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The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte; Freely Translated and Condensed by HARRIET MARTINEAU. 2 vols.


T is some ten or twelve years since entering the bookstore of Wiley & Putnam, in Broadway, we took from the shelves four large and dingy volumes, printed in French, and bound with coarse, rose-colored paper, purporting to be a treatise on the entire circle of the sciences. The first page we opened upon contained a statement of the imperfections of analytical geometry, and we said, "Here is a conceited fellow, who believes himself capable of reforming the mathematics." But on reading further, we discovered that he was an earnest partisan of mathematics, carrying his respect for them, indeed, so far as to assert, when he came to speak of the progress of their astronomical applications, that "the heavens declare the glory"—not of God, as the good old Bible says, but "of Hipparchus. Kepler, and Newton." An audacious thinker, at any rate, we thought to ourselves, and strove to penetrate a little deeper into his book. Repulsed at first by the novelty and boldness of his remarks, we were at the same time held fast by a certain assurance of movement, as he passed along the dizzy heights of the most adventurous speculation; we were convinced that no ordinary thinker held us in his hands; and when, towards the close of the work, we came full-face upon the announcement of a wholly new science, for which all other sciences were but preparatives-the Science of society-the fact jumped in too nicely with the tenor of our own previous researches and hopes, to allow any dictates of economy to hinder us from becoming the owner of those shabby-looking volumes.

We read them, not with avidity, because they were written quite too much in "the dry-light," as Bacon calls it, for that, and yet with a deep though forced attention. It seemed, from the very outset, that the author was no ordinary thinker, his great instrument of a mind moving with the regularity, though by no means the velocity of a machine, and impressing one, as it drew him along, with a feeling that he might be supposed to have when caught up by the gearing of some monster corn-mill or cotton factory. No pleasant episodes of the imagination adorned the way; no scintillations of fancy sparkled like fire-flies around it;

no gentle play of the affections warmed it, and no beacons of hope illuminated the bleak distance. A stern and relentless Intellect, marching remorselessly along its path, was treading down our dearest hopes, and crushing out the noblest and sweetest sensibilities, and, in the midst of all our reluctance and horror, dragging us with it to its infernal goal.

As we became more familiar with our supposed demon, however, we found that he was not altogether so bad as he seemed; a silver lining of humanity was now and then turned from out the folds of his dark frown; he was clearly very much in earnest, and had an unquestionable love for the truth. IIe spoke ill of nobody, threatened nobody, and pursued his own silent and impassive way, among the stars, and through the depths of the earth, and amid the busy haunts of men, intent only on his purpose, which, the more it was pondered, appeared to be more and more dignified, noble and benevolent. We finally dismissed all fears of our guide, and honestly set to work to discover what he was at. When we add, that those volumes were the "Positive Philosophy" of Comte, a most original, profound. and comprehensive philosopher, the intelligent reader of this day will need no further explanation of our experience.

It was a momentous discovery for us,― this of a new and really great thinker,of a man who discussed with consummate familiarity and ease, many of the highest problems of science; and we naturally turned to the Records to see what the world had made of him,-to ascertain his whereabouts, as well as to compare our secluded estimate of his rank, with that of the accredited standards of opinion and criticism. Alas! we searched in vain for any notice of him. The reviews of France and England, though noisy enough in their praises and dispraises of the little tadpoles of literature, had no word for him; the learned societies the world over, eager as they always are to rescue their insignificance from utter oblivion, by blazoning the name of whoever has won imperishable glory in deciphering the wrappages on an old mummy, or discovering a nation in Africa one degree nearer the monkey than any before known, were unconscious of his name; and, in private circles, few persons whom we met had ever heard, or, if they had

heard, knew any thing definite of, the star which had risen with quite portentous light upon our small horizon. At last, however, we did find in the Edinburgh Review of 1838-sixteen years after Comte's first book was published, and eight after the completion of the last-a notice of the Positive Philosophy, said to be written by Sir David Brewster, which showed plainly enough that Sir David had failed to get even a glimpse of the peculiarity of the system. When Whewell, too, published his "Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences," it was evident that he had read Comte, but was either afraid or not honest enough to own it; and the first public recognition of him, of any importance, we found in the Logic of Mills, who borrows largely from him, but without the meanness of concealment. Indeed, no attempt, as we are aware, has yet been made towards an elaborate and impartial judgment of Comte, save in a series of able articles published in the Methodist Quarterly Review of this city, where the writer, disagreeing with many of his conclusions, frankly and admiringly confesses his merits. Morell's "Philosophy of the Nineteenth Century," has a superficial account of Comte's system, and Professor De Saisset has written something about him, in the Revue des Deux Mondes, which we have not seen.

This uniform neglect of Comte, during the quarter of a century in which he had been laboriously working out his views, struck us as strange, particularly as contemporary literature and science contained not a few direct appropriations of his labors. We tried to account for it, on one or more of three several suppositions: either that his works were intrinsically unworthy of study, or that their departures from the accepted and reigning opinions were so flagrant as to excite a silent contempt for them, or that the range and comprehensiveness of their topics lifted them quite above the ordinary apprehensions and intellectual sympathies of the


But, on reflection, we soon saw that neither of these solutions could be entirely satisfactory. It was obvious, at a glance, that those works were worthy of study, as their masterly originality and power, their logical coherence, their dignity of manner, and the importance of the results at which they aimed, abundantly proved. A rational and consistent classification of the sciences, on the basis of nature, and the construction of a new science, destined to take its place as the queen and crowning glory of all other sci

ences, even if they had been unskilfully accomplished, were attempts that deserved the most serious attention. It was no disposition, then, we were persuaded, to pooh-pooh Comte out of sight, which had left him to obscurity. Nor was it, again. the offensive nature of his conclusions; for, hostile as these were to existing prejudices and creeds, they were still no more so than the systems of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, whose speculations have gone the circuit of the globe. If he was atheistical, they were pantheistical; and we had yet to learn that the one was more acceptable to orthodoxy than the other. Meanwhile, it was to be observed, that the theories of Comte, though profound and comprehensive, and marked by great logical severity, were not difficult of apprehension. They could scarcely be called abstruse; they contained no neologisms, did not abound in hard words, while in their general aims they were addressed to what is said to be a prevailing characteristic of the present era,-its physical or materializing tendency. There was, then, more reason, or at least as much reason, why Comte should have been well known, as Cousin, Hegel, or Kant.

In the end, two considerations occurred to us, as better explanatory of the little attention he had received. The first was, the acknowledged indisposition of scientific men to enter into large or general views, absorbed as they are in the study of details, and distrustful as they are of all applications of the inductive method, save the most elementary and simple. The habit of petty analysis, which has been so "victorious" in physics, has finally succeeded in conquering its masters, so that your natural philosopher is quite as much afraid of deserting it, for higher and synthetic generalizations, as a slave is to rise against his keeper. He looks upon the

theorizer," consequently, as a monster, and is glad to get quit of him as soon as possible. Comte could expect no hospitality from this class. But among those capable of general views, a second reason for the neglect of him, was, that the reigning science could not, in consistency with its own principles, deny the validity of his method, while to admit his conclusions, was to fly directly into the face of the reigning theology. Thus there was a double allegiance to be maintained: one of consistency, and the other of respectability; and we can readily understand why it was thought best, in the dilemma, to say as little as need be about Comte's inferences, lest the secret sympathy of

science should be exposed by a futile attempt to contemn them, or lest, on the other hand, the frowns of the Church should be incurred by an open proclamation of revolt. In other words, Comte had been more faithful to the spirit and method of modern science, as it is generally conceived by scientific men, than they had dared to be themselves, because of their theological timidity. His conclusions were the logical outgrowth of their premises; but while they persistently held to the premises, they cautiously avoided the conclusions. A determination between Science and Faith was laid upon them, but inasmuch as they could relinquish neither, nor reconcile the two, they found discretion the better sort of valor. They retired from the field rather than join battle, and then satisfied their consciences in respect to theology, by perpetual bowings, grimacings, and scrapings, in token of a fellowship they could not justify.


We do not mean, by these assertions, that Science and Faith are at heart incompatible, or that there is any logical impossibility of their reconciliation. the contrary, we maintain that there is a philosophy which fuses them distinctly into one; but what we do mean, is, that Science, with its present cowardly methods, will never become the animated body of Faith (indeed, any thing more than a galvanized corpse), nor Faith the living soul of Science, as they should be, and will be, respectively, when the true Christian view of life shall obtain.

Subordinate to this conscious impotence and cowardice of Science, were other more superficial causes which contributed to the general unmindfulness of Comte's claims. Men of science, regarding his scheme as only another treatise of method, supposed that nothing could be added to the achievements, in that respect, of Bacon, Descartes, Sir John Herschell, and Whewell. If it differs from these authorities, they were apt to argue, it can hardly be more than an unfounded refinement of logic, and therefore worthless; while, if it agrees with them, it only repeats their principles, in other words. Accordingly, they went on with the study of their specialities. Philosophers proper, on the other hand, finding in Comte none of their usual symbols,-none of the customary hair-splitting and thimble-rig about the pure reason, and the categories, and the genesis of the idea of the absolute, into which philosophy has degenerated, retired from it in derision to their void inane. Thus, physicists and

metaphysicists were alike disdainful, and consistently enough expected neither profit nor entertainment from those lumbering octavos of a poor Parisian teacher of mathematics, whose style was not the most attractive in the world, and whose matter required close and continued, if not subtle study.

Comte, however, is at last famous. He has been taken under the especial patronage of Miss Martineau- philosopher Harriet," as our laughing Howadji has it. His books are available in tolerable English; the diminutive lights of small coteries begin to jabber of the virtues of integral calculus; metaphysics and theology are growing decidedly unfashionable; and young men and women will soon be astonished that they could ever have entertained such antiquated notions as those of God and Infinity, or ever supposed any thing to have had a cause. Phenomena and their laws are now the gospel, and this poor universe of ours is in danger of becoming the veriest ghost or cadavre of a universe imaginable.

It may not be useless, then, for several reasons, to undertake a brief survey of Comte and his claims; which we shall proceed to do, with a premise, however, that we have no strong hope of administering much consolation either to his extravagant admirers or his more bigoted enemies.

The first question with a philosophy always is, what it aims to do; and here we must say, that Comte's pretensions are of no mean extent. He aims at a systemization of human knowledge, at a reconstruction of the human understanding, and at the determination, through these, of the true order and evolution of human society. His ambition ranges with that of Spinoza in his Reforme de l'Entendement, with Bacon's, in his Instauratio Magna, with Fourier's, in his Unité Universelle, and only falls short of the reach of Swedenborg's, which included the economy of the heavens and the hells. Nor does the execution of his plan prove him an unworthy compeer of those exalted men. With more knowledge than Fourier, and a soberer judgment than Spinoza, he is less than Bacon only in that rich wit and fruity imagination, which are now the chief charm of his works. But he differs most eminently from all previous philosophers in the rigid bounds he has set to the province of knowledge. All the rest, "leaping the walls of time and space," have scaled the heavens of the infinite; yet he will hear of nothing but the actual and the condi

tioned. They have endeavored to penetrate into causes and essences, while he admits nothing but phenomena. They have believed, with all the rest of mankind, in substance and being, but he believes only in appearances and laws. He calls his philosophy, the "Positive Philosophy," therefore, because it avoids these impalpable realms, and is real, useful, certain, definite, and organic; or, as he in one place expresses it, "good sense systematized."

I. The first fundamental principle of it, then, is, a determination of the limits of knowledge, which, it assumes, is confined to the perception of phenomena, and their invariable relations or laws. Absolute knowledge is an impossibility, the perception of things in themselves, as it is sometimes termed, a phantasm; and the exclusive function of the mind consists in observing the appearances of things, and co-ordinating their relations of existence or succession. When we have determined what a thing is, i. e., how it stands related to other things, as an existing fact or a sequence, we have exhausted the intelligible sphere. We cannot tell whence it is, nor why it is, but simply that it is, and that it is invariably connected by certain resemblances or differences with other things, or by a certain order of priority or posteriority, in respect to other things. We cannot say that it is a substance, a being, a cause, an essence, but only a phenomenon, which exists and continues, in certain invariable modes. All researches into the supposed causes of that phenomenon, whether natural or supernatural, are consequently illegitimate, an endeavor after the unattainable, a pursuit of shadows and dreams. All faiths, opinions, aspirations, &c., not susceptible of being reduced to these observed relations, transcend the powers of the intellect, and may be dismissed as illusions, or, at best, as mere transitional and infantile expedients, helping the mind on, the while it is learning to discern its true beat.

This, we say, is Comte's starting point, and it becomes us to analyze it, before advancing further. We will admit, that all knowledge is relative, i. e., in a double sense, first, as to things themselves, which could not be things unless they were finited or distinguished from each other by sensible differences; and second, as to perception, which is a mere relation of our sensitive organization to nature, whereby one is revealed in the other. Things are in virtue of their relativity; for if they were not relative, they would be absolute, and so indistinguishable as things, inap

preciable to the senses, and of course unknowable. Our sensitive experience, consequently, must be the basis, the occasion, the material of all knowledge. We do not bring with us, when we are born, a solitary iota of thought, except what comes to us from our relations to the medium in which we are born. Every thing has to be learned by us, and that, too, by the "slow coach." Chickens and puppies, as soon as they break the shell, or open their eyes, have a complete science of their lives; the former will run about to pick up worms, and the latter to lap milk, as confidently on its first as on its last day; but a human baby does not know enough for years to keep itself from starving to death. It has to be taught all things. It is a mere capacity of knowing, and a mere inclination to love, and nothing more. Experience awakens its sensations, gives it memory, builds up its imagination, developes its reason, kindles its desires, and creates its sciences. In other words, our existence, being phenomenal, is constructed by our experience, is but an extension and envelopment of nature,—a part and parcel of nature,-its finer outgrowth, its crowning product and flower. But man, as we shall see by and by, is more than this, is more than a simple animal and intellectual existence; he is a self-hood, or personality.

Comte is right, therefore, in assuming that we can know nothing out of the sphere of our sensitive life, or, in other words, which does not come through our phenomenal organization; and that all a priori notions of what things are, apart from what we feel or see them to be, are gratuitous and idle. But he is wrong in the inference, that we cannot properly believe what we do not know. The intelligible does not exhaust the real. Knowledge is not the equivalent or measure of being. We know sensible facts, and their relations, but we believe truths or propositions which transcend those facts. We know the relations of difference which distinguish things, but we believe in a unity which is the ground or support of their distinctions. We know the finite, the conditioned, the relative, the multiple, the changeable, but we believe in the infinite, the unconditioned, the absolute, and the permanent, not as contradictory or antagonistic to the former, but as contained in them; not as natural or phenomenal, but as rational or spiritual. Indeed, every step that our minds take, beyond the first intimations of sense, is a belief-is a credence, well or ill sup

ported, and not a knowledge. In popular language, we are accustomed to speak of our opinions as what we know; but strictly, they are only what we opine, with more or less fixity of assent. They are faiths accredited to us by certain evidences. We say that we know the truths of mathematics, the principles of astronomy, the laws of chemistry, the dictates of morals, &c., but we have only a conviction of them, founded upon our reasons. They do not fall within the cognizance of the senses, but are rationally discerned. We mean, that they are rationally discerned by those who investigate and authenticate them, for the larger part of mankind are satisfied to take them upon the testimony of others. Perhaps one man in ten millions of Christendom has demonstrated the theory of gravitation for himself, all the rest believing it because they have been so taught. Thus, throughout the endless ramifications of practical life, we walk emphatically by faith, and not by knowledge.

The question of philosophy, therefore, does not, as it is commonly stated, refer to the validity of our knowledge,—which, being commensurate with our sensible experience, the first fool can determine as well as the last philosopher,-but to the validity of our beliefs. Accepting the vast variety of credences, on which the whole business of society, its trades as well as its sciences and religions, proceed, what ground is there for each? In what way are they related to our sensible experience, and how can that experience be made serviceable to them? Which are unsupported, which are illusions, which are reliable? Especially, what are we to make of our transcendent ideas? All the world, for instance, at every period of the world, has professed a belief in that which is perfect and unconditioned, which cannot be bounded by the senses, which the senses are ignorant of, which is invisible to the eye, and inaudible to the ear, but how is it to be explained? Must we wink it out of sight, or may we refer it to a life within us which is supersensuous, which is a window of the soul, if we may so express it, opening into God and the absolute, as the senses are the windows of nature, opening into man? Philosophy, we say, is called upon to answer.

Now, Comte shuts this upper window almost entirely. He is quite right in considering the relations of phenomenal nature, the facts furnished to us by the senses, and digested by reason, as the place of beginning of the sciences; but he is wrong in restricting thought or belief to

this natural sphere. He is right, in the first, because phenomenal nature is the continent or base of all truth, in which it resides as in its body: but he is wrong in the second, inasmuch as it excludes the deeper truths, which are the soul of that body. The twenty-six letters of the alphabet contain the whole of Shakespeare or the Bible, but he would be a wretched commentator who should confine our attention to the names of the letters, and the spelling of a few syllables, or to the construction of a few sentences even, and not lead us into the higher combinations of the thoughts. It is indispensable to know the letters or the words, in order to understand Shakespeare, but the letters and the words are not Shakespeare. They are only instrumental to Shakespeare; they are the external collocation, of which he is the interior significance-nay, more, they are the condition of his existence, and the ladders by which we climb to him, but not the immortal spirit of the man, which is alone worth our seeking. Hence, the care with which we investigate his text; but should we not despise the man who could spend his life in the pursuit of the true text, while he neglected the meaning which imparts to the text its only glory? Thus, Science begins with the sensible sphere, because it is the letter and text of truth, but it ascends from that, by its rational processes, to the mental or spiritual sphere, which is the ground or meaning of the former, giving it existence and reality. Science is nature no longer seen by the eyes, but by the reason. Let it be observed, however, that in ascending from the senses, as we have termed it, we do not recede or separate from nature; we do not run away into a ghostland of abstractions, but we simply look through nature's superficial aspects or integuments, into its realities, or rather its rationalities, into its substances and ends, which constitute it, make it consistent and significant, and show it to be a glorious mirror of our own souls. If Science halts, therefore, at the threshold; if it dallies with the outside symbols, or penetrates only to its inferior grades of reason, it misses the most precious part of the entertainment. It sees the vast mechanism, the prodigious apparatus, the great gilt candlesticks of the heavens, and the four sapphire walls, and the multitudes that walk therein, but the Divinity of the magnificent temple, who is the light and heat and glory of it, it cannot behold!

Science, we repeat, cannot be too "positive" in the study of phenomena, too ac

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