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Part 1: The Naturalistic Tendency

Chapter 1: Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity

THE encounter henceforth inevitable.

I. THE DOCTRINE OF AUGUSTE COMTE ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION — The generalisation of the idea of science and the organisation of the sciences: Science and Philosophy — Philosophy and Religion: the religion of Humanity.

II. THe INTERPRETATION OF THE DOCTRINE — Sociology and religion: what the latter adds to the former — The logical relation of philosophy and religion in Comte: does the second contradict the first?

III. THE VALUE OF THE DOCTRINE — Science impeded by Religion, Religion impeded by Science — Humanity, an ambiguous concept — Man aspires to go beyond himself: that very fact constitutes religion — The internal contradiction of Positivism.

There can be nothing clearer or more convenient for the purpose of setting one's ideas in order and for conducting an abstract discussion, than precise definitions and inviolable lines of demarcation. Shut up respectively in the heart and in the intellect, as if in the two separate compartments of a bulkhead, science and religion had no chance of entering into conflict. Enough that each of them allowed to the other the liberty which was claimed and enjoyed by itself. In this way the problem of the relation between science and religion was solved, very easily, in the world of concepts. It was quite another matter in the real world.

In fact, neither science nor religion meant to limit its competency and action, however big the province assigned to it. The postulate of the maxim held in honour at this time—“Render to Cæsar that which is Cæsar's, and to God that which is God's”—was, in the special sense given to it, not only that, in man, the religious faculties have nothing in common with the scientific faculties, but that in things themselves there are two worlds, spirit and matter, a spiritual province and a temporal province, which nowhere clash. Now, this hypothesis may be a useful compromise; it is not reality as given, it is nearly the contrary of that reality. Where do we find, in man, the dividing line between heart and intellect; in nature, the demarcation between bodies and souls? Hence it came about that religion, all the more eager for expansion because she was declared independent, found herself confined to the sanctuary of conscience, and strove to conquer the visible world. And, on the other hand, science, emboldened by her successes, which were every day more striking, and by the ever-increasing consciousness of her object and method, proclaimed that the entire world of reality, in all its parts, was henceforth open to her investigation, provided that she advanced by rule, in going, according to the precept of Descartes, from the simple to the compound, from the easy to the difficult, from that which is immediately cognisable to that which we can only reach mediately.

From that time the conflict, so skilfully set aside in theory, was inevitable in practice. If religion claims to rule over body and soul alike, and science over soul and body alike, they are bound to come into collision, and the question of knowing how to settle the quarrel obtrudes itself.

Many, doubtless, will persist in thinking that the simplest way still is to maintain, by mutual discretion, a compromise which leads to peace; and, declaring that they themselves slumber very well on the soft pillow of indifference, they will complain of the noise that is being made on all sides, and threatening to wake them. There will remain others, who, pleading the intellectual superiority of a St. Thomas, a Descartes, a Malebranche, a Leibnitz, will ask why we should no longer fall back on the arguments that satisfied those thinkers, and will blame the progress of an unrestrained criticism for the grievous disrepute into which the classic compromises have fallen. But the human mind, considered in its permanence throughout the ages, is not to be confounded with the mental characteristics of such and such individuals, be these ever so numerous, and remarkable for learning and ability. The mind is a co-ordination, therefore a comparing of the sundry ideas that experience brings; it is an endeavour to establish agreement or harmony between them, either by the adaptation of some to others, or by the elimination of these for the benefit of those. That is why, when science and religion face one another, the mind is necessarily bound, sooner or later, to compare them, order to know if it can, without contradicting itself keep them together in some way, or if it must decide on rejecting the one so as to preserve the other.

And, in this reflection which obtrudes itself, it is clear that the mind can be inspired by such and such a doctrine formerly professed by a great intellect; but, in being thus inspired, it cannot revive the doctrine purely and simply, since it is quite unlikely that there will not be, in the phenomena sprung from great revolutions, any new element calling for change of attitude.

This sense of a necessary encounter between science and religion is generally found among the thinkers who applied themselves to these subjects from about the fourth decade of the nineteenth century. They may be divided into two classes according as they show rather a naturalistic or a spiritualistic tendency. At the head of the first we place Auguste Comte.


The Doctrine of Auguste Comte on Science and Religion

The system of Auguste Comte consists in a methodical advance from science to religion by way of philosophy. The method according to which this advance is accomplished, and which determines the meaning and value of the conclusions, is called by Comte positive; and the system itself, more especially its religious culmination, receives from him the name of Positivism. This term signifies: firstly, that Comte aims at satisfying the real needs of the human spirit, and those only; secondly, that he allows as sole means toward this satisfaction, a knowledge equally real, i.e. relative to facts that, in respect of human intelligence, are at once true and accessible—a knowledge which, itself, ought to be adapted to our genuine needs. Utility and reality—these two words exhaust the contents of the term “positive.”

From these two aspects, moreover, there follows a third—the organic aspect. For human knowledge and feeling, incapable of any fixed organisation so long as they are not submitted to their true standard, will form a definitive system, from the time of their being referred to an end that can be taken as both one and incontestable.

Of the two essential elements of a positive notion, the real and the useful, the first is found in science, and in it alone. Theology and metaphysics, which claim, in their turn, to make known to us the nature of things, are delusive methods. Science will, therefore, be the basis of positivism; and, to enable us to systematise and turn to account all that is within our reach, positivism will insist on our viewing the whole of what is given in such a way as to comply with the limits of science properly so called.

As a matter of fact, human knowledge is far from presenting wholly, even now, the scientific form. If mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry are veritable sciences, biology scarcely begins to break loose from the swaddling bands of metaphysics; the study of specifically human phenomena is still abandoned to scholars and historians—strangers to the idea of science.

The first need of all, then, is that of determining the idea of science, and of seeing how this idea can be applied to all the branches of human knowledge.

The method which Auguste Comte here follows is very remarkable. He proceeds from the concrete to the concrete, and not from an abstract principle laid down a priori in advance of its dialectical consequences. He starts, not from logic—the science of concepts—but from mathematics, real science as constituted here and now.

He will begin by determining the distinctive marks which constitute mathematics a science. Then he will set before himself the task, not of imposing these marks upon all other branches of knowledge, but of adapting them, by proper modifications and without impairing their essence, to the variety of objects that come under experience. It is this adaptation that he calls generalisation, extension. The same intellectual form will recur in all our knowledge, mutatis mutandis, and science will be both one and manifold.

Now, the science of mathematics, according to Auguste Comte, owes its definite form to the exclusive search after positive laws, i.e. after precise and unchangeable relations between given conditions. This, then, is the object, duly determined, which ought to be assigned to all kinds of knowledge. It is a determination which is reached: firstly, through seeking, in the thing to be known, an aspect which will enable us to range it under the laws of science; secondly, through conceiving these laws themselves in a manner that accords with the proper nature of the object to be known.

Following these principles, Comte defines the form adapted to each order of science, and ends with the theory of a new science, called sociology, which will be to moral and social facts what physics and chemistry are to the phenomena of inorganic nature.

As regards sciences already in existence, he prescribes formulæ that carry an important philosophical meaning.

In physics there should be complete rejection of everything resembling those unverified influences to which appeal was long made for fantastic explanations. For the purposes of a real science, only the phenomenal conditions of visible phenomena need be specified.

Biology presents, in comparison with the physicochemical sciences, a capital difference. The laws that she studies are the mutual relations of functions and of organs. In order to discover these laws, there is need, most certainly, for discarding the metaphysical hypothesis of vital spontaneity, and for considering vital phenomena as subjected to the general laws of matter, of which they present only simple modifications. But, on the other hand, we must guard against making biology the slave of the inorganic sciences. In the inorganic sciences the mind proceeds from the simple to the compound. The argument to be deduced from this example is, not that the whole of science ought necessarily to proceed in this manner, but that, in the category of phenomena considered by these sciences, the simple is more accessible than the compound, is known to us before the compound. But when living beings are in question, it is the contrary that takes place. Here the whole is more accessible to us and better known than the parts, While the idea of the universe can never become positive, seeing that the universe will always exceed our means of observation, biology, on the contrary, it is the details which keep out of reach: beings that have life are the more easily known because they are more complex and more exalted. The animal idea is clearer than the vegetable idea, and the idea of man is clearer than that of other animals; so that the notion of man, for us the only immediate one, is the point of departure requisite in all biology. Thus, while the physical sciences advance from the parts to the whole, biology, for the very purpose of remaining, like the physical sciences, a positive science, must proceed from the whole to the details.

If the positive method has had to be submitted to such a modification in order to conform to the conditions of the biological sciences, there need be no cause for astonishment that, before we can enter upon the study of moral and social facts, still greater modifications have to be made in it. The method will remain positive, in spite of these modifications, should it prove really effectual in enabling us to penetrate, through the apparent disorder and the apparent spontaneity of social and human life, to relations that are consistent with the idea of natural law.

And, moreover, since society is a consensus or solidarity, after the manner of the living body, the same modification of method will be needed in regard to it as obtained in the case of biology, and we shall proceed from the whole to the parts. But the whole, in sociology, will no longer be the individual, who, on the contrary, is here only a member or part: it will be society, and, in the highest classification, humanity. The first theme in the study of human facts from the scientific standpoint is the theme of collective facts.

That is not all. A distinction which needs to be made in every science, but which, in the inferior sciences, has only a secondary meaning, becomes here important: that between statics and dynamics. On the side of statics we study the consensus or social organism as it is related to the conditions of its existence, and reach the theory of order On the side of dynamics we reduce to law all that is implied in progress—the human phenomenon par excellence.

Proceeding from the whole to the details, and following the method of social dynamics, we shall first of all determine the general progress of humanity. We shall employ, with that end in view, an appropriate mode of observation: the study of general history. This study scrutinises human facts under their collective aspect: those alone which are observable from the outside, those alone which are facts in the exact meaning of the word; and, from the consideration of these facts, it extricates the general traits which characterise the different periods. By itself, however, general history would not suffice as the foundation of sociology. But, combined with the knowledge of fundamental and permanent tendencies innate in human nature, it will furnish those dynamic laws that require to be determined.

Auguste Comte, in this respect, does not reason merely as a theorist. He considers that he has discovered, in what he calls the law of the three stages, how to know—in the necessary succession of the Theological stage, the Metaphysical stage, and the Positive stage—the fundamental law of human progress; and thence he infers ab actu ad posse.

In this way, when the notion of science has been the same time determined in its principle and adapted to the diversity of the objects to be known, everything that is accessible, everything that is, for us really existent can become the subject-matter of science.

But Positivism does not seek the real merely to attain the useful. How are we, with the help of the real knowledge furnished us by the sciences, to reach a stage of truly positive knowledge?

At this point the genuine rôle of philosophy begins. In order that the search after the real may coincide with that after the useful, philosophy must define the useful, and bring science to bear upon it; for the latter, left to herself, would not undergo the necessary discipline.

In a general manner, the special end pursued by humanity is coherence, harmony, unity of conception and will At the present time, Auguste Comte considers, this harmony, which was previously assured by the Church's rule, has been disturbed by the Revolution, and the object now to be sought is the regeneration of society through the establishment of a new system of co-ordination—immovable and definitive, The mistake which dogs us, lies in believing that we can re-establish this harmony immediately by means of political or religious institutions. Institutions are, indeed, essential, but these institutions must have a foundation; and the idea of the end to be reached, the practical idea pure and simple, is an insufficient foundation. Mere doing does not suffice in itself, We miss our aim when we make pretence of rushing straight away in its pursuit, without preliminary study of the means to be employed, without initiation. Art for art's sake is a chimera, theory for the sake of theory is vanity: what really counts is art for the sake of theory.

At this point the intervention of philosophy becomes necessary. If practical life were sufficient, the work of social regeneration would belong altogether to politics. If science, by itself, were competent, we could hand over the business of governing society to the scientists. But, both these hypotheses being equally false, we ought to institute a special investigation, in order to determine the conditions of the passage from knowledge to action. This investigation is the concern of science. The doctrine is of first importance for Auguste Comte, who, in virtue of it, believes that he can re-establish, for the welfare of humanity, the double character (at once theoretical and practical) of ancient wisdom.

The idea that, according to Comte, philosophy brings just here, is the vanity of looking for the moral and political convergence of human sentiment and action, unless we have previously realised logical coherence in thought and character. Intellectual unity is the condition of moral unity. The useful is, therefore, before all else, the realisation of intellectual unity. To establish this unity is, in a special sense, the task of philosophy.

Constituted quite uniformly according to the positive idea of natural law, the sciences possess a certain homogeneity, which might incline us to believe in their possible unification on the scientific field itself. But such an inference contains a dangerous fallacy. Analogous in their methods, the sciences are, for us, insurmountably separated from one another as regards their object. The very necessity of their resting satisfied, as regards method, with analogy, while renouncing identity, has its origin in an irreducible difference of subject-matter. One, in the sense of being a need of the human mind, science is perforce multiple and diverse in its realisation. It cannot be helped, but there is no purely one thing that we can call Science. There are, and there always will be only sciences, the six fundamental sciences which the Cours de philosophie positive has specified.

To rely on the scientists for the labour of procuring the intellectual unity of mankind is, then, impossible. So far as they are scientists, they exhibit tendencies which run counter to this superior aim. They affect specialisation, parcelling out reality, and ignoring or despising one another. Or, yet again, deeming that his own branch of learning is science par excellence, each of them claims to impose his method, such as it is, on all the other sciences. That is the case with mathematicians: infatuated by the success that they have gained in their own domain, through proceeding from the parts to the whole, they would like to transfer their materialistic standpoint to biology and sociology, whereas these sciences ought, on the contrary, to proceed from the whole to the parts. The mathematical mind—at once anarchical, narrow, encroaching, and despotic—is the worst plague of humanity.

Furthermore, the scientists have a tendency to cultivate science for its own sake; to go into raptures over the ingenuity of their discoveries, even when these cannot serve any purpose; to search after a childish accuracy in insignificant matters; and to apply themselves, for the sake of showing off their virtuosity as dilettanti, to innumerable factitious problems.

For all these reasons, science, or rather the sciences, cannot be organised by themselves; they must be regulated by thought from the outside.

The immediate and objective synthesis of the sciences being impossible, there remains for trial a subjective synthesis, a synthesis effected, not from the standpoint of things, but from the standpoint of man, who, with the help of the sciences, pursues his own ends. Now the science constituted last of all, viz. that just created by Auguste Comte, furnishes, he believes, the elements of this synthesis.

For the accomplishment of this work, sociology learns, through the example of theology in bygone times, how to unite minds by means of a subjective principle. But this principle was furnished by the imagination. What we have now to do is to resume the work of the theologians, at the same time trusting entirely to facts and to reason.

The principle of organisation will be the sociological notion par excellence—the notion of humanity. Humanity, in the spatial sense, exists only in its parts which are actual individuals; but, regarded as a whole subsisting in time, it goes beyond its manifestation in space.

While the generalisation of the idea of science proceeded necessarily from the simplest sciences to the most complex, the organisation of the sciences ought to descend from sociology to the sciences of private life.

Social facts are, first of all, systematised through the notion of humanity. Scattered in space, they are all bound together by means of a special reference—the reference of connection or solidarity between the past, the present and the future. The connection between human events proceeds from two causes—external and internal. The external cause is that transmission of human attainment from generation to generation, which we call tradition; the internal cause is our common instinct for improvement. The idea of progress by means of preservation and order, is the principle of the systematisation of social phenomena.

Again, this same idea can be employed in training gradually, the inferior sciences. They also should take human happiness as their end and standard. They ought never to forget that they are made by man and for man. They will, therefore, set aside all speculation which is not calculated to improve the human lot, which is not human in its object. They will not bring to their examination of the laws of nature the curiosity of a mere amateur. Their motto will be: taking prevision for the sake of making provision.

Not only will they be altogether adjusted with a view to social welfare, but the special relation of end to means will be established between them. Each superior science will determine the problems that ought to be discussed by the inferior sciences, and the extent to which research may be carried on with advantage. In return, the laws established by the inferior sciences will be applied unrestrictedly to the superior, the irreducible peculiarity of the latter having for ground and condition of existence the very laws that are surpassed and supplemented.

It is in this way that natural laws will be determined in an entirely positive sense, i.e. from the standpoint of utility and reality. The relativity which critical philosophy has imposed on human knowledge will be maintained, moreover, not in the sense (negative and useless) that one phenomenon is conditioned by another, but in the positive sense that every kind of knowledge is relative to man, and only possesses meaning as instrument, immediate or remote, of his improvement. The consequences issuing from this doctrine are considerable: the science of mathematics, which some of us wished to make the royal science, falls to the lowest rank in the scale of our knowledge.

Such is the organisation of the sciences on which sociology is based. This organisation realises mental coherence, intellectual unity, without which the regeneration of society is impossible.

The sphere of philosophy extends as far as this. Can we be satisfied, then, with having reached intellectual unity, if moral and political unity are produced therefrom; or must we, in order to ensure the realisation of this supreme unity, furnish man with new resources, and make appeal to powers of another kind?

Philosophy, in her work of synthesis, while making use of the data that the sciences provided, has not concerned herself about these data themselves. She has found in sociology the principle of a systematisation of the sciences, through which intellectual unity among men could be realised. She had not to inquire, on account of the work that she had in view, how it comes about that society exists, or what may be the nature of its scope and its principle. This inquiry, nevertheless, obtrudes itself before the man who wishes, effectively and not only in the way of theory, to regenerate society. The sciences furnish materials, philosophy regulates these materials. But the whole of this work remains abstract and conditional. Who can satisfy us that society, just as science imagines it, will exist and continue to be upheld?

History shows us realised communities. What has produced them? Can we point to either science or philosophy? Observation shows us that religion is the agent. It is to the persistent action of religion that sociology owes both its aim and its raison d'être. Will this aim subsist if religion disappears? When the cause has been removed, will the effect remain intact?

Let us consider human nature. The intellect, in its working there, cannot create or preserve the social bond. The cleverest of all the intellectual associations can only organise egoism and isolation. In a general way the intellect can do no more than regulate and systematise: it is unable to produce. That which creates is the heart. The heart is bound to be mentioned if we are to account for such a supreme creation as that of the social organism.

And the heart can never be confounded with instinct, with nature, with fact pure and simple. For it is a trait of the human nature immediately given to us, that its less exalted and more selfish instincts prevail over the nobler impulses of sympathy and altruism. Doubtless these impulses exist originally, even as the selfish instinct itself; but they get, from this instinct, neither energy nor perseverance. Now, it is the sympathetic affections which alone can engender and sustain the social state, through restraining the divergent promptings of individual instincts.

The existence of communities is, therefore, tied down to a state of things that neither instinct nor intellect can realise. It is a question of finding, for the sympathetic impulse in man, something that will help to strengthen it and render it superior to the selfish instinct. Help of this kind has, in the past, been procured for it by the various religions. They have, in their own way, made union of hearts a condition of intellectual union. The human subsoil of these ancient institutions ought to be taken up and preserved, even if the dogmas through which they were expressed are condemned to vanish. Religion, then, after being herself regenerated, will furnish the first principle of the regeneration of society.

The method to be followed in effecting this restoration is to disentangle, from the negative and decaying elements contained in the traditional religions, the positive, human, indestructible element of which they were the vehicle. In this way we shall consummate Positivism which reaches its culminating point in Positive Religion.

The whole teaching of religion is summed up in two dogmas: God and Immortality. What is the positive content of these two dogmas?

The idea of God, so far as it interprets the real need of man, is the idea of a universal being, boundless and eternal, with whom human souls communicate: a being who inspires them with strength to overcome their selfish and divergent impulses in order that they may tend to harmonise and be united in him.

The positive idea of Immortality is the ascription of a share in the eternal life of the divine being to the righteous: i.e. to those who, already in this life, have shown towards God and their fellow-men a love that is real and efficacious.

Now, Positivism has no difficulty in finding a double object, real and accessible, for the satisfaction of these conditions. This object is not far from us, it is near and actually in us: it is nothing else than Humanity.

Humanity has often been conceived as a simple universal notion; in such a case it is the abstraction of the Schoolmen, an empty and inert form. We are still able to understand by Humanity the collection of actually existing men. In this sense it is a reality; but how can it prevail over actual individuals to the extent of declaring the God and the Immortality that they crave.

But Humanity, as presented to us in all its breadth, differs altogether from a scholastic abstraction or a spatial collection. Humanity is a continuity and a solidarity in time. It is made up of all that men have felt, thought and accomplished in respect of what is good, noble, eternal. It is the supra-spatial being in which the uncertain and transitory strivings of the individual are brought to rest through purification and organisation—in which immortal life and tutelary influence are manifested.

Humanity, thus understood, is itself the God that men demand: the real being, boundless and eternal, with which they are in immediate relation, in which they have being, movement, life. From the reservoir of moral forces accumulated within this being throughout the centuries are poured out great thoughts and noble sentiments. Humanity is the Great Being that raises us above ourselves, that imparts to our sympathetic impulses the fulness of power needed for their rule over selfish impulses. In Humanity men love one another and enter into communion.

So, in Humanity, individuals are able to enjoy, in very truth, the immortality for which they long. For therein is gathered, preserved and incorporated everything that is conformable to its essence, everything that is calculated to render it greater, more beautiful, more powerful. It is nothing but the thoughts and sentiments of real men, and is more largely composed of the dead than of the living. As to the dead, they live in the remembrance of the actual generations—a remembrance that is stirring, vivid and efficacious; their influence is shown in the noble emulation which they never cease to arouse amongst the living, inciting these to render themselves deserving of reunion with their grandsires.

It is true that we cannot conceive of this God as personal, or of this immortality as objective. Positivism resents as imaginary the dogmas of the so-called revealed religions. But how does that injure religion in the true sense? What is a God who is limited, selfish, transcendent, capricious, in comparison with Humanity which is all in all, immanent, and, in its sublimity, truly one with the humblest? How can material persistence in space be compared with this survival in time and in consciousness which alone realises that dearest longing of the human heart—the union of souls in eternity?

If there is a religion which satisfies, in a sure and definitive fashion, the irreducible and indispensable religious instinct of human nature, it is Positivism or the Religion of Humanity.

This religion is not an abstraction, but a life: it is the positive development of altruism and love. But the method to be followed, in order to practise this religion effectively, is of capital importance. The older religions have had love, in like manner, for their object; nevertheless, under their traditional form, they are doomed. The truth is, no institution can live which does not respect the law underlying the conditions of existence. Now, just as philosophy, in order to be positive and stable, must be preceded by science whence she receives the very subject-matter which it is her mission to organise, so religion, in order to be indestructible, must depend upon science and philosophy. It is in the real and rational world that the proper work of religion lies: therein will she look for the conditions of her action.

She will proceed, in the same way as science and philosophy, from the concrete to the concrete, and not from the abstract to the concrete. Away, then, with that banal philanthropy which has no motive power beyond the abstract and vague idea of mankind, an idle academic entity from which positivism has extricated us. Humanity, as an a priori supposition, would be nothing but a metaphysical principle, egoistic and revolutionary—one that would tend, in its application, to destroy those partial yet concrete expressions of humanity which the theological age had shown merit in realising.

Love cannot be communicated through an idea. It originates in personal relationship, and, singularly, in the relationship between man and woman. It is from this relationship that we must start, if we would see a living and efficacious love awakened and developed in the soul, and not be content with the mere concept of love, i.e. with a wretched logical abstraction. As the generalisation of the idea of science is accomplished through extending to the unframed sciences (saving the requisite corrections) the distinctive marks of the sciences already constructed; as the philosophical organisation of the sciences is brought about through starting from sociology, the science immediately available, and through again descending the ladder of the sciences, considered as means with reference to the social end: so love, originating—according to the law of nature—in the relationship of the sexes, will become wider by decrees and be made universal. And this will be effected under quite real conditions, if, setting out from its first object, it is directed, successively and methodically, towards those increasingly wide and complex objects which our universe provides for it. Now there are four essential stages through which love ought to pass in order to be realised in all its breadth and all its power; these are individual relationship, family, country, and humanity.

When, after surmounting the initiatory grades, we come, in this way, to love Humanity with a love which is at once very exalted and very real, then, and then only, the Great Being lives in us, controls and governs our existence. And under the irresistible influence of this sovereign power our nature is transformed, altruism prevailing over selfishness. In turning Godward, our love for our fellows becomes practical instead of theoretical, spontaneous instead of forced. Our hearts are knit in God.

Since, when love is in question, the reality is everything and pure theory insignificant, we ought not to overlook anything that can help to engender and develop that reality. Now, it is not in vain that the traditional religions have laid feeling and imagination under contribution in the human soul feeling and imagination are the motive powers of the soul. They make it vibrate and live, while ideas only affect it superficially. The mistake of the theologians was that, lacking a theory of the real, they took the fictions of the imagination for realities. But the man who is firmly established in the impregnable strong-hold of true science and true philosophy has no longer to distrust imagination. He can restore to it a rôle that the anxious metaphysician did not dare openly to attribute to it. Fiction is no longer delusive when we know that it is fiction, and when we are prepared to restrain it, as soon as it is tempted to supplant reality. And man is so constituted that fictions, which are understood as fictions, have no less virtue for him than those which are received as truths. The imagination does not demand truth, but that we should throw ourselves into things; and, once moved by agreeable representations, it communicates its glowing intensity to heart and will.

Positivism, then, after having proscribed dogmas in so far as they gave themselves out as truths, will not shrink from reviving imaginative fetichism as a practical auxiliary, subordinate to the rational principle of religion. It will revive it as an aid (conformable to human nature) towards producing that concrete and effective systematisation of feelings, without which the total synthesis needed for the regeneration of society remains a simple idea.

The fetichism that Comte re-establishes will be, in fact, purely poetical. It will consist in endowing, under cover of hypothesis, the given types of natural existence with active and beneficial wills—with wills, that is, analogous to our own. Man feels himself too isolated as long as nature is regarded merely as the expression of laws that are blind and inevitable. In order that he may act fervently and joyously, he requires to consider himself as surrounded by friends who understand and support him. It is, therefore, expedient that he should imagine, under the forces of nature, beings analogous to himself who sympathise with him. For the perfecting of law, wills are necessary.

That is why the positivist s worship will not have to do only with the memory of the heroes of humanity. Its essential objects will be: the Great Being or Humanity, the Great Fetich or the Earth, and the Great Medium or Space. These three hypostases will constitute the Trinity of the positivist. And thus it will be possible for every natural law to be legitimately symbolised by a kind of pagan deity, calculated to interest the imagination.


The Interpretation of the Doctrine

Such is the doctrine of Auguste Comte in regard to the relations between science and religion. There is the reverse of agreement over the meaning of this doctrine.

Numerous interpreters deem that we ought to allow for what is not doctrine in the strict sense, but the expression of the man's own intimate and accidental feeling: that, if we rightly take away this element of anecdote, there remains, eventually, of the religion of Comte only what was already in his sociology: viz. man, more precisely, social man, as the measure and rule of human knowledge.

Others, deeming that the religious doctrines and institutions hold, in point of fact, a very large place in the achievement of Comte, and are, in themselves, clearly distinct from the strictly philosophical theories, acknowledge the special meaning that he has attributed to religion, but deny that his religious doctrine is connected logically with his philosophical doctrine.

Does the religious part of Comte's work, when we compare it with the sociology, bring forward any principle that is really new?

We will not allow ourselves, declare some, to be misled by words. Auguste Comte is speaking of the subjective, of feeling, of the heart, of morality, of eternity, of religion. In fact, it is only a question, in these theories, of mystical appearance, of the necessary predominance of the social and human standpoint in scientific research and in life. Believing that, from the point of view of things—from the objective point of view, the systematisation of the sciences is impossible, Comte describes as subjective the point of view which he recommends: it consists in organising the sciences for man's profit, i.e. it is a purely human point of view.

In like manner, what he calls the heart is only a traditional word, used to designate social feeling, the love of others, in opposition to self-love. The metaphysicians, according to Comte, have discredited reason, through identifying it with individual speculation. He, for his part, is going to employ the word heart (usually contrasted with reason) in order to denote the social point of view as distinct from that point of view which is metaphysical. And this subordination of the mind to the heart will not signify anything, in his case, unless it be the obligation to base scientific research on social utility, under the influence of the social sentiment.

If this were so, the leap that Comte appears to take, in passing from philosophy to ethics and to religion, would not exist: there would, in reality, be nothing more in his ethics and in his religion than in his sociology.

Does this interpretation agree with the philosopher's own thought?

The question would be quickly settled if we were really anxious to attach any value to the declarations of Comte himself. For he has told us, with all the vigour and insistence in his power, that from 1845 he discusses things under another aspect, following a new method—the reverse of the first. He speaks in many a place of his sentimental evolution, of his moral regeneration, of his second existence. He distinguishes, from the positive philosophy which was but preliminary, the positivism or religion of Humanity, which alone comprehends all the elements of social regeneration.

But, it may be said, his testimony is open to suspicion. In 1844–45 he met with Clotilde de Vaux, and the stormy passion then working in his heart was enough to unhinge his judgment. Moreover, he had been insane, and continued subject to relapses. His sickness took the precise form of a profound sentimental disorder. Self-deception was possible over the actual share of sentiment in the development of his philosophical thought.

We must, therefore, examine separately the different elements of the doctrine, and compare them.

If we look at the conclusions of the Cours de philisophie positive, we see therein the positive method presented as tending essentially to exalt the meaning of the whole over any partial meaning.1 And, in accordance with this principle, the human individual is treated as an abstraction pure and simple. Metaphysics constitutes the apotheosis of individualism; for, in giving the individual a higher reality, it consecrates and uplifts the egoism of the natural man. The Positive philosophy regards Humanity as the only real, especially in the intellectual and moral order.2

Thus do we find the matter stated in the Cours de philosophie positive. The language of the Système de politique positive is very different.

Comte is seeking therein the conditions which are to guarantee the persistent influence of the great servants of humanity. Vanished from the world of space, they yet maintain an existence in time. In this sense they form a veritable being that is continually augmented in proportion as new members of the elect press forward in their phalanx. But here we must avoid falling into the ontological aberration. Temporal or subjective existence is not sufficient. Each organ of the Supreme Being implies, of necessity, an objective and spatial existence. Man, therefore, gives support to Humanity, during his actual life, before serving as her organ after his death. We ourselves, in the act of living with our dead, keep them in existence. Their superior dignity does not exempt them from the need of our worship in order to become concrete after a fashion. The individual, indeed, is only of value in so far as he resembles the Great Being. But he is, himself, the actual depositary of existence, and, in virtue of this, something that is needful to the eternal.

Even in its subjective existence, the Supreme Being cannot be simply regarded as universal and impersonal. For, in reality, it acts directly by means of objective organs alone: and these organs are the individual beings who have done best service in becoming, after their spatial existence, our world's legitimate representatives. The worship of certain individuals, of heroes, forms thus an essential part of the worship of Humanity.

In short, as, according to this view, these superior men constitute a certain personification of the Great Being, they are deserving of homage, in the literal sense even, provided that, in our thought, we set aside the imperfections which, too often, impair the best natures in this world.3

The new element that the religious doctrine introduces at this point, is manifest. The individual, after being debased by the positive philosophy, is exalted by Positivism or positive religion. He now plays a part indispensable as the condition of objective existence, of efficacious action and of development, to that Great Being which the sociology was content to imagine as abstract idea.

From this point, the terms subjective, moral, heart, religion, fully comprise, in their religious meaning, the notions that were lacking in the sociology.

The sociology was kept within the limits of proving that, without the preponderance of the affective faculties over the intellectual faculties, the notion of the social organism would be unintelligible. Wherein lay the reason of this preponderance? Was it realisable, and, once realised, could it be maintained in a sure manner? The sociology ignored these questions altogether.

We understand, now, that the heart possesses an instinct called the religious instinct, in virtue of which the individual is able to live with the dead, and to assimilate their excellences; thus it is that he (the individual) becomes capable of overcoming his egoism and of gaining a living experience of the social sentiment. The sociology was only the abstract conception of the social bond, while religion is its realisation. Religion alone exhibits, in individuals, the conversion which is needed to make them the genuine props of a society which only exists in them and by them.

It appears, then, only right to admit the contention of Auguste Comte: his religious theory, compared with his philosophy properly so called, introduces something that is new and different. But another difficulty is now presented to us. Far from exaggerating, in his assertions, the originality of his religious doctrine, may not Comte have been too much in the right? Would not this very doctrine differ from his philosophy, just as, in reality, it had no sort of connection with the latter, but contradicted it outright—returning, finally, to those same theological and anthropomorphic tenets that the positive philosophy had irreversibly condemned?

If we compare the doctrines, the principles, the general tendencies of thought to be found in the earlier and later writings of Auguste Comte, we can easily gain the impression that the relation between philosophy and religion is, for him, no mere difference, but a decided opposition. On one side, the method of the intellect, and on the other, the method of the heart: there a scrupulous anxiety for demonstration, for the realisation of the idea of science: here inspiration, intuition, the immediate knowledge of the mystic; there, regard for life, for action, for social profit: here the heart set up as manager-in-chief of human affairs; love not only distinguished from thought and action, but placed above them.

Moreover, some one may urge, it is very difficult to avoid looking upon these differences as the sign of a veritable revolution, when it is noted that they were put forward at the very time of that sentimental occurrence which, on his own confession, unsettled Comte entirely, viz. the meeting with Clotilde de Vaux.4 The sudden influence of his unhealthy love for this insignificant woman, henceforth the preponderating influence of his whole life, while it explains the philosopher's change of tone, marks, at the same time, the gravity of the change. In fact it becomes clear that two lives, two methods, two doctrines, logically incompatible, are presented to us in the story of the man who, besides being the founder of the positive philosophy, was the worshipper of Clotilde de Vaux.

It is true that Comte himself is never weary of maintaining the contrary. He explains that the great systematisation reserved for his century ought to embrace the totality of human feelings as well as the totality of ideas; that the systematisation of ideas ought to take precedence, and to rest solely on the intellect, while the systematisation of feelings implies a new adjustment, not only of thought, but of the entire soul—feeling in its actual experience being alone capable of realising it. Auguste Comte has affirmed as clearly as possible the fundamental unity that he himself attributed to his work, in taking for epigraph to the preface of his Système de politique positive the saying of Alfred de Vigny: “In what does a great life consist? In making the conceptions of youth the achievement of riper years.”

But here again we cannot confine ourselves to the philosopher's own judgment; for great thinkers excel in co-ordinating and harmonising too late the various phases of their intellectual life, be these ever so incongruous.

In order to know if Comte has contradicted himself, and if, in his religious doctrine, he has, not completed, but abjured the principles of his philosophy, we must consider his person and his work as one whole.

Now, we mark that, from the beginning of his philosophical reflection, when he had scarcely passed his twentieth year and was engrossed, like the men of his day, in the re-organisation of society, he had a clear idea of the decided mistake shown in bringing this question to the front: a question that, in reality, depended on several others which needed solution first. As early as 1822, at the age of twenty-four, he published a pamphlet entitled: Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société. Therein is to be found the germ of his sociology. He sees distinctly that, instead of adopting the eighteenth-century maxim—Law makes custom—we ought to say, Institutions depend on custom, which, in its turn, depends on belief.

Thus, the scientific and theoretical studies which he is about to undertake, do not constitute, in his view, an end: they are the means (apparently indirect, but actually indispensable) required in preparing social re-organisation, which alone is the veritable end.

Doubtless, these theoretical studies ought, in his opinion, to occupy him only a small number of years. But there befell him something analogous to what had been illustrated in the case of Kant, when that philosopher, intending to write a critical introduction to metaphysics, took ten years in the composition of a work—the Critique of Pure Reason itself. Comte consecrated the years 1826–42 to the conception, revision and publication of the preliminary part of his undertaking.

In the course of these prolonged inquiries, the mind of the philosopher could not remain unchanged. He aimed at realising the unity of thought in himself and in humanity. He perceived, not without astonishment perhaps, that this unity was not to be gained through an objective systematisation of knowledge, effected with the help of a material principle. In the series of the sciences there is, evidently, a hiatus between the physico-chemical sciences which advance from the parts to the whole, and biology which proceeds from the whole to the parts. A new gap is seen between biology wherein co-ordination in space still prevails, and sociology with its essential law of continuity in time. In short, each science adds to the principles of the anterior sciences something really new; that is why the systematisation of the sciences is only possible, as a completed synthesis, from a point of view which belongs to it, intellectually, as a purely subjective synthesis. Philosophy is the science of this systematisation. It is a special activity of thought which, through unity of end, through the relation of means to end, binds together elements of knowledge that are, in themselves, irreducible. Philosophy is, in a way, something that is heterogeneous and irreducible with regard to the sciences.

Aware of the leap that he has been compelled to take in order to pass from science to philosophy, and understanding clearly that intellectual unity can be no more than a synthesis (a synthesis which is, not an object, but an activity of thought), why should Auguste Comte be bound, henceforward, to derive practice from theory, objectively, analytically, immediately? His chief idea is only to start on the task of political reform—a task that is practical in the true sense, after he has exhausted its conditions. He has already discovered that, in order to begin working for the political regeneration of society, the human mind must exchange the standpoint of the scientist for that of the philosopher. Would no other condition be required? A priori, nothing demands, nothing excludes the introduction of a new middle term.

In reality, the Cours de philosophie positive gives already the anticipation of a study bearing specially on the moral conditions of social reorganisation: the results of such a study cannot be determined a priori.

Already Comte sees very distinctly that the preponderance of the affective faculties over the intellectual faculties is indispensable, if the social organism that sociology implies is to be realised.5 How can that preponderance be assured? Will the positive philosophy agree to a solution of the problem through a return to religion, i.e. to a mental form that the law of the three stages shows us as actually superseded?

It must be noted that, in the law of the three stages, theology and metaphysics are considered exclusively from the standpoint of knowledge: they are proved impotent as regards our instruction in the laws of nature. But if there should turn out to be (not, doubtless, in theology, but in religion properly so called) some extra-intellectual element, related, not to knowledge, but to practice, that element would remain intact, even admitting the law of the three stages.

Yet again: the sociology has been founded on the idea of the solidarity of human generations through the ages, it has established the connection between progress and order—the need of destroying and replacing only those products of the past which are distinctly opposed to the positive spirit, and of religiously preserving, on the contrary, everything that paves the way for a higher state.

Since, then, Auguste Comte has already intercalated philosophy between science and politics, there is nothing to prevent him, now, from intercalating religion between philosophy and politics.

How has that intercalation been produced? It has been determined by the romantic passion of Auguste Comte for Clotilde de Vaux. This fact is incontestable. But it has not, necessarily, the significance that many have attributed to it.

The mediocrity of the beloved object and the extremely affectionate disposition of Auguste Comte, reduce this incident to the level of mere contingency.

Restrained, perhaps, by the severe intellectual task to which, as the philosopher of 1826 to 1842, he had applied himself, his sensibility was over-excited in 1845 under the influence of an ordinary event. It is a question, here, of understanding the use to which Comte was going to put this incident—so little philosophical in itself. The historical origin of ideas, while it may divert our scholarly curiosity is generally of slight consequence when we want to determine their value. Would a theorem of geometry be less true through having been demonstrated by a madman?

It needs to be stated that Comte is not exactly an intellectualist or an apostle of science: he is a positivist. In this capacity, he allows only what is at once real and useful, but he rejects nothing that exhibits these two qualities. Now, following these lines, he has come to regard the religious phenomenon as a positive datum. In man there dwells a religious instinct, i.e. a certain faculty for perceiving and thinking. Love is sufficient for the manifestation of this instinct; for, of itself, it leads to adoration and worship.

Can this religious sentiment be brought into that rational harmony with the intellectual synthesis of knowledge which the general idea of positivism demands?

It should be noted that, once the intellectual synthesis has been achieved, a deficiency is discovered in the event of our wishing to be assured, no longer merely in regard to the theoretical possibility of sociology as a science, but in regard to the realisation of normal society. Provided that society is in existence, it is essential that, among individuals, altruism should prevail over egoism. But the intellect cannot, by itself alone, bring about this result. And, regarded as a natural endowment, feeling is, not only indifferent to order, but anarchical. If, in order to systematise ideas, we have to reconsider them, in the same way and with even greater reason, in order to systematise feelings, we must experience them.

Now, the void thus left by philosophy is quite filled up by religion as defined by the positivist.

Positivism sets out from the concrete: man will therefore begin with a determinate feeling. Positivism generalises through extension and adaptation—rising gradually from relatively simple realities to those that are more complex, but still concrete. Accordingly, man will extend to family, to country, to humanity (dignifying and in no way lessening the reality of each) the love that is at one time kindled within him by means of the natural and moral relationship existing between man and woman. From the standpoint of the end, positivism adapts and organises the means. That is why the idea of the religion of Humanity will discipline the feelings, and will allow society to recover, from the old religions, many a real and useful element which had perforce to disappear provisionally, along with empty theologies, when men lacked the power to discriminate between the good and the bad in traditional religions.

In this way there is established, gradually, a religious systematisation analogous to the philosophical systematisation. It is true that Comte is continually showing the connection between this systematisation and his love for Clotilde de Vaux. Let us give him credit for this. “To thee alone, my Clotilde, I have been indebted, during an unparalleled year, for the tardy but decisive expansion of the sweetest human feelings. A sacred intimacy, at once paternal and fraternal, and quite compatible with mutual respect, has enabled me to appreciate, amid all thy personal charms, such a marvellous combination of tenderness and nobility as no other heart ever realised in like degree…The familiar contemplation of such perfection was bound (though this was hidden from me at the time) to increase my systematic passion for that universal advancement which we both regarded as the general purpose of human life whether public or private…Together we conceived, in worthy fashion, the beautiful harmony existing between functions at once conjoined and independent…while the one led towards the establishment, in scientific method, of convictions that were active and masculine, the other led towards the development, in æsthetical method, of feelings that were profound and feminine. When two functions are thus similarly indispensable, any notion of precedence is out of the question.”6 Let no shallow critic come forward, now, with insinuations about the tediousness of this exceptional homage: “All thinkers who know how to appreciate the mental reaction of the sympathetic affections, will take sufficient note of the time employed in retracing and reanimating emotions of this pure quality.”

Such was the love of Auguste Comte for Clotilde: the sum of it he has given us in his synthesis.

As to the re-establishment of fetichism, that is explained by the anxiety for realisation which was becoming more and more dominant with Auguste Comte. The imagination has a reality of its own, and that a potent one. Positivism, which preserves by means of adaptation, will not set it aside, but will make use of it. Enough that the imagination does not destroy the work of reason, that its fictions be not taken for truths. Similarly, the rationalism of a Plato made room for myth as the auxiliary of philosophy in practice.

It is not to be denied, however, that Comte has started here on a slippery incline. Positivism rested on a double principle—the real and the useful. Its perfection consisted in maintaining an exact balance between these two terms. Now, the evolution of Comte seems to have consisted in first of all subordinating the useful to the real, ere coming, by degrees, to subordinate the real to the useful. Such an evolution is by no means accidental, seeing that, from the very first, it was his avowed intention to study the real with the sole object of finding use for it. But there are, undoubtedly, considerable difficulties in defining satisfactorily both the real and the useful, as well as their relations—difficulties that Comte has not sufficiently had in mind.


The Value of the Doctrine

What is the value of this doctrine? What lesson can we derive from it?

The Positivism of Comte may be defined as the synthesis of science and religion, brought about by means of the concept of humanity. Brought back to the needs of man, science leads to religion, and it is the latter, alone, that can secure the realisation of those ends for which science supplies the means. On the other hand, finding in humanity itself the fitting object of its worship, religion accomplishes its task without leaving the real world in which science moves. Does this synthesis satisfy reason?

It has been frequently remarked that the position of science in the system is one of singular embarrassment. Not only is it debarred from applying itself to inquiries of doubtful social utility, and from carrying its prepossession for accuracy beyond the limits that satisfy practical life; but arbitrary hypotheses—mere fictions of the imagination—are imposed upon it, when its own bent towards positivism is not shown sufficiently. Comte arrives, in this way, at his definition of logic: the normal conjunction of feelings, images and signs for the purpose of suggesting to us those conceptions which harmonise with our moral, intellectual and physical needs. Free, independent science is more and more treated with suspicion and dislike. Science tends to specialise and to break up: she is, therefore, essentially anarchical. Her futile inquisitiveness—sheer mental concupiscence, her insufferable pride ought to be restrained. Science must be submitted to feeling. Her excesses may appear strange, but they are conceivable, if we understand that the office of science has been, from earliest times, to strive after the knowledge of things as they are, not as we would have them be: in fact to strip them, as much as possible, of that distinctive mark of humanity which it is the intention of Comte, before all else, to confer upon them.

Religion, in Comtism, is not less cramped than science. In vain does she seek to recover that mastery over philosophy which belonged to her under Scholasticism: she is tormented by a secret aspiration that she can neither curb nor satisfy.

She would like to retain, in all their fulness, those sentiments dear to the heart of man: love toward God as the foundation of love toward man, and faith In Immortality as the pledge of communion with the dead. And Comte insists, more and more, on the reality and value of the extra-intellectual or subjective elements of our nature. Is not feeling a fact; is not the imagination a part of the human soul, quite as much as the senses or the reason? What can be more real than instinct—especially religious instinct, that irreducible ground of our being?

But reason, being likewise a principle of our nature, checks these effusions of the heart. If humanity properly so called (humanity as it appears in space and time) is itself the measure of being and of knowing, the eternity of the Great Being is but a word: the whole of God's reality is contained in the thought, actually present in certain individuals, of a certain collection of human facts; while Immortality amounts to no more than remembrance.

It is not without reason that we dispute over the value of the subjective in the scheme of Auguste Comte. He is at once willing and not willing to constitute it a genuine reality.

The embarrassment that he experiences is connected with the principle of his adoption. Humanity is an ambiguous notion, incapable of furnishing a first principle. There is man as visible, as seen from the outside—a collection of given facts, analogous to all other facts; and there is man as internal, i.e. as one who thinks, desires, loves and seeks. When, in spite of his proscription of psychology, he has taken clear note of the reality that belongs to man as internal, Comte offers the world of facts to his ambition, having previously constituted it an impassable prison in order to be quite sure that man could not get away from it; and he bids him rule over the world and find happiness therein. But the barrier that he has raised between facts and ideas, between given realities and ideal possibilities, is illusory. The human soul turns out to be precisely the effort to go beyond what is given, to do better, to seek after something else to surpass itself. Man, said Pascal, stands for what is infinitely above man.

It is not the closing up, once and for all, of metaphysical and religious inquiries that makes man the measure of things—it is the reopening of them. For what is man? Can he be sure that he is, himself, only a datum, a collection of facts, a thing?

Philosophers, said Goethe, have torn in pieces the external and material deity who was throned above the clouds: what they have done amounts to nothing. Let man re-enter into himself, and he will find there the true God—internal as regards existence and not external, a creative influence and not a given phenomenon.

Weh! Weh!

Du hast sie zerstört

Die schöne Welt

Mit mächtiger Faust;

Sie stürzt, sie zerfällt!

. . . . .


Der Erdensöhne


Baue sie wieder,

In deinem Busen baue sie auf!7

Comte, it is true, regarded human instinct as irreversibly fixed, in the same way as the instinct of animals. But science was bound to show that animal instinct is an unalterable datum. As to man, he is true man only if he takes his actual instinct as a starting-point from which to rise higher—not as a limit which he is forbidden to pass.

That is the debatable point in the doctrine of Comte. His positivism, with its fixity and arbitrariness would be legitimate, if human nature were something given once for all. It is but the artificial fixing of a transient phase in the life of humanity, if man is a being who is ever seeking, modifying and re-creating himself.

Can we say that this creation of man by man is arbitrary? Man would be humiliated if this were shown him. For, in his wish to do better, he could, then, only bestir himself at random like an atom of Epicurus. But he believes that, while lacking a full pattern in what is given him, his work has, nevertheless, a regulating principle—one that, in a high sense, has its necessity, its existence and its value. That principle, which dwells at once within him and above him, is what he calls God.

It is thus that, in humanity itself, are found the germs of a religion in which the object goes beyond humanity. In order that man should rest content with man, it would be necessary for him to unlearn the γνω̑θι σεαυτόν of ancient wisdom. He cannot go to the foundations of self without being made to recognise the strongest compulsion to enlarge the reality, the perfection and the value of humanity. Doubtless the legacy of past humanity, and the conditions therein prescribed, enter as an essential part into the ideal which is proper to man, and this ideal, in order to be practical, must remain close to given reality. But fact cannot succeed in governing idea, seeing that the overpassing of fact is just what is in question. Faith in the superior reality of an ideal object, irreducible to whatever is given, yet capable of being impressed on the given, has produced the very heroes whom Auguste Comte so rightly honours: they are the saints of his calendar, because they have not believed in his religion.

Positivism thus appears, throughout, to be placed in a position of unstable equilibrium. It knows only the real and the useful. But in the real and the useful are necessarily implied other and higher notions.

The scientist, to whom we look for inquiry into the real, soon discovers that all impressions of all individuals are equally real, and that his task lies precisely in distinguishing—from this same real—something that is more stable, more profound, less dependent on the conditions of a perception that is only individual and human. He claims as true that object which he can neither lay hold of nor define exactly: while his vague idea of it directs his investigations, and, by degrees, comes into shape before him under the influence of these same investigations. And, once in possession of this idea, he cannot subordinate it to any utility, be this ever so urgent. The truth itself is, in his eyes, a supreme utility. Science investigates by reason of her love for truth. It is her honour, her pride and her joy which she cannot allow to be stolen from her by any philosophical or political system. It is no question of understanding whether the interest of practical science herself can be best served in allowing theorists to believe that they are only labouring for the sake of theory. Science, as such, is a legitimate and absolutely noble activity which, through the agency of philosophy as guardian of the ideal, ought to be enfranchised and made aware of its capacities, instead of being left to, the bondage of any purpose that may appear.

In like manner, the man of heart and will, to whom is given the task of searching for the useful within the limits of the real, must not rest content with this object. What is the useful? What is the real? Man is desirous of determining the first, and of creating, in some way, the second. The useful may be defined as the means to be employed by me in realising the object which I have perceived, and which reason presents to me as worthy of man's endeavour. And the real, one may say, is something that I myself bring into existence through borrowing powers to be found in the very idea of the task that I set myself. In other words, man is constrained to put the good and the beautiful above the useful, seeing that in these we find the source and measure of the useful itself. The Good and the Beautiful, as well as the True, demand, in their turn, to be considered as utilities—as the utility par excellence.

So it comes about that the principle of Comte, the notion of the positive as union of the real and the useful, leads, of itself (as soon as man sets it in operation), to those superior objects in given reality that Comte had intended to eliminate. The real and the useful are, for us, an incentive towards the True, the Beautiful and the Good.

Vain is the attempt—in order to take from the human soul the desire for what is beyond man—to show that this desire is illusive in the sense of wasting away and disappearing by degrees, as a useless instrument: the real man does not recognise his own nature in this description of it. Comte forbids us to see anything, to look for anything, beyond the world that we inhabit. This world, according to him, suffices as our be all and end all. But Littré soon discovers that this “all” is a mere island surrounded on every side by an ocean which we are forbidden, says he, to explore, but which offers us a spectacle as salutary as it is formidable.

Is it possible to enclose the infinite, and to reckon on disuse as enabling us to lose the idea of it? Science and Religion are mutually inconvenienced so long as we pretend to find room for both of them in the finite world of human phenomena: would they not recover their liberty and autonomy respectively, if we were to allow—beyond the given world that science claims—the existence of another world, open to our desires, to our beliefs, to our dreams? Would such a doctrine run counter to the affirmations of modern science, or would it not, rather, be demanded by science herself? This way of approaching the problem was that of an illustrious English philosopher, one of the principal contributors to the thought of our time: Herbert Spencer.

  • 1.

    Fifty-seventh lecture.

  • 2.

    Fifty-eighth lecture.

  • 3.

    Syst. de pol. posit., Statique sociale, chap. i.

  • 4.

    October 1844, then August 1845.

  • 5.

    Fiftieth lecture.

  • 6.

    Syst. de pol. posit., Dedication.

  • 7.

    Goethe, Faust: Woe I Woe! Thou hast shattered it, the splendid world, with thy destroying hand; it crumbles, it falls asunder…Mighty son of earth, thou must rebuild it more glorious still; build it in thine own bosom.