated on the physical existence of such a medium, it is not true that it is essentially supposed in the undulatory theory of light. All that is asserted is the existence of vibration or alternating motion, as affording the means by which a vast range of the phenomena of light are reduced to mechanical explanation, and which is as strictly 11 positive " a principle as any which he admits.
Another more singular omission is that of geology from the list of "positive" sciences. This is
I " I
ESSAY 1. j IV. POSITIVISM.
the more remarkable as few branches afford a more complete exemplification of the author's own principle, as indeed the remarks in a preceding part of this essay abundantly exemplify: showing its purely theological origin; its progressive advance, though still enveloped in mystery; its present final emancipation from mysticism, and its reduction to purely natural causes and positive principles.
The real bearing of the more positive form of modern science on the higher question of religious belief according to views developed in the foregoing remarks will be sufficiently evident. In this respect the author of the "positive philosophy" appears to have fallen into misconceptions which have seriously impaired the value of his otherwise profound and important remarks to a far greater degree than the defects already noticed. It will be necessary to offer a few illustrations in support of this remark.
The author instances especially the science of astronomy as that which has arrived at the most perfect condition and is now in the most purely
positive " state, being completely freed from all theological and metaphysical ideas, and thus affording the most prominent instance in support of his
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [EssAy 1. § iv.
assertion, that 11 all real science is in radical and "necessary opposition to all theology." I Final Again he observes that no science has given causes. 'I more terrible blows (than astronomy) to the doctrine of final causes generally regarded by the moderns as the indispensable basis of all religious systems though it is in reality only a cmwequence from them." , , . 11 The single knowledge of the motion of the earth ought to destroy the first foundation of this doctrine the idea of the universe subordinated to the earth, and by consequence
In these expressions we may trace simply a con _
fusion of thought between an oppoeiti(m of science
to theology and an indepen&nce of it. Science
necessarily and correctly rejects all appeal to theo
logy as its basis, or as i7iflumcing its conclusions:
but it does not follow that those conclusions are
therefore oMoaad to theology.
That 11 final causes," in the narrow sense in which
alone the author regards them, are really a consequence from theological views, not the ba8i8 of
I Philos. Fositive, vol. li. p. 36. 2 Ibid. p. 37.
1 Phiios. rositive, vol. 11. p. 37.
ESSAT 1. § IV.] POSITIVISM
them, is perfectly jus
t and true ; but it does not follow that astronomy, or any other science, disPara es or nullifies them; and it is only in a very
false sense thafo they have been or can be associated with the subordination of the universe to the earth and to man; a point eminently necessary to be
dwelt upon, as striking at the root of many speculations indulged in even at the present day, which violate and vitiate all true principles of philosophy for the sake of supporting a narrow and superstitious religious doctrine.
Another of his arguments is, that the elements of the solar system are not in fact 11 ordered in the
most advantageous manner, and science easily permits us to conceive a better arrangement." I But
were this true, it offers not the smallest disparagement to the grand inference of T~ind from the
actual oraer of the universe.
Again, he observes: 11 By the development of the true mechanism of the heavens, since the time of Newton, all theological philosophy, even the most perfect, has been totally deprived of its principal
I Fluilos. Positive, vol. It. p. 37. 1 Ibid. p 38.
194 HISTORICAL SKETCH. [E88,LY I. § TV.
intellectual office, the most regular order being thenceforth conceived as necessarily established and maintained in our world, and even throughout the entire universe, by the simple mutual constitution of its different parts." I If this remark (as may be presumed) simply means that the office of reason and philosophy in respect to theology was in past times mistaken, it is perfectly just. Reason and science give the evidences of reason in nature, evinced by those universal laws; but with theological doctrines they have no concern.
Again, speaking of the stability of the system, he says: 11 This grand notion, presented utider
a suitable aspect, may without doubt easily be made the basis of a series of eloquent declamations having an imposing appearance of solidity. And nevertheless a constitution equally essential " to the continued existence of animal species is a " simple necessary consequence, according to the
mechanical laws of the world, of certain conditions characterising our solar system.", I
0 The eloquent declamations alluded to are doubtless often vitiated by the fallacious reasoning they
RiSAY 1. § 1VJ POSITIVISM.
involve. But the simple fact that
this security and conservation of the system is the direct result of mechanical laws, is itself the proof of the unity of principle, the exponent of recondite adjustment, pervading the mechanism of the planetary world.
Thus the material defect of M. Comte's view, and that which has justly exposed it to the most serious objection, is, that he does not merely place theology apart from science, but rejects and disowns theology altogether. Now, with the strictest acknowledgment of the positive, principle in philoso.phy, it does not at all follow that other orders of conceptions do not exist beyond the region of science, beyond the analysis and deductions of reason, or the dominion of the positive system, in fact, such axe the whole range of moral and 2estbetic sentiments, all matters of taste, of feeling, and of imagination; and such must be all those higher ideas of spiritual and invisible thiDgs which are the proper objects, not of knowledge, but of faith, and which, from their nature, can never enter into the range of philosophical investigation, and can consequently be in no hostility to the strictest positivism in science.
Positive principle not in opposition to theology
196 HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSAY 1. § IV.
This defect is sufficiently glaring; but it becomes
immensely more so when we proceed to the more
constructive part of M. Comte7s system. The broad
Just in fundamental principle of positivism in philosophy
physics, appears to be no more than the just and legitimate
developnient of the true inductive idea analysed
rigidly up to its first principle, and excellent when
applied within the proper province of science to the
various branches of real physical inquiry.
But just as M. Comte's system thus far is in
principle (with the exceptions before noticed), his
method lamentably fails when applied to the more
mixed subjects which include any reference to hu
man nature, its relations and affections; moral and
social; more especially to subjects involving aesthetic
considerations, and, above all, those appealing to any
higher contemplations. It is in this point of view
that the more applied parts of the system display
a strange inconsistency with all legitimate and en
larged philosophy, and have no real connection with
the physical portions of his own speculations.
His views here exhibit a contraction of ideas, and
a degradation of science, in miserable retrogradation
towards the old notion of making our subordinate
but misapplied In morals.
little planet the virtual centre of the universe, and the grovelling utilitarianism which ignores all higher inquiries as useless, in a strain worthy of the narrowest bigotry of the dark ages.
From this he proceeds to what, by a strange MiS_ Religion of positivism. nomer, he terms the 11 Religion of Positivism," when be had before announced his very principle as essentially at variance with all religion. This, however, is a religion without a God I whose object is limited to 'the narrowest positive development of human nature; yet exhibiting a tissue of impracticable cbima ,ras befitting the wildest fanaticism; a 11 worship of humanity," with an organised intellectual hierarchy, a calendar of "positive" festivals and social sacraments, which is destined to supplant all the old creeds now tottering to their falland to regenerate the world 11
The fundamental delusion or deception is to call such a system religion. Men cannot worship facts, or, bow down to demonstrations. All religion, as such, ever has been and must be a thing entirely
I See the 11 Catechism of Positive Religion," by A. Comte i translated by R. Congreve, London, 1858.
Recent progress of natural theology.
HISTORICAL SKETCH. [ESSAY I. ~ IV
8ui generi8, and implies mystery and faith, however rightly allied to 'knowledge, and susceptible of a variety of external forms, according to the diversity of human character and the stages of human enlightenment.
The contempt with which M. Comte affects to treat the great argument of natural theology has manifestly arisen from the pitifully contracted point of view in which alone he had ever been led to contemplate it, and in which, it ihust be confessed, its advocates have been too inuch given to exhibit it.
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