Auguste Comte – Positive Philosophy Course (1830) – 1st vol- First Lession

CLASSES OF POSITIVE PHILOSOPHY,

By Mr. Auguste Comte,

FIRST VOLUME,

GENERAL PRELIMINARIES AND MATHEMATICAL PHILOSOPHY

FIRST LESSON.

Summary- Exposition of the aim of this course, or general considerations on the nature and importance of positive philosophy.

The object of this first lesson is to set out clearly the aim of the course, that is to say, to determine exactly the spirit in which the various fundamental branches of natural philosophy will be considered, indicated by the summary program which I introduced you.

Undoubtedly, the nature of this course cannot be fully appreciated, so as to be able to form a definitive opinion, until the various parts of it have been successively developed. Such is the ordinary inconvenience of definitions relative to very extensive systems of ideas, when they precede their exposition. But generalities can be conceived under two aspects, or as an outline of a doctrine to be established, or as a summary of an established doctrine. If it is only under this last point of view that they acquire all their value, they have nonetheless already, under the first, an extreme importance, by characterizing from the origin the subject to be considered. The general circumscription of the field of our research, traced with all possible severity, is, for our mind, a particularly indispensable preliminary in a study as vast and hitherto as undetermined as the one with which we are about to deal. It is in order to obey this logical necessity that I believe I have to indicate to you, from this moment, the series of fundamental considerations which gave birth to this new course, and which will moreover be specially developed, in the sequel, with all the extension required by the high importance of each of them.

To properly explain the true nature and proper character of positive philosophy, it is indispensable first to cast a general glance at the progressive march of the human mind, considered as a whole: for any conception whatever can be well known only by its history.

In thus studying the total development of the human intelligence in its various spheres of activity, from its earliest, simplest flight down to our own day, I believe I have discovered a great fundamental law, to which it is subject by an invariable necessity. , and which seems to me to be able to be firmly established, either on the rational proofs provided by the knowledge of our organization or on the historical verifications resulting from a careful examination of the past. This law consists in the fact that each of our principal conceptions, each branch of our knowledge, passes successively through three different theoretical states: the theological, or fictitious, state; the metaphysical, or abstract state; the scientific, or positive state. In other words, the human mind, by its nature, employs successively in each of his researches three methods of philosophizing, whose character is essentially different and even radically opposed: first the theological method, then the metaphysical method, and finally the positive method. From there, three kinds of philosophies, or general systems of designs on the whole of the phenomena, which are mutually exclusive: the first is the necessary starting point of the human intelligence; the third, its fixed and definitive state: the second is only intended to serve as a transition. three kinds of philosophies, or general systems of conceptions on the whole of phenomena, which are mutually exclusive: the first is the necessary starting point of human intelligence; the third, its fixed and definitive state: the second is only intended to serve as a transition. three kinds of philosophies, or general systems of conceptions on the whole of phenomena, which are mutually exclusive: the first is the necessary starting point of human intelligence; the third, its fixed and definitive state: the second is only intended to serve as a transition.

In the theological state, the human mind essentially directing its research towards the intimate nature of beings, the first and final causes of all the effects which strike it, in a word, towards absolute knowledge, represents phenomena to itself as produced by the direct and continuous action of more or less numerous supernatural agents, whose arbitrary intervention explains all the apparent anomalies of the universe.

In the metaphysical state, which is basically only a simple general modification of the first, the supernatural agents are replaced by abstract forces, true entities (personified abstractions) inherent in the various beings of the world, and conceived as capable of generate by themselves all the observed phenomena, the explanation of which then consists in assigning for each the corresponding entity.

Finally, in the positive state, the human mind, recognizing the impossibility of obtaining absolute notions, renounces seeking the origin and the destination of the universe, and knowing the intimate causes of phenomena, in order to attach itself only to discover, by the well-combined use of reasoning and observation, their effective laws, that is to say, their invariable relations of succession and similarity. The explanation of facts, reduced then to its real terms, is henceforth only the connection established between the various particular phenomena and a few general facts, the number of which the progress of science tends more and more to diminish.

The theological system arrived at the highest perfection of which it is susceptible, when it substituted the providential action of a single being for the varied play of the numerous independent divinities which had been originally imagined. Likewise, the last term of the metaphysical system consists in conceiving, instead of the different particular entities, a single great general entity, nature , considered as the unique source of all phenomena. Similarly, the perfection of the positive system, towards which it constantly tends, although it is very probable that it will never attain it, would be to be able to represent to itself all the various observable phenomena as particular cases of a single one. general fact, such as that of gravitation, for example.

This is not the place to demonstrate especially this fundamental law of the development of the human mind, and to deduce from it the most important consequences. We will treat it directly, with all the appropriate extension, in the part of this course relating to the study of social phenomena. 1 . I only consider it now to determine with precision the true character of positive philosophy, as opposed to the two other philosophies which have successively dominated, until recent centuries, our entire intellectual system. As for the present, in order not to leave entirely without demonstration a law of this importance, the applications of which will present themselves frequently throughout the whole extent of this course, I must confine myself to a rapid indication of the most sensible general reasons which may see the accuracy.

Note 1: (return) Persons who would immediately like more extensive clarifications on this subject, can usefully consult three articles of Philosophical Considerations on the Sciences and the Savants which I published, in November 1825, in a collection entitled the Producer ( nos. 7, 8 and 10), and especially the first part of my System of positive politics , addressed, in April 1824, to the Academy of Sciences, and where I recorded, for the first time, the discovery of this law .
In the first place, it seems to me sufficient to state such a law for its correctness to be immediately verified by all those who have some thorough knowledge of the general history of science. There is not a single one, in fact, that has reached a positive state today, that everyone cannot easily imagine, in the past, essentially composed of metaphysical abstractions, and, going back even further, everything- completely dominated by theological conceptions. Unfortunately, we will even have more than one formal occasion to recognize, in the various parts of this course, that the most perfected sciences still preserve today some very sensible traces of these two primitive states.

This general revolution of the human mind can moreover be easily observed today, in a very perceptible, although indirect, way, by considering the development of individual intelligence. The point of departure being necessarily the same in the education of the individual as in that of the species, the various principal phases of the first must represent the fundamental epochs of the second. Now, does not each of us, in contemplating his own history, remember that he was successively, as regards his most important notions, a theologian in his childhood, a metaphysician in his youth, and a physicist in his virility? This verification is easy today

But, besides direct observation, general or individual, which proves the exactness of this law, I must above all, in this brief indication, mention the theoretical considerations which make its necessity felt.

The most important of these considerations, drawn from the very nature of the subject, consists in the need, at all times, of some theory to bind the facts, combined with the obvious impossibility, for the human mind at its origin, to form theories based on observations.

All good minds have repeated, since Bacon, that there is no real knowledge except that which rests on observed facts. This fundamental maxim is obviously indisputable, if we apply it, as it should, to the virile state of our intelligence. But in referring to the formation of our knowledge, it is nonetheless certain that the human mind, in its primitive state, could not and should not think so. For if, on the one hand, any positive theory must necessarily be based on observations, it is also apparent, on the other hand, that, in order to engage in observation, our mind needs some theory. If, in contemplating phenomena, we do not immediately attach them to a few principles, not only would it be impossible for us to combine these isolated observations, and consequently to draw any fruit from them, but we would even be entirely incapable of retaining them; and, more often than not, the facts would remain unperceived before our eyes.

Thus, pressed between the necessity of observing in order to form real theories, and the no less imperious necessity of creating any theories in order to engage in continuous observations, the human mind, at its birth, would find itself enclosed in a vicious circle from which he would never have had any means of getting out, if he had not fortunately opened up a natural way out by the spontaneous development of theological conceptions, which presented a rallying point for his efforts, and provided food for his activity. Such is, independently of the lofty social considerations which are attached to it and which I need not even indicate at this moment, the fundamental reason which demonstrates the logical necessity of the purely theological character of primitive philosophy.

This necessity becomes still more apparent when we take into account the perfect harmony of theological philosophy with the proper nature of the researches on which the human mind in its infancy concentrates all its activity so eminently. It is quite remarkable, in fact, that the questions most radically inaccessible to our means, the intimate nature of beings, the origin and the end of all phenomena, are precisely those that our intelligence proposes above all in this primitive state, all really solvable problems being almost considered unworthy of serious meditation. One easily conceives the reason; for it is experience alone which has been able to furnish us with the measure of our strength; and, if the man had not first begun by having an exaggerated opinion of them, they could never have acquired all the development of which they are susceptible. This is what our organization demands. But, be that as it may, let us represent, as far as possible, this disposition so universal and so pronounced, and ask ourselves what reception would have received at such an epoch, supposing it to have been formed, positive philosophy, of which the most lofty ambition is to discover the laws of phenomena, and whose first proper characteristic is precisely to regard as necessarily forbidden to human reason all those sublime mysteries, which theological philosophy explains, on the contrary, with such admirable facility down to their smallest details.

It is the same when considering from the practical point of view the nature of the researches which originally occupy the human mind. In this respect, they offer man the so energetic attraction of an unlimited empire to exercise over the external world, considered as entirely destined for our use, and as presenting in all its phenomena intimate and continuous relations with our existence. . Now, these chimerical hopes, these exaggerated ideas of the importance of man in the universe, which give rise to theological philosophy, and which irreversibly destroy the first influence of positive philosophy, are, at the origin, a indispensable stimulant, without which one could certainly not conceive that the human mind would have determined itself originally to painful work.

We are today so far removed from these primary dispositions, at least as regards most phenomena, that we have difficulty in representing to ourselves exactly the power and the necessity of similar considerations. Human reason is now mature enough for us to undertake laborious scientific research, without having in view any extraneous goal capable of acting strongly on the imagination, such as that proposed by astrologers or alchemists. Our intellectual activity is sufficiently excited by the pure hope of discovering the laws of phenomena, by the simple desire to confirm or invalidate a theory. But it could not be so in the infancy of the human mind. Without the attractive chimeras of astrology, without the energetic deceptions of alchemy,

This condition of our intellectual development has long been keenly felt by Kepler, for astronomy, and justly appreciated in our day by Berthollet, for chemistry.

We see, therefore, by this set of considerations, that, if positive philosophy is the true definitive state of human intelligence, that towards which it has always tended more and more, it has none the less necessarily had to employ first, and for a long series of centuries, either as a method or as a provisional doctrine, theological philosophy; philosophy whose character is to be spontaneous, and, for that very reason, the only one possible at the origin, the only one also which could offer our nascent mind a sufficient interest. It is now very easy to feel that, in order to pass from this provisional philosophy to the definitive philosophy, the human mind must naturally have adopted, as a transitory philosophy, the methods and doctrines of metaphysics.

It is easy to see, in fact, that our understanding, constrained to proceed only by almost imperceptible degrees, could not pass abruptly, and without intermediaries, from theological philosophy to positive philosophy. Theology and physics are so profoundly incompatible, their conceptions have such a radically opposed character, that before renouncing one to exclusively employ the other, human intelligence had to make use of intermediate conceptions, of a bastard character, proper, by that very fact, to bring about the transition gradually. Such is the natural destination of metaphysical conceptions: they have no other real utility. By substituting, in the study of phenomena, for directing supernatural action a corresponding and inseparable entity, although this was not first conceived as an emanation of the first, man has gradually become accustomed to considering only the facts themselves, the notions of these metaphysical agents having been gradually refined to the point of no longer being, in the eyes of of any upright mind, than the abstract names of phenomena. It is impossible to imagine by what other process our understanding could have passed from frankly supernatural considerations to purely natural considerations, from the theological regime to the positive regime.

Having thus established, as far as I can without entering into a special discussion which would be out of place at this moment, the general law of the development of the human mind, as I conceive it, it will now be easy for us to determine with precision the proper nature of positive philosophy; which is the essential object of this discourse.

We see, by the foregoing, that the fundamental character of positive philosophy is to regard all phenomena as subject to invariable natural laws , the precise discovery of which and the reduction of which to the least possible number are the aim of all our efforts, in considering as absolutely inaccessible and devoid of meaning for us the search for what are called causes , either first or final. It is needless to insist much on a principle which has now become so familiar to all who have made a little thorough study of the sciences of observation. Everyone knows, in fact, that in our positive explanations, even the most perfect, we in no way claim to expose the causesgenerators of the phenomena, since we would never then only postpone the difficulty, but only analyze with exactitude the circumstances of their production, and connect them to each other by normal relations of succession and similarity.

Thus, to cite the most admirable example, we say that the general phenomena of the universe are explained, as far as they can be, by the law of Newtonian gravitation, because, on the one hand, this beautiful theory shows us all the immense variety of astronomical facts, as being one and the same fact considered from various points of view; the constant tendency of all the molecules towards each other in direct proportion to their masses, and in inverse proportion to the squares of their distances; while, on the other hand, this general fact is presented to us as a simple extension of a phenomenon which is eminently familiar to us, and which, by this alone, we regard as perfectly known, the weight of bodies on the surface of Earth. As for determining what this attraction and this gravity are in themselves, what are their causes, these are questions which we all regard as insoluble, which no longer belong to the domain of positive philosophy, and which we rightly leave to the imagination of theologians, or to the subtleties of metaphysicians. The manifest proof of the impossibility of obtaining such solutions is that, whenever one has sought to say something really rational on this subject, the greatest minds have been able only to define these two principles one by the other, by saying, for attraction, that it is nothing else than a universal gravity, and then, for gravity, that it consists simply in terrestrial attraction. Such explanations, which make you smile when you claim to know the intimate nature of things and the mode of generation of phenomena, are, however, all that we can obtain more satisfactory, by showing us as identical two orders of phenomena, which have for so long been regarded as having no connection between them. No righteous mind today seeks to go further.

It would be easy to multiply these examples, which will present themselves in droves throughout the duration of this course, since such is now the spirit which exclusively directs the great intellectual combinations. To cite a single one among contemporary works, I will choose the fine series of researches by M. Fourier on the theory of heat. It offers us the very sensible verification of the preceding general remarks. Indeed, in this work, the philosophical character of which is so eminently positive, the most important and most precise laws of thermological phenomena are revealed, without the author having inquired once about the intimate nature of heat. , without his mentioning, other than to indicate its emptiness, the controversy so agitated between the partisans of calorific matter and those who make heat consist in the vibrations of a universal ether. And nevertheless the highest questions, many of which had never even been asked, are dealt with in this work, palpable proof that the human mind, without throwing itself into unapproachable problems, and by restricting itself in the search for an order entirely positive, can find in it an inexhaustible food for its deepest activity.

Having characterized, as exactly as I am permitted to do in this general survey, the spirit of positive philosophy, which this whole course is intended to develop, I must now examine at what period of its formation it reached today, and what remains to be done to complete it.

To this end, it must first be considered that the different branches of our knowledge did not have to go through the three great phases of their development indicated above at an equal speed, nor, consequently, to arrive simultaneously at the positive state. There exists, in this respect, an invariable and necessary order, which our various kinds of conceptions have followed and had to follow in their progression, and the exact consideration of which is the indispensable complement of the fundamental law previously enunciated. This order will be the special subject of the next lesson. Let it suffice for the present to know that it conforms to the diverse nature of phenomena, and that it is determined by their degree of generality, simplicity, and reciprocal independence, three considerations which, although distinct, are working towards the same goal. Thus, astronomical phenomena first, as being the most general, the simplest, and the most independent of all the others, and successively, for the same reasons, the phenomena of terrestrial physics properly so called, those of chemistry, and finally physiological phenomena have been reduced to positive theories.

It is impossible to assign the precise origin of this revolution; for it can be said with accuracy, as of all other great human events, that it has been constantly and more and more accomplished, particularly since the labors of Aristotle and the school of Alexandria, and then since the introduction of the natural sciences into Western Europe by the Arabs. However, since it is advisable to fix an epoch to prevent the wandering of ideas, I will indicate that of the great movement imprinted on the human mind, two centuries ago, by the combined action of the precepts of Bacon, the conceptions of Descartes, and of the discoveries of Galileo, as the moment when the spirit of positive philosophy began to speak out in the world, in clear opposition to the theological and metaphysical spirit. It was then, in fact, that the positive conceptions clearly emerged from the superstitious and scholastic alloy which more or less disguised the true character of all the previous works.

Since that memorable epoch, the upward movement of positive philosophy, and the downward movement of theological and metaphysical philosophy, have been extremely marked. They finally declared themselves so pronounced that it has become impossible today, for all observers aware of their century, to misunderstand the final destination of human intelligence for positive studies, as well as its henceforth irrevocable estrangement for these vain doctrines and for those provisional methods which could only suit its first flight. Thus, this fundamental revolution will necessarily take place in all its extent. If, therefore, he still has some great conquest to make, some principal branch of the intellectual domain to invade, we can be certain that the transformation will take place. will operate there, as it has done in all the others. For it would obviously be contradictory to suppose that the human mind, so disposed to unity of method, retained indefinitely, for a single class of phenomena, its primitive way of philosophizing, when once it came to adopt for all the rest a new philosophical march, of an absolutely opposite character.

Everything is therefore reduced to a simple question of fact: does positive philosophy, which in the last two centuries have gradually taken on such a great extension, embrace all orders of phenomena today? It is evident that this is not so, and that, consequently, there still remains a great scientific operation to be carried out in order to give positive philosophy that character of universality, indispensable to its definitive constitution.

Indeed, in the four main categories of natural phenomena listed above, astronomical, physical, chemical and physiological phenomena, we note an essential gap relating to social phenomena, which, although implicitly included among physiological phenomena, deserve , either by their importance, or by the difficulties specific to their study, to form a distinct category. This last order of conceptions, which relates to the most particular, the most complicated phenomena, and the most dependent on all the others, must necessarily, by this alone, have been perfected more slowly than all the preceding ones, even without having regard to the more special obstacles that we will consider later. Be that as it may, it is obvious that he does has not yet entered the domain of positive philosophy. Theological and metaphysical methods which, in relation to all other kinds of phenomena, are no longer employed by anyone, either as a means of investigation, or even only as a means of argument, are still, on the contrary, exclusively used, under one and the other report, for all that concerns the social phenomena, although their insufficiency in this respect is already fully felt by all the good spirits, tired of these vain interminable disputes between the divine right and the sovereignty of the people.

Here, then, is the great, but obviously the only lacuna which it is a question of filling in order to complete the constitution of positive philosophy. Now that the human mind has founded celestial physics, terrestrial physics, either mechanical or chemical; organic physics, whether vegetable or animal, it remains for him to complete the system of the sciences of observation by founding social physics . Such is today, in several capital respects, the greatest and most pressing need of our intelligence: such is, I dare say it, the first aim of this course, its special aim.

The conceptions that I shall attempt to present relative to the study of social phenomena, and of which I hope that this discourse already gives a glimpse of the germ, could not have as their object the immediate giving to social physics the same degree of perfection as to previous branches of natural philosophy, which would obviously be chimerical, since these already present between them an extreme inequality, which is moreover inevitable. But they will be destined to imprint on this last class of our acquaintances that positive character already assumed by all the others. If this condition is once really fulfilled, the philosophical system of the moderns will finally be founded as a whole; because no observable phenomenon can obviously fail to enter into some one of the five main categories since established of astronomical, physical, chemical, physiological and social phenomena. All our fundamental conceptions having become homogeneous, philosophy will definitely be constituted in a positive state; without ever being able to change its character, it will only have to develop indefinitely through the ever-increasing acquisitions which will inevitably result from new observations or deeper meditations. Having thereby acquired the character of universality which it still lacks, positive philosophy will become capable of replacing itself entirely, with all its natural superiority, for theological philosophy and metaphysical philosophy, of which this universality is the only property today. real, and who, deprived of such a reason for preference,

The special aim of this course being thus exposed, it is easy to understand its second aim, its general aim, which makes it a course in positive philosophy, and not only a course in social physics.

Indeed, the foundation of social physics finally completing the system of the natural sciences, it becomes possible and even necessary to summarize the various knowledge acquired, having then reached a fixed and homogeneous state, to coordinate them by presenting them as so many branches of knowledge. a single trunk, instead of continuing to conceive of them only as so many isolated bodies. It is to this end that before proceeding to the study of social phenomena I will consider successively, in the encyclopedic order announced above, the different positive sciences already formed.

It is superfluous, I think, to warn that there can be no question here of a series of special courses on each of the main branches of natural philosophy. Without speaking of the material duration of such an undertaking, it is clear that such a claim would be untenable on my part, and I believe I can add on the part of anyone, in the present state of human education. . Quite the contrary, a course of the nature of this requires, in order to be properly understood, a preliminary series of special studies on the various sciences which will be considered in it. Without this condition, it is very difficult to feel and impossible to judge the philosophical reflections of which these sciences will be the subjects. In a nutshell, it’s a course in positive philosophy, and not of positive sciences, which I propose to do. It is only a question here of considering each fundamental science in its relations with the positive system as a whole, and as regards the spirit which characterizes it, that is to say, under the double relation of its essential methods and its main results. More often than not, I will have to confine myself to mentioning the latter according to special knowledge in order to try to appreciate their importance.

In order to summarize the ideas relative to the double aim of this course, I must observe that the two objects, one special, the other general, which I propose to myself, although distinct in themselves, are necessarily inseparable. For, on the one hand, it would be impossible to conceive of a course in positive philosophy without the foundation of social physics, since it would then lack an essential element, and that, for that alone, conceptions could not have this character. of generality which must be its principal attribute, and which distinguishes our present study from the series of special studies. On the other hand, how can one proceed with certainty to the positive study of social phenomena, if the spirit is not

Although all the fundamental sciences do not inspire equal interest in vulgar minds, there is none which ought to be neglected in a study such as the one we are undertaking. As to their importance for the happiness of the human species, all are certainly equivalent, when they are considered in a profound way. Those, moreover, whose results present, at first sight, a lesser practical interest, are eminently recommended, either by the greatest perfection of their methods, or as being the indispensable foundation of all the others. This is a consideration to which I shall have special occasion to return in the next lesson.

To prevent, as much as possible, all the false interpretations that it is legitimate to fear on the nature of a course as new as this one, I must summarily add to the preceding explanations some considerations directly relating to this universality of special knowledge, which thoughtless judges might regard as the tendency of this course, and which is so justly regarded as quite contrary to the true spirit of positive philosophy. These considerations will have, moreover, the more important advantage of presenting this spirit under a new point of view, proper to complete the clarification of its general notion.

In the primitive state of our knowledge there is no regular division among our intellectual labors; all the sciences are cultivated simultaneously by the same minds. This mode of organization of human studies, at first inevitable and even indispensable, as we shall see later, changes little by little as the various orders of conception develop. By a law, the necessity of which is evident, each branch of the scientific system separates itself imperceptibly from the trunk, when it has grown enough to include an isolated culture, that is to say when it has reached this point of growth. to be able to occupy by itself the permanent activity of a few intelligences. It is to this distribution of the various kinds of research between different orders of scholars, that we obviously owe the remarkable development that each distinct class of human knowledge has finally taken in our day, and which makes manifest the impossibility, among the moderns, of this universality of special researches, so easy and so common in times ancient. In a word, the division of intellectual labor, more and more perfected, is one of the most important characteristic attributes of positive philosophy.

But, while recognizing the prodigious results of this division, while seeing henceforth in it the true fundamental basis of the general organization of the learned world, it is impossible, on the other hand, not to be struck by the capital inconveniences which it engenders, in its present state, by the excessive particularity of the ideas which exclusively occupy each individual intelligence. This unfortunate effect is doubtless inevitable up to a certain point, as inherent in the very principle of division; that is to say that, by any measure whatever, we will never succeed in equaling in this respect the ancients, among whom such a superiority was due above all only to the little development of their knowledge. We can nevertheless, it seems to me, by suitable means, to avoid the most pernicious effects of exaggerated specialism, without harming the life-giving influence of the separation of research. It is urgent to deal with it seriously; for these inconveniences, which by their nature tend to increase unceasingly, begin to become very perceptible. Admittedly, the divisions, established for the greater perfection of our work, between the various branches of natural philosophy, are ultimately artificial. Let us not forget that, notwithstanding this admission, there is already very little in the learned world the number of intelligences embracing in their conceptions the very whole of a single science, which is however in turn only a part of it. a big whole. Most of them already limit themselves entirely to the isolated consideration of a more or less extensive section of a definite science, without much concern for the relation of these particular works to the general system of positive knowledge. Let us hasten to remedy the evil, before it becomes more serious. Let’s fear that the human spirit will eventually get lost in the detail work. Let us not hide from ourselves that this is essentially the weak side from which the partisans of theological philosophy and of metaphysical philosophy can still attack positive philosophy with some hope of success. human mind does not end up getting lost in detail work. Let us not hide from ourselves that this is essentially the weak side from which the partisans of theological philosophy and of metaphysical philosophy can still attack positive philosophy with some hope of success. human mind does not end up getting lost in detail work. Let us not hide from ourselves that this is essentially the weak side from which the partisans of theological philosophy and of metaphysical philosophy can still attack positive philosophy with some hope of success.

The real means of stopping the deleterious influence with which the intellectual future seems threatened, as a result of too great a specialization of individual research, obviously cannot be to return to this ancient confusion of works, which would tend to demote the human mind, and which, moreover, has now fortunately become impossible. It consists, on the contrary, in the improvement of the division of labor itself. It suffices, in fact, to make the study of scientific generalities one more major specialty. That a new class of scholars, prepared by a suitable education, without devoting themselves to the special culture of any particular branch of natural philosophy, are solely occupied, by considering the various positive sciences in their actual state, to determine exactly the spirit of each of them, to discover their relations and their sequence, to summarize, if it is possible, all their proper principles in a lesser number of common principles, by constantly conforming to the fundamental maxims of the positive method. That at the same time, the other scholars, before devoting themselves to their respective specialties, should henceforth be made fit, by an education bearing on all positive knowledge, to profit immediately from the enlightenment spread by these scholars dedicated to the study generalities, and reciprocally to rectify their results, a state of affairs to which current scholars are visibly approaching day by day. These two great conditions once fulfilled, and it is obvious that they can be, the division of labor in the sciences will be pushed, without any danger, as far as the development of the various orders of knowledge will require. A distinct class, incessantly controlled by all the others, having for its proper and permanent function to link each new particular discovery to the general system, one will no longer have to fear that too much attention given to details will ever prevent us from perceiving the together. In a word, the modern organization of the learned world will henceforth be completely founded, and will only have to develop indefinitely, while always preserving the same character. having as its own and permanent function to link each new particular discovery to the general system, one will no longer have to fear that too much attention given to the details will ever prevent us from seeing the whole. In a word, the modern organization of the learned world will henceforth be completely founded, and will only have to develop indefinitely, while always preserving the same character. having as its own and permanent function to link each new particular discovery to the general system, one will no longer have to fear that too much attention given to the details will ever prevent us from seeing the whole. In a word, the modern organization of the learned world will henceforth be completely founded, and will only have to develop indefinitely, while always preserving the same character.

To thus form from the study of scientific generalities a distinct section of great intellectual work, is simply to extend the application of the same principle of division which has successively separated the various specialities; for, so long as the different positive sciences were little developed, their mutual relations could not have sufficient importance to give rise, at least in a permanent manner, to a particular class of labors, and at the same time the necessity of this new study was much less urgent. But today each of the sciences has separately taken on enough extension for the examination of their mutual relations to give rise to ongoing work, at the same time as this new order of studies becomes essential to prevent the dispersion of human conceptions. .

Such is the way in which I conceive the destination of positive philosophy in the general system of the positive sciences properly speaking. That, at least, is the purpose of this course.

Now that I have tried to determine, as exactly as I was able to do, in this first outline, the general spirit of a course in positive philosophy, I believe I must, in order to imprint on this picture all its character, point out rapidly the principal general advantages which such work can have, if the essential conditions are suitably fulfilled, relative to the progress of the human mind. I will reduce this last order of considerations to the indication of four fundamental properties.

First, the study of positive philosophy, by considering the results of the activity of our intellectual faculties, furnishes us with the only truly rational means of bringing to light the logical laws of the human mind, which have hitherto been sought by paths so little suited to revealing them.

To properly explain my thought in this respect, I must first recall a philosophical conception of the greatest importance, set forth by M. de Blainville in the fine introduction to his General Principles of Comparative Anatomy . It consists in the fact that any active being, and especially any living being, can be studied, in all its phenomena, under two fundamental relations, under the static relation and under the dynamic relation, that is to say as able to act and as actually acting. It is clear, in fact, that all the considerations that can be presented will necessarily fall into one mode or the other. Let us apply this luminous fundamental maxim to the study of the intellectual functions.

If we consider these functions from the static point of view, their study can consist only in the determination of the organic conditions on which they depend; it thus forms an essential part of anatomy and physiology. Considering them from the dynamic point of view, everything is reduced to studying the effective progress of the human mind in exercise, by examining the processes actually employed to obtain the various exact knowledge that it has already acquired, which constitutes essentially the general object of positive philosophy, as I have defined it in this discourse. In a word, regarding all scientific theories as so many great logical facts, it is only by the thorough observation of these facts that one can

Such are obviously the only two general paths, complementary to each other, by which one can arrive at some true rational notions of intellectual phenomena. We see that, in no respect, there is room for this illusory psychology, the last transformation of theology, which we try so vainly to revive today, and which, without troubling either about the physiological study of our intellectual organs, nor of the observation of the rational processes which effectively direct our various scientific researches, claims to arrive at the discovery of the fundamental laws of the human mind, by contemplating it in itself, that is to say completely ignoring cause and effect.

The preponderance of positive philosophy has successively become such since Bacon; today it has gained, indirectly, such a great ascendancy over the very minds which have remained the most foreign to its immense development, that the metaphysicians devoted to the study of our intelligence could not hope to slow down the decadence of their so-called science only by changing their minds to present their doctrines as being also based on the observation of facts. To this end, they have recently imagined distinguishing, by a very singular subtlety, two sorts of observations of equal importance, one exterior, the other interior, and the latter of which is solely intended to the study of intellectual phenomena. This is not the place to enter into the special discussion of this fundamental fallacy. I must limit myself to indicating the main consideration which clearly proves that this so-called direct contemplation of the mind by itself is a pure illusion.

It was believed, until a short time ago, to have explained vision by saying that the luminous action of bodies determines on the retina pictures representative of external forms and colors. Physiologists have rightly objected to this that if luminous impressions acted as images , another eye would be needed to look at them. Isn’t it even more strongly the same in the present case?

It is evident, in fact, that, by an invincible necessity, the human mind can directly observe all phenomena, except its own. For, by whom would the observation be made? It is conceivable, relative to moral phenomena, that man can observe himself in relation to the passions which animate him, for this anatomical reason, that the organs which are the seat of them are distinct from those intended for the observing functions. . Even though everyone has had the opportunity to make such remarks about himself, they obviously can never have great scientific importance, and the best way to know the passions will always be to observe them externally; for any very pronounced state of passion, that is to say precisely that which it would be most essential to examine, is necessarily incompatible with the state of observation. But, as for observing in the same way the intellectual phenomena while they are being executed, there is manifest impossibility. The thinking individual cannot be divided into two, one of whom reasons, while the other watches reasoning. The observed organ and the observing organ being, in this case, identical, how could the observation take place?

This so-called psychological method is therefore radically void in principle. Also, consider what profoundly contradictory processes it immediately leads to! On the one hand, you are recommended to isolate yourself, as much as possible, from all external sensations, you must above all prohibit all intellectual work; for, if you were only occupied in making the simplest calculation, what would become of inner observation ? On the other hand, after having finally, by dint of precautions, reached this perfect state of intellectual sleep, you will have to occupy yourself in contemplating the operations which will be carried out in your mind, when nothing more will happen there. ! Our descendants will doubtless see such pretensions carried on the scene one day.

The results of such a strange way of proceeding are perfectly consistent with the principle. For two thousand years that metaphysicians have thus cultivated psychology, they have not yet been able to agree on a single intelligible and firmly settled proposition. They are, even today, divided into a multitude of schools which dispute ceaselessly on the first elements of their doctrines. Inner observation generates almost as many differing opinions as there are individuals who believe they are engaged in it.

The true scholars, the men dedicated to positive studies, are still vainly asking these psychologists to cite a single real discovery, great or small, which is due to this vaunted method. This is not to say that all their labors have been absolutely without any result relative to the general progress of our knowledge, independently of the eminent service they rendered in supporting the activity of our intelligence, at the time when she could not have more substantial food. But we can affirm that all that, in their writings, does not consist, according to the judicious expression of an illustrious positive philosopher (M. Cuvier), in metaphors taken for reasonings, and presents some true notion, instead of coming from of their alleged method, has been obtained by effective observations on the progress of the human mind, to which the development of the sciences must have given rise from time to time. Even more, these notions so sparsely sown, proclaimed with so much emphasis, and which are due only to the infidelity of psychologists to their pretended method, are they most often found either greatly exaggerated, or very incomplete? , and much inferior to the remarks already made without ostentation by scholars on the processes they employ. It would be easy to cite striking examples, if I were not afraid to grant too much extension here to such a discussion: see, among other things, what has happened for the theory of signs. the development of science. Even more, these notions so sparsely sown, proclaimed with so much emphasis, and which are due only to the infidelity of psychologists to their pretended method, are they most often found either greatly exaggerated, or very incomplete? , and much inferior to the remarks already made without ostentation by scholars on the processes they employ. It would be easy to cite striking examples, if I were not afraid to grant too much extension here to such a discussion: see, among other things, what has happened for the theory of signs. the development of science. Even more, these notions so sparsely sown, proclaimed with so much emphasis, and which are due only to the infidelity of psychologists to their pretended method, are they most often found either greatly exaggerated, or very incomplete? , and much inferior to the remarks already made without ostentation by scholars on the processes they employ. It would be easy to cite striking examples, if I were not afraid to grant too much extension here to such a discussion: see, among other things, what has happened for the theory of signs. and much inferior to the remarks already made without ostentation by scholars on the processes they employ. It would be easy to cite striking examples, if I were not afraid to grant too much extension here to such a discussion: see, among other things, what has happened for the theory of signs. and much inferior to the remarks already made without ostentation by scholars on the processes they employ. It would be easy to cite striking examples, if I were not afraid to grant too much extension here to such a discussion: see, among other things, what has happened for the theory of signs.

The considerations which I have just indicated, relative to logical science, are still more manifest when they are transferred to logical art.

Indeed, when it is a question, not only of knowing what the positive method is, but of having a clear enough and deep enough knowledge of it to be able to make effective use of it, it is in action. that it must be considered; it is the various great applications already verified that the human mind has made of it that should be studied. In a word, it is obviously only by the philosophical examination of the sciences that it is possible to achieve this. The method is not capable of being studied separately from the research in which it is employed; or, at least, this is only a dead study, incapable of fertilizing the mind that devotes itself to it. All the real things that can be said about it, when considered in the abstract, are reduced to such vague generalities that they cannot have any influence on the intellectual regime. When we have clearly established, as a logical thesis, that all our knowledge must be founded on observation, that we must proceed sometimes from facts to principles, and sometimes from principles to facts, and some other similar aphorisms, we know much less clearly the method than one who has studied, in a somewhat thorough way, a single positive science, even without philosophical intention. It is by misunderstanding this essential fact that our psychologists are led to take their daydreams for science, believing they understand the positive method by having read the precepts of Bacon or the discourse of Descartes. that all our knowledge must be founded on observation, that we must proceed sometimes from facts to principles, and sometimes from principles to facts, and some other similar aphorisms, one knows the method much less clearly than one who has studied, from a somewhat thorough manner, a single positive science, even without a philosophical intention. It is by misunderstanding this essential fact that our psychologists are led to take their daydreams for science, believing they understand the positive method by having read the precepts of Bacon or the discourse of Descartes. that all our knowledge must be founded on observation, that we must proceed sometimes from facts to principles, and sometimes from principles to facts, and some other similar aphorisms, one knows the method much less clearly than one who has studied, from a somewhat thorough manner, a single positive science, even without a philosophical intention. It is by misunderstanding this essential fact that our psychologists are led to take their daydreams for science, believing they understand the positive method by having read the precepts of Bacon or the discourse of Descartes. one knows the method much less clearly than one who has studied, in a somewhat profound manner, a single positive science, even without a philosophical intention. It is by misunderstanding this essential fact that our psychologists are led to take their daydreams for science, believing they understand the positive method by having read the precepts of Bacon or the discourse of Descartes. one knows the method much less clearly than one who has studied, in a somewhat profound manner, a single positive science, even without a philosophical intention. It is by misunderstanding this essential fact that our psychologists are led to take their daydreams for science, believing they understand the positive method by having read the precepts of Bacon or the discourse of Descartes.

I don’t know if, later, it will become possible to do a prioria real course in method completely independent of the philosophical study of science; but I am quite convinced that this cannot be carried out today, the great logical processes still not being able to be explained with sufficient precision separately from their applications. I dare to add, moreover, that even when such an enterprise could be carried out in the sequel, which, in fact, can be conceived, it would nevertheless never be except by the study of the regular applications of the scientific procedures that one could manage to form a good system of intellectual habits; which is nevertheless the essential goal of the study of the method. I need not insist further at this moment on a subject which will come up frequently throughout the duration of this course, and at the

Such must be the first great direct result of positive philosophy, the manifestation by experience of the laws which our intellectual functions follow in their fulfillment, and, consequently, the precise knowledge of the general rules suitable for proceeding surely in the search for truth.

A second consequence, no less important, and of a much more pressing interest, which the establishment of the positive philosophy defined in this discourse is necessarily destined to produce today, is to preside over the general recasting of our education system.

Indeed, good minds already unanimously recognize the need to replace our European education, which is still essentially theological, metaphysical and literary, with a positive education., in keeping with the spirit of our time, and adapted to the needs of modern civilization. The varied attempts which have multiplied more and more for a century, particularly in recent times, to spread and to increase unceasingly positive instruction, and with which the various European governments have always associated themselves with eagerness when they do not have not taken the initiative, testify sufficiently that, on all sides, the spontaneous feeling of this necessity is developing. But, while supporting these useful undertakings as much as possible, we must not hide from ourselves that, in the present state of our ideas, they are in no way likely to attain their principal goal, the fundamental regeneration of general education. Because, the exclusive specialty, the overly pronounced isolation which still characterizes our way of conceiving and cultivating the sciences, necessarily influences to a high degree the way of presenting them in teaching. If a good mind wishes today to study the principal branches of natural philosophy, in order to form a general system of positive ideas, he will be obliged to study each of them separately according to the same mode and in the same way. same detail as if he wanted to become specially or astronomer, or chemist, etc.; which renders such an education almost impossible and necessarily very imperfect, even for the highest intelligences placed in the most favorable circumstances. Such a way of proceeding would therefore be quite chimerical in relation to general education. And nevertheless this one absolutely requires a set of positive conceptions on all the great classes of natural phenomena. It is such an ensemble which must henceforth become, on a more or less extensive scale, even among the popular masses, the permanent basis of all human combinations; which must, in a word, constitute the general spirit of our descendants. In order that natural philosophy may complete the regeneration, already so prepared, of our intellectual system, it is therefore indispensable that the different sciences of which it is composed, presented to all intelligences as the various branches of a single trunk, be reduced to first to what constitutes their spirit, that is to say, to their principal methods and their most important results. It is only thus that the science education can become among us the basis of a truly rational new general education. That then to this fundamental instruction are added the various special scientific studies, corresponding to the various special educations which must succeed the general education, this obviously cannot be doubted. But the essential consideration that I wanted to indicate here consists in the fact that all these specialties, even painfully accumulated, would necessarily be insufficient to really renew the system of our education, if they did not rest on the preliminary basis of this general education, direct result of the positive philosophy defined in this discourse. then to this fundamental instruction are added the various special scientific studies, corresponding to the various special educations which must succeed the general education, this obviously cannot be doubted. But the essential consideration that I wanted to indicate here consists in the fact that all these specialties, even painfully accumulated, would necessarily be insufficient to really renew the system of our education, if they did not rest on the preliminary basis of this general education, direct result of the positive philosophy defined in this discourse. then to this fundamental instruction are added the various special scientific studies, corresponding to the various special educations which must succeed the general education, this obviously cannot be doubted. But the essential consideration that I wanted to indicate here consists in the fact that all these specialties, even painfully accumulated, would necessarily be insufficient to really renew the system of our education, if they did not rest on the preliminary basis of this general education, direct result of the positive philosophy defined in this discourse. this obviously cannot be doubted. But the essential consideration that I wanted to indicate here consists in the fact that all these specialties, even painfully accumulated, would necessarily be insufficient to really renew the system of our education, if they did not rest on the preliminary basis of this general education, direct result of the positive philosophy defined in this discourse. this obviously cannot be doubted. But the essential consideration that I wanted to indicate here consists in the fact that all these specialties, even painfully accumulated, would necessarily be insufficient to really renew the system of our education, if they did not rest on the preliminary basis of this general education, direct result of the positive philosophy defined in this discourse.

Not only is the special study of scientific generalities destined to reorganize education, but it must also contribute to the particular progress of the various positive sciences; which constitutes the third fundamental property that I have proposed to point out.

Indeed, the divisions which we establish between our sciences, without being arbitrary, as some believe, are essentially artificial. In reality, the subject of all our research is one; we only share it with a view to separating the difficulties in order to better resolve them. It follows more than once that, contrary to our classical apportionments, important questions would require a certain combination of several special points of view, which can hardly take place in the present constitution of the learned world; which runs the risk of leaving these problems unresolved much longer than necessary. Such an inconvenience must arise above all for the most essential doctrines of each positive science in particular. We can easily cite some very striking examples.

I could quote, in the past, an eminently memorable example, by considering the admirable conception of Descartes relative to analytic geometry. This fundamental discovery, which changed the face of mathematical science, and in which we must see the true germ of all the great subsequent progress, what is it but the result of a rapprochement established between two sciences, conceived so far in isolation? But the observation will be more decisive if it focuses on questions that are still pending.

I shall confine myself here to choosing from chemistry the so important doctrine of definite proportions. Certainly, the memorable discussion raised in our day, relative to the fundamental principle of this theory, could not yet, whatever the appearances, be regarded as irrevocably terminated. Because this is not, it seems to me, a simple question of chemistry. I think I can say that, in order to obtain a truly definitive decision in this respect, that is to say, to determine whether we must regard it as a law of nature that molecules necessarily combine in fixed numbers, it will be essential to bring together the chemical point of view with the physiological point of view. What indicates this is that, of the Admission even of the illustrious chemists who have most powerfully contributed to the formation of this doctrine, one can say at most that it is constantly verified in the composition of inorganic bodies; but it is found at least as constantly in default in organic compounds, to which it seems hitherto quite impossible to extend it. Now, before erecting this theory into a really fundamental principle, must we not first be aware of this immense exception? Would it not be due to this same general character, proper to all organized bodies, which makes it impossible for any of their phenomena to conceive of invariable numbers? Be that as it may, an entirely new order of considerations, belonging equally to chemistry and physiology,

I believe it appropriate to indicate here again a second example of the same nature, but which, relating to a much more particular subject of research, is even more conclusive in showing the special importance of positive philosophy in the solution of questions which require the combination of several sciences. I also take it in chemistry. It is a matter of the still undecided question, which consists in determining whether nitrogen should be regarded, in the present state of our knowledge, as a simple body or as a compound body. You know by what purely chemical considerations the illustrious Berzelius managed to balance the opinion of almost all current chemists, relative to the simplicity of this gas. But what I must not neglect to point out particularly is the influence exercised on this subject on the mind of M. Berzélius, as he himself makes the precious admission, by this physiological observation, that animals which feed on non-nitrogenous matter contain in the composition of their tissues just as many nitrogen than carnivorous animals. It is clear, in fact, from this, that to really decide whether or not nitrogen is a simple body, it will necessarily be necessary to bring in physiology, and to combine with chemical considerations properly so called, a series of new researches on the relationship between the composition of living bodies and their mode of nourishment. that animals which feed on non-nitrogenous matter contain in the composition of their tissues just as much nitrogen as carnivorous animals. It is clear, in fact, from this, that to really decide whether or not nitrogen is a simple body, it will necessarily be necessary to bring in physiology, and to combine with chemical considerations properly so called, a series of new researches on the relationship between the composition of living bodies and their mode of nourishment. that animals which feed on non-nitrogenous matter contain in the composition of their tissues just as much nitrogen as carnivorous animals. It is clear, in fact, from this, that to really decide whether or not nitrogen is a simple body, it will necessarily be necessary to bring in physiology, and to combine with chemical considerations properly so called, a series of new researches on the relationship between the composition of living bodies and their mode of nourishment.

It would now be superfluous to further multiply the examples of these problems of a multiple nature, which can only be solved by the intimate combination of several sciences cultivated today in a completely independent manner. Those which I have just quoted suffice to make one feel, in general, the importance of the function which must fulfill in the improvement of each natural science, in particular positive philosophy, immediately destined to organize in a permanent manner such combinations, which could not form properly without it.

Finally, a fourth and last fundamental property which I must point out from this moment in what I have called positive philosophy, and which must undoubtedly deserve general attention for it more than any other, since it is today the most important thing for practice is that it can be considered as the only solid basis for the social reorganization which must put an end to the state of crisis in which the most civilized nations have been for so long. The last part of this course will be specially devoted to establishing this proposition, developing it to its full extent. But the general outline of the great picture which I have undertaken to indicate in this discourse would lack one of its most characteristic elements,

A few very simple reflections will suffice to justify what such a qualification seems at first to be too ambitious.

It is not to the readers of this work that I will ever believe that I have to prove that ideas govern and upset the world, or, in other words, that the whole social mechanism ultimately rests on opinions. Above all, they know that the great political and moral crisis of present-day societies stems, in the final analysis, from intellectual anarchy. Our most serious evil consists, in fact, in this profound divergence which now exists between all minds with respect to all the fundamental maxims whose fixity is the first condition of a true social order. As long as individual intelligences have not adhered by unanimous assent to a certain number of general ideas capable of forming a common social doctrine, it cannot be concealed that the state of nations will remain, of all necessity, essentially revolutionary, despite all the political palliatives that may be adopted, and will really include only provisional institutions. It is equally certain that if this union of minds in the same communion of principles can once be obtained, the suitable institutions will necessarily flow from it, without giving rise to any serious shock, the greatest disorder being already dissipated by this single fact. This, then, is the main focus of all those who feel the importance of a truly normal state of affairs. It is equally certain that if this union of minds in the same communion of principles can once be obtained, the proper institutions will necessarily flow from it, without giving rise to any serious shock, the greatest disorder being already dissipated by this single fact. This, then, is the main focus of all those who feel the importance of a truly normal state of affairs. It is equally certain that if this union of minds in the same communion of principles can once be obtained, the proper institutions will necessarily flow from it, without giving rise to any serious shock, the greatest disorder being already dissipated by this single fact. This, then, is the main focus of all those who feel the importance of a truly normal state of affairs.

Now, from the lofty point of view in which the various considerations indicated in this discourse have gradually placed us, it is easy both to characterize clearly in its intimate depth the present state of societies, and to deduce from it by what path we can change it basically. By sticking to the fundamental law stated at the beginning of this discourse, I believe I can sum up exactly all the observations relating to the present situation of society, by simply saying that the present disorder of intelligences is due, in the last analysis, to the use simultaneous use of three radically incompatible philosophies: theological philosophy, metaphysical philosophy and positive philosophy. It is clear, in fact, that if the any one of these three philosophies obtained in reality a universal and complete preponderance, there would be a determined social order, while the evil consists above all in the absence of any real organization. It is the coexistence of these three opposing philosophies which absolutely prevents us from agreeing on any essential point. Now, if this view is correct, it is no longer a question of knowing which of the three philosophies can and must prevail by the nature of things; every sensible man must then, whatever may have been, before the analysis of the question, his particular opinions, strive to contribute to his triumph. Research being once reduced to these simple terms, it does not seem likely to remain uncertain for long; for it is evident, for all sorts of reasons of which I I have indicated in this discourse some of the principal ones, which positive philosophy alone is destined to prevail according to the ordinary course of things. It alone has been, for a long series of centuries, constantly in progress, while its antagonists have been constantly in decline. Whether rightly or wrongly, it doesn’t matter; the general fact is indisputable, and it suffices. One can deplore it, but not destroy it, nor consequently neglect it, under penalty of indulging only in illusory speculations. This general revolution of the human mind is today almost entirely accomplished: it only remains, as I have explained, to complete positive philosophy by including in it the study of social phenomena, and then to summarize it. into a single homogeneous body of doctrine. When this double work is sufficiently advanced, the definitive triumph of positive philosophy will take place spontaneously, and will re-establish order in society. The preference so pronounced that almost all minds, from the most elevated to the most vulgar, give today to positive knowledge of vague and mystical conceptions, is a good indication of the reception that this philosophy will receive, when it will have acquired the the only quality that it still lacks, a character of suitable generality.

To sum up, theological philosophy and metaphysical philosophy are today disputing the task, too superior to the forces of either, of reorganizing society: it is between them alone that the struggle still subsists, under this report. Positive philosophy has hitherto intervened in the dispute only to criticize them both, and it has acquitted itself well enough to discredit them entirely. Let us finally put it in a position to take an active role, without worrying any longer about debates that have become useless. Completing the vast intellectual operation begun by Bacon, by Descartes and by Galileo, let us construct directly the system of general ideas that this philosophy is henceforth destined to make prevail indefinitely in the human species,

Such are the four principal points of view under which I believed it necessary to indicate from this moment the salutary influence of positive philosophy, to serve as an essential complement to the general definition which I have tried to set forth.

Before concluding, I would like to call attention for a moment to a final reflection which seems appropriate to me in order to avoid, as far as possible, forming in advance an erroneous opinion of the nature of this course.

By assigning the goal to positive philosophy of summarizing in a single homogeneous body of doctrine all the knowledge acquired, relative to the different orders of natural phenomena, it was far from my intention to wish to proceed to the general study of these phenomena in considering them all as different effects of a single principle, as subject to one and the same law. Although I have to deal specifically with this question in the next lesson, I believe I must, from now on, make the declaration, in order to prevent the very ill-founded reproaches that could be addressed to me by those who, on a false overview, would classify this course among those attempts at a universal explanation which we see springing up daily on the part of minds entirely foreign to scientific methods and knowledge. He is not’ acts here of nothing similar; and the development of this course will furnish the manifest proof of this to all those among whom the explanations contained in this discourse might have left some doubts in this respect.

In my deep personal conviction, I consider these enterprises of universal explanation of all phenomena by a single law as eminently chimerical, even when they are attempted by the most competent intelligences. I believe that the means of the human mind are too weak, and the universe too complicated for such scientific perfection to ever be within our reach, and I think, moreover, that we generally form a very – exaggerated of the advantages which would necessarily result from it, if it were possible. In any case, it seems obvious to me that, given the present state of our knowledge, we are still much too far off for such attempts to be reasonable before a considerable lapse of time. Because, if we could hope to achieve it, it could only be, in my opinion, by linking all natural phenomena to the most general positive law that we know, the law of gravitation, which already links all astronomical phenomena to a part of those of terrestrial physics. Laplace has effectively exposed a conception by which one could see in chemical phenomena only simple molecular effects of Newtonian attraction, modified by the shape and the mutual position of the atoms. But, apart from the indeterminacy in which this conception would probably always remain, due to the absence of essential data relating to the intimate constitution of bodies, it is almost certain that the difficulty of applying it would be such that one would be obliged to maintain , as artificial, the division today established as natural between astronomy and chemistry. So Laplace presented this idea only as a simple philosophical game, incapable of really exercising any useful influence on the progress of chemical science. There is more, by the way; for, even assuming that this insurmountable difficulty had been overcome, we would not yet have reached scientific unity, since we would then have to attempt to attach all physiological phenomena to the same law; which admittedly wouldn’t be the least difficult part of the business. And, nevertheless, the hypothesis that we have just gone over would be, all things considered, the most favorable to this unity so desired. incapable of really exercising any useful influence on the progress of chemical science. There is more, by the way; for, even assuming that this insurmountable difficulty had been overcome, we would not yet have reached scientific unity, since we would then have to attempt to attach all physiological phenomena to the same law; which admittedly wouldn’t be the least difficult part of the business. And, nevertheless, the hypothesis that we have just gone over would be, all things considered, the most favorable to this unity so desired. incapable of really exercising any useful influence on the progress of chemical science. There is more, by the way; for, even assuming that this insurmountable difficulty had been overcome, we would not yet have reached scientific unity, since we would then have to attempt to attach all physiological phenomena to the same law; which admittedly wouldn’t be the least difficult part of the business. And, nevertheless, the hypothesis that we have just gone over would be, all things considered, the most favorable to this unity so desired. it would then be necessary to attempt to link all physiological phenomena to the same law; which admittedly wouldn’t be the least difficult part of the business. And, nevertheless, the hypothesis that we have just gone over would be, all things considered, the most favorable to this unity so desired. it would then be necessary to attempt to link all physiological phenomena to the same law; which admittedly wouldn’t be the least difficult part of the business. And, nevertheless, the hypothesis that we have just gone over would be, all things considered, the most favorable to this unity so desired.

I do not need greater details to complete my conviction that the aim of this course is by no means to present all natural phenomena as being basically identical, except for the variety of circumstances. Positive philosophy would no doubt be more perfect if it could be so. But this condition is by no means necessary for its systematic formation, any more than for the realization of the great and happy consequences which we have seen it destined to produce. There is no indispensable unity for this except the unity of method, which obviously can and must exist, and is already established for the most part. As for the doctrine, it need not be one; it suffices that it be homogeneous. It is therefore under the double point of view of unity of methods and homogeneity of doctrines that we will consider, in this course, the different classes of positive theories. While tending to reduce, as much as possible, the number of general laws necessary for the positive explanation of natural phenomena, which is, in fact, the philosophical goal of science, we will consider it rash to ever aspire, even for the most distant future, to reduce them rigorously to a single one.

I have attempted in this discourse to determine, as exactly as I could, the aim, the spirit, and the influence of positive philosophy. I have therefore marked the end towards which all my works have always tended and will unceasingly tend, whether in this course or in any other way. No one is more deeply convinced than I of the insufficiency of my intellectual forces, were they even very superior to their real value, to respond to such a vast and lofty task. But what cannot be done by a single mind, nor in a single life, only one can clearly propose. This is my whole ambition.

Having exposed the true aim of this course, that is to say, fixed the point of view under which I will consider the various principal branches of natural philosophy, I will complete, in the next lesson, these general prolegomena, passing to the exposition of the plan, that is to say, to the determination of the encyclopedic order which it is advisable to establish between the various classes of natural phenomena, and consequently between the corresponding positive sciences.


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