Jacques Maritain Center

Moral Philosophy


Positivism and Human Knowledge

Auguste Comte and the Age of Relativism

The anti-Kantian reaction and purely Scientific Positivism -- Positivism and Kantism
1. We shall not discuss here a school of Kantian or neo-Kantian inspiration which was important in Austria and Germany in the nineteenth century, the school of "value philosophy" (Franz Brentano, Meinong, Lotze, Ritschl, Windelband), because it does not bring any truly original element to our critical investigation. (It might be said, it seems to us, that just as in the ontological domain Husserl's phenomenology was to seek a middle course between realism and idealism, so in the moral domain value philosophy sought a middle course between a conception which held values to be objectively and intrinsically founded, and a conception which held values to be merely subjective; such a quest, however profitable the analyses one owes to it may have been, was doomed to veer in the direction of one or the other of the two pure positions between which it hoped to maintain itself and between which there is really no middle position.) The positivist movement, on the contrary, in spite of the poverty of its properly philosophical content, is of major interest to us.

In the speculative order positivism is in reaction against Kant in this sense that Kant, while making the task of philosophy critical and no longer doctrinal, remained a philosopher in the royal tradition; that is, he held philosophy to be a discipline of superior rank, a queen-discipline, centered on an object which belonged to it in its own right and which constituted for it an independent noetic domain or territory. Even when he was convincing himself of the impossibility of any metaphysics as a science, he remained haunted by metaphysics and applied himself to restoring it in its truth by belief. The idea of the activity of the mind, however wrongly he may have understood it, was at the base of his inquiry. And if he limited our knowledge to phenomena and the world of experience, nevertheless he admitted, in the regions where science does not reach, the existence of the noumenon or of the thing-in-itself.

All this is repugnant to Auguste Comte, whose philosophy is profoundly and deliberately acritical, and for whom it is pure nonsense to think that the mind could itself analyse itself, could proceed to the examination of its own power of knowing and of the value of this power. Lévy-Bruhl{1} was right when he objected to Renouvier that this absence of critique was fully intended by Comte and logically demanded by his system. Renouvier, however, was right when he reproached Comte for both this absence of critique and the very positions which made it logically necessary for him. Comte was the first of those philosophers -- whose species has become common -- who philosophize all the more arrogantly as they chase philosophy from its own realm and forbid it its own proper territories, and for whom it has no independent object nor independent domain, having no other domain or object than those of the sciences (I shall return to this point later). In pushing to the extreme the idea of the essential unity of science -- a notion so dear to Descartes -- and in assembling at the sole level of phenomena all human science henceforth completely homogeneous, Comte thus inaugurated in a systematic way what might be called epistemological Jacobinism or sans-culottism, for which philosophy is an ex-noble, now door-man and guardian-in-chief of the Museum of Science. Rejecting metaphysics, it was only normal that he should also reject the critique of knowledge. He uses the mind without seeking in the least to know what it is. As for the thing-in-itself, he is immunized against all the headaches it caused the German idealists: it is enough for him to realize that the world of science is being constituted without it. Finally if belief plays in his system a role still more prominent than in Kant's, it is not to introduce us to realities which are beyond science; it is to nourish us on fables invented by "Auguste Comte our father",{2} and to have us practise a holy auto-suggestion.

2. The disagreement between positivism and Kantism as far as the speculative order is concerned is therefore profound. It does not prevent, however, a sort of friendly understanding and real convergence between them on the level of commonly circulated opinions and of popularized philosophical ideas, and to the extent that it is a question only of excluding the possibility of any other science than that for which we are indebted to the positive sciences.{3} Melted into a same notion, the phenomena noted by one system and the phenomena constructed by the other were to mark for a horde of thinking beings of the species "modern man" the limit at which human knowledge stops, and on which is written in all the languages of the world: out of bounds.

On the contrary, as far as ethics is concerned, positivism is opposed to Kantism in an entirely irreducible manner; and in proportion as it has extended its empire the anti-Kantian reaction -- which takes its most extreme form in positivism -- could only become more pronounced and stronger. Kant's apriorism itself called for such a reaction and made it inevitable. The positivist state of mind rightfully resists this apriorism, is outraged by the theory of the categorical imperative and its purely formal exigencies as well as by the arbitrary character of its you ought. Ethical absolutism and purism, and the commandments of Sinai transferred to the noumenal Will of man, say nothing to it of any worth. And above all, it is rightly scandalized by the firm Kantian resolve to cut any link between the world of morality ("the world of liberty") and the world of nature. Despotic norms of conduct prescribed for human life in the name of a universal Will inhabiting a supratemporal world whose existence cannot be proved, and in the name of a supratemporal law devoid of all content -- this is the picture which this disaffected Christian ethics that is the ethics of Pure Practical Reason presents to an age for which nothing has any meaning outside of experience, and on which the influence of Darwin will come along to complete that of Auguste Comte. What is there astonishing in the fact that in reacting against Kantian morality this age has reacted at the same stroke against all morality called "normative"? We have here but a new chapter in the history of errors which merges in so many points with the history of philosophy.

The idea that not only the minds formed by positivism but also the great mass of our contemporaries were thus to form of all normative morality, is consequently that of a theory elaborated a priori according to which human nature is a simple bit of matter -- an ungrateful and rebellious bit of matter, clay or marble of poor quality -- on which a law descended from the heaven of pure reason imposes itself just as the art of the sculptor imposes on his matter the form that pleases him: to such a degree was the Kantian morality to be considered as the type of every doctrine regulative of conduct, and so much were the sheep-like fever of the philosophers, and their need to belong to their time, to push them to forget that in the eyes of all the "normative moralities" with an ontological base which have held the stage in the East as in the West, the kind of "normative morality" proposed by Kant can appear only as a grandiose aberration, magni passus extra viam. . . . The very notion of normative ethics was thus to be rejected along with the normative ethics of Kant, and from then on can only designate an attempt made by theorists ignorant of the real, and ambitious to legislate, to submit human life to an arbitrary code of their own making.

However, one was not to come immediately to the remarkable efforts accomplished in little more than the past half-century to conceive a morality which would not be a morality or to have morality vanish either into sociology or into semantics, and into the irremediable so-called subjectivity proper to every judgment about value.

Purely scientistic or secularized Positivism
3. The efforts we have just mentioned spring from what can be termed purely scientistic positivism or secularized positivism. This form of positivism had been denied in advance by Auguste Comte, who called its partisans "incomplete positivists", but it is this positivism which flourished everywhere in the second half of the nineteenth century and which continues to exercise a considerable influence on many minds. Let us say that it constitutes positivism in the current sense of the term.

Its influence has been felt in the most varied areas. And it is not only a doctrine; it is also, and perhaps first of all, a state of mind. It is not surprising, then, that on the level of everyday life, and by virtue of the diversity of temperaments and circumstances, this state of mind is found among men animated by practical convictions which are not only different but diametrically opposed. Thus there is a positivism of the left, liberal, humanitarian, naive and inconsistent, which fights for justice, human brotherhood and human rights while holding as null and void all that roots these notions in reason. And there is, on the other hand, a cynical and articulated positivism of the right -- as utopian, moreover, as the positivism of the left, but under the sign of order and force -- which in the name of nature and its necessities, and of a so-called scientific realism, nourishes a profound aversion for justice and moral values.

But what interests us is positivism as a philosophy. If we consider secularized or purely scientistic positivism from this point of view, we can discern in it three principal aspects, or three doctrinal attitudes clearly distinct, and yet naturally related to each other. The first doctrinal attitude is that of historicism, which goes back directly to Auguste Comte (in whose eyes, however, historical relativism did not apply, of course, to his own doctrine, regarded as definitively established); historicism holds that all human thought is conditioned by history, not only as to its accidental modalities, but also as to its very relation to the object; it is so, because, it is held, all knowledge "presupposes a frame of reference; it presupposes a horizon, a comprehensive view within which understanding and knowing take place. Only such a comprehensive vision makes possible any seeing, any observation, any orientation. The comprehensive view of the whole cannot be validated by any reasoning, since it is the basis of all reasoning. Accordingly, there is a variety of such comprehensive views, each as legitimate as any other: we have to choose such a view without any rational guidance",{1} and which varies with the era. Wherefore it follows that no judgment whatsoever -- and in particular no moral judgment -- is universally valid, and that all norms of conduct are essentially relative to time and to the diversity of the moments of history.

The second doctrinal attitude is that of logical positivism and its substitutes, which, carrying certain of Comte's views farther than he did himself, consider as alone endowed with meaning and capable of intersubjectivation those statements (proper to the sciences of phenomena) which have to do only with the data and the methods of observation and measurement. The consequence (although, even toward the different scientific disciplines, as well as toward "phenomena" more or less "noble" or more or less "coarse", Comte never showed himself sparing of value judgments) is that the domain of facts is the only one to allow of objective certitude, and the domain of values is purely subjective. The same conclusion, reached by a totally different way, follows from philosophico-sociological systematizations such as those of Max Weber, which admit fact alone as matter of science and profess a complete agnosticism on the subject of value.{1} Let us add that logical positivism is not without presenting varied and even opposed aspects, depending on whether those who invoke it or appear to invoke it regard it as a system where one stops (and with what dogmatism) or as a methodological moment through which one passes. It can happen that some may see in it only a sort of catharsis or "therapeutics" demanded by a will for clarity and coherence in language, and through the illusion that a sufficiently rigorous Socratic examination, not of thoughts and Denkmitteln, but of words and the stock of verbal tools, will be able to renew philosophy. Once this approach is attempted -- an attempt thanks to which the confusional complaisances between science and philosophy are at least brushed aside -- these thinkers, if the sense of being exists in them at all, will perceive that in reality they have never been logical positivists; and with an equipment of their own choice (in which the analysis of common or pre-scientific language is of major importance) they will turn toward a rediscovery of the ontological order and of that which is based on it, in particular of value. Such has been, we believe, the case with Ludwig Wittgenstein.{2} He associated himself with logical positivism for a time, only to abandon it. The fact remains that the orthodoxy of the school is just as we have stated.

The third doctrinal attitude is that of sociologism, which is no more to be confused with sociology than historicism with history, and which holds (this was especially Emile Durkheim's position) that all that relates to human conduct, the behavior of individuals as well as that of the group, and the ideas, beliefs and rules which preside therein, belongs to a unique knowledge which is sociology, a pure science of observation of social facts or social phenomena. Wherefore (and if the principle is purely Comtian as concerns the exclusion of all ontological knowledge of man, the consequence is contrary to the Comte of the Politique positive as concerns ethics {3}) it is necessary to declare that no ethics is possible apart from sociology. Either, then, one will look to sociology itself for an ethics,{1} as one looks to medicine for a hygiene, presupposing, without confessing it to oneself, and without critical examination, the most rudimentary -- and the most equivocal -- philosophy of social utility.{2} Or, one will recognize that it is impossible for a science merely occupied with phenomena to be observed, and with their laws to be constructed, to furnish an ethics by itself alone, and one will content oneself with the facts and laws of sociology, holding as vain all search for a moral knowledge suited to direct conduct; one will content oneself with studying as variables dependent on the successive states of the various societies and cultural areas, the various moralities in which men have believed or believe; and in the absence of every objectively founded ethical value and ethical rule there will remain only to suggest to each one a melancholic choice between adjustment to the environment and suicide.

Auguste Comte and Messianic Positivism
4. According to Comte, as we were pointing out above, purely scientific positivism was only an incomplete positivism, and one unfaithful to its mission. Before secularized or purely scientific positivism there was sacral or messianic positivism, the positivism of Auguste Comte himself, the study of which, as much from the point of view of the "objective synthesis" as from that of the "subjective synthesis", is particularly instructive. The present chapter and the following one are devoted to this positivism taken in its original state.

Oppositions and convergences
5. Auguste Comte (1798-1857) was twenty years older than Karl Marx (1818-1883). If we have examined Marx's doctrine before Comte's, it is because of Marx's close connection with Hegel, and because our critical investigation must give precedence to the order of ideas over mere historical chronology.

Marx and Comte represent tendencies of mind clearly hostile to each other. Comte, who continued the French Revolution but in order to found a new order, detested revolutionary theories and movements; and Marx detested the social tendencies, which he found hopelessly bourgeois, of positivism, which he scorned as a philosophy.{1} The fact remains that in the course of time, Marxism, however different it may be from positivism, was to undergo in spite of itself the general influence of the latter, without the contrary being true, except by accident. As for Hegel, he seems to have noted with some interest one of the writings of the young Comte,{2} but Comte was nothing for him. Besides he had only in an indirect manner, as subtle as air, the least real influence on Comte, and nothing is more obvious than the radical opposition between the Hegelian onto-logic and the anti-metaphysics of Auguste Comte. If John Stuart Mill found that frequenting the writings of Hegel "tends to deprave one's intellect",{3} any Hegelian could have replied that to seek light in the Course of positive philosophy and the System of positive Politics was a sign of mental anaemia.

This opposition between the two doctrines only makes more curious the accidental convergences which have with good reason been pointed out between Auguste Comte and Hegel.{4} Mr. Hayek, for example, notes{5} that in spite of the fundamental difference in perspective, for both of them every theory of society must aim at "constructing a universal history which shows the necessary development of humanity according to determined laws", and that Comte, too, holds that only the social whole is real, the individual being nothing but an "abstraction"{1} -- regards, he too, the great men of history as instruments or "organs of a predetermined movement"{2} -- and, just as Hegel identified liberty with the recognition of necessity,{3} makes also "true liberty" consist in "a rational submission to the sole preponderance, suitably noticed, of the fundamental laws of nature".{4} However equivocal may be the word "liberty" (which has an essentially metaphysical meaning in Hegel, and a merely moral meaning in Comte), the fact remains that for both it is only by knowing and utilizing necessity that man attains freedom of independence (the only kind of liberty which is important to them). Finally, in their philosophy of history, both set themselves the task, not only of understanding the past and rendering it full justice, but ofjustifying indiscriminately, as good and necessary in the moment of their prevalence or of their historic success, all the human works of which it is made;{5} isn't history for one the true theodicy, and for the other "the sacred history" of the Great-Being? After this it is not surprising that one can observe a powerful convergence between the influence of Hegel and that of Auguste Comte in the domain of the social sciences;{6} this merely shows that men are more interested in results than in principles, and that the great philosophical systems exercise their impact on a thought in general too mediocre even to think of discerning its origin.

The mission of Auguste Comte
6. We know that from the awakening of his philosophical vocation Auguste Comte intended to reorganize the West by replacing Christianity -- the failure of which had been manifested by the French Revolution -- by a complete system of intellectual, moral and religious life. "Humanity is not made to dwell in ruins" -- he was convinced of this as was Saint-Simon, and he liked to repeat that "one destroys only what one replaces".{1} His final goal then was practical, and even religious, from the outset. We know too that to proceed to an operation of such amplitude Auguste Comte, who had read Joseph de Maistre a great deal, took as model that "political masterpiece of human wisdom"{2} that was medieval Catholicism, the twelfth century in particular.

Moreover, he had a remarkably over-simplified idea of the Middle Ages. On the one hand, ignorant of what the transcendent unity of theological faith is, and what diversity it admits, and even incites, on the level of rational researches, he attributed to the Middle Ages a complete intellectual homogeneity which never existed. On the other hand, in his admiration for the depth of the mental combinations and the matchless sagacity of a clergy which, according to him, devoted itself to throwing off without crisis that Gospel in the name of which it spoke, and for which Comte himself nourished a solid aversion, he believed that the Catholic Church, at the time when it was giving its form to medieval Christendom, had no other final goal than the political organization of the earth and the coming of a temporal theocracy superlatively ordered{3} (thanks to the distinction between the two powers). We may say that Auguste Comte has brought this imaginary Middle Ages and this imaginary theocracy to their ultimate achievement. He has been the supreme theorist of clericalism -- which could be extolled to this extreme exaltation only at the moment when it was abandoning all pretenses of being Christian, and when the priesthood of Aaron and of the Roman pontiffs was passing over to the high-priest of Humanity. At the same time he has been the supreme adversary of pluralism and the last herald -- but at the moment when it was becoming atheistic -- of the idea proper to the sacral regime, according to which unity of faith is an indispensable prerequisite for political unity. It was in order to restore to their unity the political city and temporal civilization on their way to anarchy, and in order to establish a Christendom without Christ even more perfectly a whole unit than medieval Christendom, that he undertook to establish intellectual unity among men on new bases -- a unity of philosophical conviction first of all, a unity of religious belief next -- and that consecutively he had "to be" first "Aristotle", then "Saint Paul".

The lesson of Auguste Comte is very valuable here. What will happen, indeed, if, in a world to cement the unity of which Christianity is decidedly too high, this heroic attempt at unification of men by the sole virtue of Reason without God, of Science and of consciously elaborated Myth should fail even before it starts? The meaning will be clear. Either civilization will have only to wait, in order to establish its temporal unity, for that kind of spiritual unity which some totalitarian Holy Empire, as atheist as Comtian reason, will try to impose over men, or civilization will have to give up the utopia of integral unity, the old myth of the Holy Empire, and explicitly forego making spiritual unity -- be it philosophical or religious -- the condition and foundation of the unity peculiar to social living together.

7. In his book on Auguste Comte and Saint-Simon, Georges Dumas observes that between 1800 and 1848 Messianism was rife. "By its criticism the eighteenth century had destroyed Catholicism and kingship; the Revolution had marked the end of a religious regime, the end of a political regime. In the eyes of many contemporaries, too close to the collapse to be able to see what was left standing, nothing of the past any longer existed, the future was to be made, and a number of enthusiasts believed themselves called upon to preach the moral or political gospel of the new age. . . . Saint-Simon assumes the title of the scientific pope of humanity and God's vicar on earth. Fourier . . . declares that for three thousand years mankind has been mistaken in its philosophies and religions, and that he was the first to discover the secret of making the human race happy, by freeing its passions. Enfantin, having deified Saint-Simon, proclaims himself the new Isaac, the new Jesus and the new Gregory VII." He writes to Duveyrier: "When you have learned how to speak to Moses, to Jesus, and to Saint-Simon, Bazard and I will welcome your words. Have you fully realized that Bazard and I have no one above us, no one except he who is always serene, because he is everlasting love" . . . .{1} -- "Bonaparte's influence," Georges Dumas notes besides, "is apparent in the majority of the romantic heroes; it is obvious in Comte, in spite of the anathemas with which he pursues 'the retrograde genius' and perhaps even because of these anathemas . . . and Comte considers him a rival as much as enemy."{2}

Auguste Comte, therefore, was "neither more extravagant" perhaps, "nor more bizarre" than many of his contemporaries. But, unlike many of his contemporaries -- and this fact is indeed more bizarre, if not more extravagant -- he was at the same time a philosophical genius of considerable importance and the founder of this dwarfed, correct, and exceedingly narrow rationalism, entrenched in the relative and enclosed in the ante-rooms of positive science, which is called positivism, and which offers us definitive guarantees against the anti-social tendencies and the empty ambitions of metaphysics and theology.

Christian philosophers, those odd amphibians who as philosophers belong to the world and as Christians are not of the world, find, on the whole, in the spectacle the history of philosophy offers them, few occasions for rejoicing (the ancient Boethius is indeed the only one who considered philosophy consoling). How could they let such occasions escape when they occur? It is a powerful stimulant and a source ofjoy for the mind to consider that Rationalism was born in a "heated room in Germany" where Descartes, fired with enthusiasm, was the recipient of his famous dreams which a genius had forecast to him, and where the Spirit of Truth had descended upon him, so that he might make a present of the scientia mirabilis to modern centuries;{1} to consider that Positivism, the final landing of this scientia mirabilis, was founded by a regenerator of the West imbued with the grandeur of his "incomparable mission", who, when he will devote himself to organizing love after having organized the mind, and will have become the high-priest of humanity ("I publicly seized the pontificate which had naturally fallen to me"{2}), will each day carry out the meticulous rites of his "private cult" before the armchair, exalted as a "domestic altar", of his "holy colleague" Clotilde,{3} promised, as he was, to immortality "in the most distant memories of grateful humanity".{1} We must admit, however, that the very reading of Auguste Comte adds to these edifying images a still rarer pleasure due to the quality of a style unique in its kind, the magnificent candor and touching fun of which are those of a "Providence-man"{2} who takes himself infinitely and absolutely seriously{3} (everything is relative, of course -- except Auguste).

I The Reorganization of the Mind

The Law of the Three Stages
8. The first part of the career of Auguste Comte consisted in his reorganization of knowledge. At the root of this great effort there was a genuine observation,{1} which deserves to be clearly isolated at the very beginning. This very genuine and very simple observation was merely the prise de conscience of a factual situation already long in existence, though more or less badly recognized because it ran contrary to the traditional ideas, and whose decisive bearing Comte (after Kant, but in an entirely different perspective) grasped. No observation is more commonplace today, for Comte it was a flash of light. It was the observation that, as they have developed since the Renaissance, the sciences of nature, in their gradual separation from philosophy, have made a clean break with the manner of thinking appropriate to philosophy, so that their way of approaching the real and the way of approaching the real which is characteristic of metaphysics, and, more generally, of philosophy as an independent way of knowing, constitute two modes of thinking which are specifically and irreducibly different. So much is true, and so much is fundamental.

Comte never knew what metaphysics was. He did know what science was. I am well aware that, with this in mind, he was able, in his more and more fanciful claims to "reform" science, to make it his business to do outrageous violence to it. Similarly, and from the very beginning, when he undertook to characterize the mode of thinking proper to science, he could be seriously mistaken, by his extreme simplification of things and by his yielding to the mania for rhetorical construction and oratorical symmetry peculiar to what are called "clear ideas". Everything was falsified by going to the extreme, and through the passion for system, when Comte insisted that science seeks nothing but laws or invariable relations between phenomena, whereas metaphysics seeks causes -- asks only the question how without ever asking the question why -- and rises above simple empirical observation only in order to foresee facts or phenomena in a deductive manner, having not the slightest concern for the essence or the intimate structure of beings. The achievements of the sciences themselves, particularly the profound renewals of physics in the twentieth century, have shown that science is as much anxious about the mystery of being as philosophy -- though it avoids meeting it head-on, and it is less concerned with making it rationally known than with seizing and handling it as unknown. And modern epistemology, especially the works of Emile Meyerson,{2} has shown that in the way in which they actually carry on their investigations, scientists in no way conform to the Comtian code, and that they are tormented like everyone else, and like philosophers (although they react to the stimulus in a very different manner), by the idea of cause and why. The positivist asceticism as Auguste Comte conceived it, involves imposing on scientists honest but futile rules, whose rigor proceeds from the spirit of system and from an inflexible and conscientious bureaucratic ideal.{1} It is not surprising that as early as the Cours de philosophie positive, but more and more as his undertaking of regeneration extended, Auguste Comte claimed to govern scientific research itself with dictatorial authority.{2}

Comte, then, has defined much too summarily and much too simply the characteristics which distinguish the mode of thinking proper to science from the mode of thinking proper to philosophy as an independent knowledge. It remains that he saw that there is an irreducible difference between these two modes of thinking. To have seen that is of primary importance -- and is what constitutes the merit and the historical strength of Comte. This truth should be formulated in another manner than his. But one must recognize it.

And not only was he right in affirming the irreducible originality of the way of approaching the real which is proper to science; he was also right in wishing to extend this way of approaching the real to the things of man as well as to the things of nature, to physico-chemical and biological phenomena. For it is very clear that wherever there are phenomena to be observed and to be grouped under explanatory{1} schemes, we should be able to apply the way of knowing in question; a "science of phenomena" is possible in the domain of what is to-day called human sciences as well as in the domain of the natural sciences. The mode of thinking which consists in observing and measuring, and in organizing the results in a mathematical construction or in some other sort of symbolic construction, which is itself verifiable by experience, has to assert its validity for the entire universe of experience. There you have the authentic "discovery" of Comte. To make that discovery there was no need to dig deeply into things, but only to see what was obvious. At least, Comte was able to open his eyes -- although he hadn't the slightest idea of what were, after him, to be such sciences as ethnology and psychology (so far as psychology is concerned, he favored phrenology and thought it scientific. Moreover, in his solid mistrust of that mark of spirituality that is the inward look, he thought that "sociological inspiration controlled by zoological appreciation": such is the general principle of the biological construction of the "cerebral theory".{1}) But he did have the idea of sociology. After having first called it social physics, he gave it the name it was to retain; he introduced it into the family of scientific disciplines, as Hegel introduced the philosophy of history into the family of philosophic disciplines. It is true that he attributed an excessive importance to it, and this completely warped its meaning. It is true also that so far as properly scientific investigation is concerned, he left the field completely fallow, satisfied as he was with his law of the three stages, his claim to derive from this law a philosophy of history, and his (quite valid) distinction between social statics and social dynamics. The fact remains, however, that thanks to him we have the rare example of a new science of phenomena springing from the head of a philosopher, and established, not by someone whose works and investigations have revealed to him its fecundity, but by one who has stated in advance its idea and its necessity.

Yet, despite all that, Comte has set forth as a principle and codified one of the most serious errors of the nineteenth century. The foolish mistake was to think that the mode of thinking proper to the sciences of phenomena annihilated the mode of thinking proper to metaphysics, and more generally, to philosophy as an independent way of knowing; in other words, that the second mode of thinking was illusory, only the first constituting a valid approach to reality; in short, that instead of being ranged on several different levels, where they coexist in the human mind, the various types of knowledge are all spread out on the same level, where they compete with each other, because, finally, to give an account of phenomena is the sole and unique object of theology, of metaphysics, of philosophy of nature, and of the science of phenomena: this was an extraordinary begging of the question, for the question was precisely to know if there isn't something to be known beyond the phenomenon. As a result, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology would necessarily eliminate every other knowledge of reality, whether it be obtained by philosophy of nature, metaphysics or theology: and sociology was not only to be constituted as the science of social phenomena, it was necessarily to eliminate every other science of man, whether pertaining to theology, to metaphysics, to psychology, or to authentic ethics: man was but a sociological phenomenon, or a grouping of sociological phenomena bound by laws. Every philosophical knowledge of things, distinct from the knowledge which the sciences give of them, was henceforth void. Such was the clearest result of the law of the three stages.

9. It was this famous law that Comte cherished as his great discovery. It was for him the key to sociology, to positive philosophy, and to the moral and political reorganization of the West. In reality, it was a perverted and highly sophistical systematization of the authentic insight I mentioned above about the irreducible originality of the mode of thinking appropriate to the sciences of phenomena. Now this mode of thinking is going to become the only valid one, is going to define the "positive" stage of human thought and civilization, and is going to appear as the ultimate term of the historical progress of humanity. For with Auguste Comte, as with Hegel, we have arrived at the end of time.{1}

As early as 1822, in the Prospectus des travaux nécessaires pour réorganiser la société,{2} Comte wrote: "By the very nature of the human mind, each branch of our knowledges{3} is necessarily required to pass successively, in its progress, through three different theoretical states: the theological or fictitious state, the metaphysical or abstract state, and finally the scientific or positive state." He formulates his law in the same way in the first lesson of the Cours de philosophie positive, adding: "In other words, the human mind, by its nature, successively uses in each of its researches three methods of philosophizing whose characters are essentially different, and even opposed: first, the theological method, then the metaphysical method, and finally the positive method. Thence there are three sorts of philosophies, of general systems of conceptions about the totality of phenomena, which mutually exclude each other. The first is the necessary starting point for the human intelligence, the third is its fixed and definitive state; the second is destined solely to serve as a transition."{4}

One sees that this law is requested by "the nature of the human mind". One sees also that the three stages it mentions characterize the conceptions man forms "about the totality of phenomena". In the theological state the human mind explained phenomena by "supernatural agents" and by arbitrary wills conceived in the image of man. In the metaphysical state it explained them by abstract entities and hidden causes ("abstract forces inhering in bodies, but distinct and heterogeneous"). In the positive state it does not seek to explain them, it observes them as facts and unifies them by laws, and so makes itself capable of rational prediction (it restricts itself to "considering them as subjected to a certain number of invariable natural laws which are nothing else than the general expression of the relations observed in their development").

10. It is appropriate to make some remarks at this point. In the first place, even if we suppose (which is highly debatable from many points of view) that the interpretation of the phenomena of nature has actually passed through these three stages, the essential question, that of knowing whether the interpretation of the phenomena of nature is the only object to which human thought can legitimately apply itself, would still remain. Comte neither asks nor discusses this question. On the contrary, he maintains a priori that the law of the three stages is purely and simply the fundamental law of the intellectual evolution of humanity,{1} the law of the history of human thought integrally taken (whence it follows that on this fundamental law depends the whole history of arts, of institutions, of morals, of law, of civilization in general){2} which implies that there is for human thought no other sphere of genuine knowledge than that of the knowledge of phenomena. It is to this abrupt surreptitious passage from a particular level of knowledge to human intelligence in its entirety -- entirety flattened down, by the same stroke, on this single level of knowledge -- that is primarily due the deceiving ambiguity of the law of the three stages (without speaking of the other deceptions and elements of trickery it involves). This famous law is but an example, a very remarkable one, of the mirages that can be produced, at the end of prolonged concentration,{3} by a clear idea passionately grasped and spreading all over the field of vision. Not only is it contradicted by concrete historical situations (in India, for example, "theology" and "metaphysics" have had their great developments simultaneously; in the West the domination of "metaphysics" in the Hellenic and Hellenistic world, from Plato to Plotinus, preceded the "theological" domination characteristic of the Christian Middle Ages), but it pays no heed to the essential fact that from the beginning and at each period of history, the observation of phenomena, metaphysical thought, and religious thought with its myths or its theologies have coexisted, I mean to say as ways of knowledge or of grasping reality: originally confused, then progressively differentiated,{1} and with domination alternating from one to the other, the historical rise of positive science being, moreover, a characteristic of modern times. If one wishes to make use, in an authentically philosophical way, of the notion of a succession of states, an entirely different historical law must be formulated, the one according to which human thought, with all its specifically diverse activities, functions first of all in the magical or "nocturnal" state, from which it passes to the logical or "solar" state.{2}

It can be pointed out in the second place that, in Comte's eyes, the "metaphysical" state is no more than a transitory compromise, lacking any power of its own, between the final "positive" state and the "theological" state, which at least provided some satisfaction for real needs. Not only is the mode of thinking proper to metaphysics and to philosophy as an independent knowledge necessarily destined to be eliminated by the mode of thinking proper to the sciences of phenomena, but it is merely a degradation of the theological method, considered primarily in its full primitive vigor and under the form of fetishism, for which Auguste Comte always had a weakness, even before the period of his own supreme pontificate. Rather any kind of religious faith and the ecstasies of the tom-tom or the cult of the plumed serpent than philosophical and metaphysical knowledge is a typical trait of the positivist state of mind, and not only in Auguste Comte. The reign of metaphysics could be considered only as a sort of transitory chronic sickness.

And finally a third remark: it is in a specially altered sense, extremely remote from the ordinary meaning of these words, that Comte uses the terms "theology" and "metaphysics". For him the sensualists of the eighteenth century, because they manipulated abstractions and because their work was principally negative, provide us with a good example of the metaphysical method, and the theological method is at its best with the rain-conjurors. But we must not forget that the ordinary meaning of the words "theology" and "metaphysics" is still included, as a special case, in the altered meaning used by Comte. In leaving behind the explanation of the phenomena of nature by the four qualities, by antiperistasis or the horror of the void, the human mind has by the same stroke left behind and definitively liquidated the metaphysics of Aristotle and any hope of grasping a spiritual reality by means of a metaphysical understanding. In leaving behind the explanation of the phenomena of nature by the evil eye or by the vengeance of the gods, the human mind has by the same stroke left behind and definitively liquidated the theology of St. Augustine and that of St. Thomas, and any hope of entering into the mystery of a revealed datum by means of a theological understanding. And that is all self-evident, without the slightest need of examination or of critical discussion. This procedure by which one condemns without judging reveals an unconscious dishonesty which is particularly significant when it occurs in the mind of one who was as honest and candid as Comte was. His attitude toward a theological idea such as that of Divine Providence is not, moreover, unlike that of the officials who guard the doors at antireligious museums; it is clear to him that the idea in question can neither withstand Franklin's lightning-conductor, which shows that lightning is a natural phenomenon,{1} nor the observation that the world is not perfect (But then? Would it be necessary that it be God ?), nor the fact that optical apparatus is conceivable alongside which the human eye does not deserve even satisfactory mention.{2} These and similar bits of nonsense, which Comte is pleased to repeat in order to jeer at the "stupid admiration" of those for whom the heavens speak of the Creator, have also their meaning, which depends on the psychology of the unconscious. The truth is that the law of the three stages was as dear as it was to Auguste Comte only because, by its complete obliteration not only of theological knowledge but also of metaphysical knowledge, leaving not the slightest trace of them, it was a perfectly sure protection against any possibility of an offensive return of God.

"Everything is relative, that's the only absolute principle"
11. Similar remarks can be made about the way in which Comte has raised relativity to an absolute law. He had a genius for apparent clarity, and for mottoes to be inscribed in town-halls or borne by marching bands. "Everything is relative, that's the only absolute principle" is one of those statements which seem clear at first glance -- it was to provide a deep visceral satisfaction for generations of bourgeois -- but are dark as night when they are examined. Looked at more closely, it appears that it requires a serious effort of exegesis, and that the quid est veritas of a man who was likewise remarkably gifted at phrase-making was at least clearer.

Everything is relative, that's the only thing absolute, Comte had written in his youth, when, at nineteen, he and Saint-Simon were writing the third volume of L'Industrie. Much later, when he had become the high priest of humanity, he took up again,{1} with a slight modification of its form, "this characteristic sentence" which had sprung forth in 1817, "in the middle of a useless publication", out of those "untimely writings to which I was inspired by the disastrous relationship through which my spontaneous debut took place". From that time on the "characteristic sentence" is: Everything is relative, that's the only absolute principle.

If we look again at the text of 1817, we notice that it deals with the necessity of taking into account time and its ripenings if right judgments about social institutions are to be made -- a necessity which is forgotten both by the reactionaries who believe that time is reversible and by the revolutionaries who want to "set the time on fire". Here again we have an authentic insight which is wrongly conceptualized. "It is no longer a matter of carrying on endless discussions to determine which is the best government; absolutely speaking, there is nothing good, there is nothing bad; everything is relative, that's the only thing absolute; so far as social institutions are concerned everything is especially relative to time."{2}

Comte saw very clearly that time is not a formless medium, that the ages and periods it bears constitute frames of reference that the mind cannot neglect, and that the dimension of time, once recognized by thought, requires us to consider many things as justified and based on reason -- in relation to a given historical situation -- instead of becoming indignant with them and condemning them. Time is the great relativisor.

The question is to know whether everything is subject to time and measured by it, and consequently whether all things are made relative by time and justified by time. And that is exactly what Comte takes at once for granted. Absolutely speaking, there is nothing good, there is nothing bad; everything is relative, that's the only thing that is absolute. The conceptualization has gone far beyond the insight; it has made the relative absolute.

Certainly a writer -- and particularly a nineteen-year-old writer -- not infrequently forces the expression of his thought and says more than he means. And was not Comte writing, at the same period: "Very few people have paid enough attention to the march of the human mind and the generation of events to know that the best in itself is not always what best suits"?{3} And does not this seem to indicate (unless it is a manner of speech used in passing and inadvertently) that he had not yet completely rejected the notion of "best in itself"? As a matter of fact, it is quite clear that there is not the least incompatibility between defining what is, absolutely speaking, the best government, and thinking that in relation to different historical situations there are only forms of government which best suit, in reference to a given period. But in spite of its being required by common sense, such a recognition of the twofold and concordant necessity of the category of the absolute and of that of the relative was just what the impetus of his thought, at the moment he wrote the lines just quoted, led Comte to deny. If he was to hold so precious the "characteristic sentence" of 1817, it was because he had at that early date felt dawning within him, in the perspective of history and social institutions, the idea which was for him decisively liberating, the idea of the necessity of excluding the absolute absolutely and everywhere.

Thus the first, the original, meaning of the Comtian formula concerns the relativity of "everything", particularly of "good" and "evil", in relation to the dimension of time. "All is relative especially to time"; all values are relative to time. There is absolutely nothing absolute, that is, nothing intemporal or above time. All things, and in the first place all our values, are engulfed in time, subject to time and measured by time. And everything that time has produced is justified by time. "Everything that develops spontaneously is necessarily legitimate for a certain time, as fulfilling by that very fact some need of society."{1} The older Comte grows, the more he will insist on the fundamental character of his principle and the more he will extend its application. It applies to every order. The positive mind requires of us that we "substitute everywhere the relative for the absolute".{2} Still, the original meaning, the one we have just indicated -- relativity in respect of time -- will always remain the predominant one.

12. In a second meaning, to which Comte will devote a good deal of time, it is the relativity of science and truth that will be affirmed -- relativity of every truth in respect of the state or the situation{3} of the human subject (and so also, in the last resort, in respect of time). "Absolute" means immutable and ultimate; "relative", provisory and awaiting something better.

It is correct to say that the view of the world offered us by the science of phenomena is always an approximation, that no scientific theory is a definitive acquisition, and that scientific progress takes place by a succession of total recastings of such a sort that the old theory is completely eclipsed by the new, which has reinterpreted in its own way and reassimilated all the viable elements of the old. Thus one must say that not only are there many things that we hold to be true to-day which will not be held to be true to-morrow, but also that in the domain of the science of phenomena nothing that we hold to be true to-day is assured of being held true to-morrow.

This is the proper situation of the science of phenomena. But on this authentic datum Comte performs an operation which warps everything. Instead of thinking: relativity of the state of our knowledges or of what we hold as true, he thinks: relativity of truth. It is not simply an assertion which we thought to be true which will be recognized as not being true to-morrow. It is to-day's truth which will be false to-morrow. In short, one must not say that there are assertions purely and simply true (absolutely true), and assertions true in a certain respect (relatively true), and that the explanatory or theoretical assertions of the sciences of phenomena are true only when compared to the whole ensemble of known facts: one must say that there is no assertion which is absolutely true. Truth as such is relative; truth is not immutable;{1} truth changes. These words have no meaning (for even if a statement is true only under given conditions, the fact that it is true in this way, in a certain respect, remains something purely and simply true); but they dazzle thought and insidiously get themselves accepted by it because of the authentic datum to which they refer, and which they distort while claiming to express it. We should not be surprised that Comte has consequently felt the need to define the truth in his own way -- a completely "sociological" and subjective way -- as the coherence between our conceptions and our observations at each period of time.{2}

The everything is relative, that's the only absolute principle thus has a twofold result. In the first place it causes the science of phenomena to lose its soul. For what is it that first and foremost moves the scientist, whatever one may say, if it is not truth and the desire for truth? It is truth he wants, or the adequation of the mind with being.{3} He knows that in virtue of its very nature, the science of phenomena, as a whole, could provide us with absolute certitude, with knowledge immutably and unshakeably true -- and therefore attain to that "perfect" knowledge in which, according to Aristotle, scientific knowledge consists -- only at a final term at which it will never arrive, and where the immense collective work by which it progresses from generation to generation would come to completion.{4} But he dedicates himself to making his contribution to its progress to this term. And so long as science remains on this side of that limit, which it unceasingly approaches and which it will never attain, it is at each instant "true and relative at the same time",{1} or true in a certain respect, only because it is moving toward the absolute ideal term I just mentioned, and at each instant is offering us, in its totality, an anticipated likeness of it which is less and less imperfect. To overthrow, as Auguste Comte does, the Aristotelian notion of scientific knowledge, to exorcise the idea of knowledge which is immutably and definitively true, is, by depriving the science of phenomena of the end or the beyond-itself toward which it tends, to deprive it of its direction, of its motion, and of the kind of truth itself (truth in a certain respect) which is appropriate to it at each moment of its history.

13. The second result of the everything is relative, that's the only absolute principle is, from another point of view, the very one to which the law of the three stages leads: the abolition of any science superior to the science of phenomena, and particularly of any independent philosophical science.

It is undoubtedly true of philosophy as it is of science that it will never be completed; but philosophy progresses in time in a way entirely different from that of science -- by growth and deeper penetration, not by recasting and substitution. And undoubtedly in its sphere, too, things which were one day held as true (e.g. Aristotle's views on the first moveable or on the legitimacy of slavery) will not be held as true to-morrow. But what is proper to the scientific knowledge which is philosophy, in contrast with the science of phenomena, is that it cannot be said that in its domain nothing that we hold as true to-day is assured of being held as true to-morrow. On the contrary, there are in philosophy, even if only one philosopher in a thousand sees them, certitudes which are definitive acquisitions and assertions which are true forever. For what philosophy by its nature demands is the attainment of a knowledge which is immutably and necessarily true, of scientific knowledge. (The quarrels between the philosophers precisely bear witness to this: philosophers' reason for being is but the pure and simple truth, the absolute truth, the mark of which their doctrine is supposed to bear. And it is so for Auguste Comte as well as others, even the most skeptical among skeptics. Thus these doctrines are inevitably opposed to each other so long as what all the philosophers have grasped of the real has not been conceptualized in the completely exact perspective, which in itself is unique -- but which for each philosopher is his own.)

What is true in philosophy is true not in a certain respect but purely and simply, or absolutely -- true to-day, and true to-morrow -- because philosophical truth is above time. If the absolutely true knowledge to which the science of phenomena tends is the asymptotic limit of the historical development of this science -- as a knowledge in which the totality of all phenomena would be completely known -- in short, if science can be absolutely true knowledge only if it is a total knowledge, it is because the object of the science of phenomena is completely immersed in experience and time, and hence can give rise to an absolutely true knowledge only if this knowledge exhausts both experience and time. On the contrary, the object of philosophy rises above experience and time, and it is because of this emergence of its object above experience that philosophy has no need to know everything in order to be an absolutely true knowledge -- absolutely true as regards certain special entities grasped in the immensity of the knowable real; and it is also because of this emergence of its object above time that, at each instant of time, philosophy, insofar as it is true, is a knowledge independent of time. This freedom with respect to time, and hence the possibility of saying hic et nunc what is true forever is so essential to philosophy that philosophers for whom nothing rises above time are compelled to locate themselves at the end of time, as Hegel did, and as Comte himself did at the cost of the most flagrant contradiction.

14. This digression was not useless. It shows us clearly in what way the "only absolute principle" of Auguste Comte, understood in its second sense -- the relativity of truth -- is simply the negation of philosophical knowledge. It shows us also that this principle has a third meaning, no longer related to truth, but to what is. There is indeed a correlation between the object of knowledge and the truth of knowledge. If no knowledge is absolutely true it is because there is no absolute in the unconditional sense, in other words, because no object possesses any determination, is this or that, except by reason of circumstances or by dependence on certain conditions given in the world of experience -- our methods of observation and measurement in the case of a scientific phenomenon (it is defined by them); the dispositions of the subject due to the times and the environment, the taboos of the social group, etc., in the case of a value (it is believed to be measured or determined by them). Relativity (in respect of conditions in effect in the world of experience), phenomenality of everything that is. Nothing has being in itself or for itself. We simply posit an ens rationis, an imaginary and illusory entity, if we posit a being or some sort of intelligible structure which would be "heterogeneous", in Comte's term, to the phenomenon, and, it is supposed, hidden behind it -- let us say, a being or an intelligible structure which would be reached by the intelligence within the sensible and the observable, but without itself falling under the senses or observation, in short, which would be of a different order than the phenomenon. There is neither substance nor nature nor cause nor quality nor action nor matter nor form nor potency nor act -- not even being, except as a word in the language. With even greater reason there is no reality to be grasped by the understanding (analogically) beyond the sensible and the observable: no soul, no mind, no spiritual powers such as intelligence and will, no free will, no personality.

And with still greater reason there is no first transcendent Cause or self-subsisting Being. Since nowhere and on no level is there anything absolute or unconditioned, it is clear that the absolute has been thoroughly eliminated. At last we have arrived at the end of our labors. If relativity as the only absolute principle has such a fundamental importance it is because this principle delivers us absolutely from God. What miracles of grand surgery! But the price to be paid was much higher than was thought, and Comte has had the merit of seeing more clearly than any other atheist what the price had to be. Everything had to be made relative, made phenomenal, and the denial of philosophical knowledge had to be erected into a philosophy. An absolutely clean sweep had to be made.

What is unfortunate is that all of this involves a contradiction. The idea of relativity is a very great, a very fertile, and a profoundly philosophical idea. But relativity has no meaning but in being relative itself; it is meaningful only in relation to the absolute. That is why there is no vision of universal relativity more intense and more comprehensive than the Hindu vision of Maya. Nieti, nieti! Without Atman, there is no Maya. If one denies any reality to the absolute, all that is left is to make the relative absolute. Comte thought he could escape it with a witticism. But in everything is relative, that's the only absolute principle there is a great deal more than a simple verbal paradox. For if everything is relative it is strictly true that there cannot exist even one absolute principle. And on the other hand if it is not absolutely true that everything is relative there is room for and a possibility of the absolute.

Moreover, as a matter of fact Comte could not and did not hold to his principle. For him it is an absolute truth that the positive state is the definitive state of humanity.{1} He holds as an absolute truth the law of the three stages, whose necessity derives from the nature of the human mind{1} and is demonstrated on that basis. He holds it as an absolute truth that the edifice of the positive sciences must be crowned by sociology. He holds as an absolute truth the necessity of completing the objective synthesis with the subjective synthesis, and the positivist reorganization of knowledge with the positivist reorganization of religion. He holds it as absolute truth that political unity is chimerical unless it is based on intellectual unity,{2} and that every reform of social institutions has as a prior condition the reform of philosophy, of religion and of education.{3} There is not the least trace of relativity in his certitude that future generations will bless his name and his work. Always he is dogmatizing, retrenching, regenerating, excommunicating, reconciling, pontificating. As a matter of fact no one is more absolutist than this herald of relativity.

15. If the discussion of the positivist absolutizing of relativity has occupied us so long, it is because this discussion touches on a point which is crucial for moral philosophy, one of the principal historical effects of positivism having been to introduce into the minds of a great many men the idea that moral values are relative like everything else. Now moral philosophy could never admit such an idea without betraying itself, since this idea ignores a primary datum of the moral life in its existentially given reality.

What is implied in the moral decision of a man to do nothing contrary to the judgment of his conscience, if not that, rather than commit an act which his conscience judges to be criminal, he is ready to sacrifice all kinds of things however precious in themselves, he is ready to suffer and to cause suffering if need be, he is ready to die if he has to? He may fall short of this decision, yet he will feel that then he was wrong. Now to suffer and to cause suffering -- is this not to hurt my own being and somebody else's being, everything I have, everything he has? To give my life -- is this not to give what is uniquely mine, to give all that I have, my own particular absolute? And can I be ready to do so save for a reason which is itself absolute and unconditional, in other words, because the malice of the act which I refuse to perform is something absolute and unconditional in the ethical order? It is because this act is in itself objectively and intrinsically evil, according to his own conscience's absolute conviction, that a man will die rather than commit it. But if it were judged evil only because of a purely subjective disposition deriving from heredity or education, or because of the stage of evolution of the social group at a given moment, if, in short, its moral value were purely relative, I should be a fool to die rather than commit it; indeed it would be immoral to sacrifice my life or my happiness or the happiness of others for something which is not their equal in value. Moral life is possible for the human being only if the value of his acts is an ethical absolute which stands forth like a rock from the river of facts, events, phenomena, time and history. And because every knowledge whose object is something absolute and superior to time stands forth above time and, so far as it is true, is immutably true, this ethical absolute must be the object of immutable truths bearing on the value of our acts, unless the moral life of the human being is no more than a mirage or a mystification. That is why every moral theory, whether it be relativist or materialist, which makes fun of the "eternal truths" (the expression is not appropriate,{1} let us rather say supra-temporal truths), betrays the moral life it undertakes to explain. That man makes progress only with the greatest difficulty in the knowledge of these truths which are immutable by nature, that he can occasionally more or less lose consciousness of them, that at the various moments of evolution what he knows of them may be mixed with all kinds of elements which depend on infinitely variable social conditions and historical situations, that is quite another story. But it is a sign of childishness to think that a truth ceases to be true because the myopic see it badly or the blind do not see it at all.

It is worth noting, moreover, as a particularly striking mark of progress, that ethnology, which for a long time refused to bear the slightest value judgment on the various cultures it studied, is now beginning to reject ethical relativism and moreover recognize the actual universality of the primary moral notions which are developed by the various human groups, if, at least, these notions are considered in their most general and basic state.{1} So we have the beginning of that rapprochement between anthropology and moral philosophy which answers, so I believe, a particularly pressing exigency of contemporary thought.

II Science and Philosophy

The Positivist conception of Philosophy
16. As we noted at the beginning of this chapter, the central thesis of Auguste Comte is that there is but a single authentic knowledge, the one we get from the positive sciences, the sciences of phenomena. These form a homogeneous whole, of which mathematics are a part (for Comte they are natural sciences like the rest),{2} and which constitutes the integrity of knowledge. There is knowledge only of phenomena.

As a result, philosophy is not a distinct and independent knowledge. There is no reality whatsoever of such a nature that the knowledge of it is not brought by some one of the sciences of phenomena and brought by philosophy. In the immensity of the real, philosophy has no object distinct from the object of science, nor has it any domain distinct from the domain of science.

This thesis is not established by any consideration deriving from the critique of knowledge (which would be to admit, by the very fact, that philosophy has a proper object and a proper domain, to draw thence the conclusion that it hasn't). It is not established at all, it is posited. Its only justification is the Comtian absolutization of relativity -- a contradiction in terms -- and the law of the three stages whose necessity Comte (again a contradiction) demonstrates "by the nature of the human mind".

In the universe of the knowable, philosophy has neither object nor domain distinct from those of science. Yet Comte is a philosopher and "positive philosophy" is a philosophy. How is this possible? Philosophy has a point of view of its own,{1} which is not that of the sciences, for sciences are particular. The point of view of philosophy is the point of view of the whole, or of the greatest universality. Thus it is a reflection upon the sciences (it teaches us, for instance, that the fundamental sciences are at the same time homogeneous and irreducible to each other), but it is much more than that; it states "encyclopaedic" laws which are more general than those of the sciences in this sense that they make converge in a single formula laws which the particular sciences establish in their own orders but which are found in the various orders of phenomena;{2} it organizes and systematizes the sciences, and it regenerates them: it unifies them, not by reason of their object -- every attempt at unification on these terms is chimerical, and indeed the sciences tend of themselves to anarchy -- but by reason of the universal subject that is humanity, and in view of having this subject come to intellectual unity, which is itself the basis of religious unity and finally of political unity.

It is in this manner -- from the point of view of the whole, itself related to the human subject -- that Comte claims to found a philosophy at the same time he is denying to philosophy any independent object and domain. For the moment I shall not discuss that claim. Neither is it my concern whether, contrary to his thesis about the relativity of truth, Comte did not believe that the sciences regenerated by him, so reached a final stage and thence were to advance only on the basis of definitively acquired certitudes; nor whether Comte has actually been true to his theoretical positions; nor whether in fact his philosophy of the sciences is not inseparable from his philosophy of history and progress{3} -- which goes far beyond phenomena and their verified relations, since its laws are conceived not only as abstract regularities which throw light upon some particular aspect of history, but as a network of necessities which govern the march of history and the movement of mankind in a concrete way, a kind of operative fate (with which, moreover, man cooperates, and which allows him to modify, within certain limits, the course of things).{4} Nor am I considering whether, as already discussed above, he himself does not abound in absolute assertions; whether he does not derive, as Lévy-Bruhl has pointed out, his notion of the unity of the understanding from Cartesian ontology; and whether even an idea as "metaphysical" as that of finality does not play a role in his thought as fundamental as it is unacknowledged.{1} All these things are important, but what is of primary interest to us at this time is the fact that Comte intended to found a philosophy which is in no way a knowledge independent of the sciences, in other words, which has neither proper object nor proper domain in the universe of the real, a philosophy which is entirely on the level of the positive sciences, without the slightest elevation to rise above the plain.

All the other more subtle and refined forms of positivism which will develop in the future will pursue the same goal and will have the same fundamental conception in common. If Comte himself carried out his enterprise only with the help of gross violations of his own program, and if on the other hand his mission required Messianic dimensions and an ultimate religious destination for his work, other doctors were to come after him who, without needing recourse to prophethood, will have at their disposal perfected equipment and a superior operating technique to permit them to proceed to the scientific castration of the human intellect.

Positivism and Dialectical Materialism
17. It is of interest to note that on this problem of science and philosophy, the positivist and the Marxist positions are clearly different. Historical materialism and positivism have in common a great number of negations, but historical materialism can, in the long run, only nourish a solid aversion for positivism, because historical materialism is itself the end product of an entirely different current of thought and constitutes a Weltanschauung, a philosophical view of the real with very fixed dogmas; it is derived from Hegel whose dialectic it could not deny without at the same time bringing about its own ruin.

No doubt Marx and Engels had declared in Ideologie Allemande that "when reality is depicted, philosophy as an independent branch of activity loses its medium of existence",{1} adding, in order not to be outdone in finesse by Feuerbach, that "philosophy and the study of the real world are related to one another as are onanism and love between the sexes".{2} Yet all this was nothing but a flash of wit. In reality philosophy retained an essential importance in their eyes -- it was philosophy which accounted for Marx's prestige among the other socialist theorists of his time. Lenin will remain faithful to the thought of Marx and Engels when he rehabilitates ideology; and when Soviet Marxism grants philosophy its own domain, however limited it may be, in the universe of the real, this is quite in accordance with their principles.{3} This domain, distinct from that of the sciences, embraces, as has been noted in the preceding chapter,{4} first of all theory of knowledge, which establishes the absolute truth of materialist realism in opposition to every kind of idealism -- secondly, logic -- thirdly, and particularly, materialist dialectic, which deals with both the most universal laws of reality and the most universal laws of human thought. We know that Auguste Comte, on the contrary, excommunicated logic{5} and the theory of knowledge -- he had good reasons to mistrust them, and from the strictly phenomenist and relativist point of view he was more consistent than the Marxists. His encyclopaedic laws, on the other hand, remained of the same type, in all respects, as those of the positive sciences; these laws of Comte merely brought together in a single formula, but a more general one, certain laws of the positive sciences, and every explanatory claim was excluded from them, just as it was excluded from the scientific laws. On the contrary, the supremely universal laws which for Marxism are the property of dialectics are of another type than the laws of the positive sciences and they give us an explanation which goes much further and which has -- to the extent that it renders intelligible such or such a moment of the development -- a definitive value. In order to characterize in a more precise manner the opposition between Marxism and positivism, we may note that Soviet Marxism admits a dialectic between essence and phenomenon which has no meaning for positivism. Doubtless, for Soviet philosophy, essence is not of another order than the phenomenon, it has nothing of an intelligible structure attained through eidetic visualization at a level of the real with which positive science is not directly concerned, it is but the rational texture of mutual relations and intrinsic necessities immanent in the phenomena themselves. Nevertheless, it is very significant that the term essence, detested by positivism,{1} should be given to the rational texture in question, and even more significant that the mutual relations and the intrinsic necessities dealt with, should be expressed not only by the laws of positive science, but also, and par excellence, by the laws of materialist dialectic. We might say consequently that, if Marxism and positivism are in agreement in denying that philosophy has in the universe of the real an object, in the precise meaning of the word, distinct from the object of the sciences of phenomena and situated on a deeper plane of interiority or at a higher level, still they are opposed to each other in this respect: for positivism philosophy has in the real no domain distinct from that of the sciences; whereas for Marxism philosophy, while attached in the real to the same object as the sciences, and while remaining at the same degree of knowledge (there is only one, that of the phenomenon), nevertheless possesses its own domain within this order -- which follows in the last analysis from the fact that, at the very degree of the phenomenon, the real splits dialectically into phenomenon and essence and thus admits of two different dimensions.

Let us say that Marxism grants to philosophy the strict minimum conceivable of independence with regard to science, and takes the greatest care to reduce the difference of level which for classical philosophy separated the domain proper to the sciences of phenomena from that of philosophical knowledge (and in truth metaphysical knowledge can reach infinite heights by analogical or ananoetic intellection) to the simple differences between the amplitudes of two dialectical oscillations (whether dialectic of the phenomenon and essence takes place in the perspective of the experimental sciences or in that of dialectics itself). The minimum, however, has considerable significance. Marxism does not reduce and cannot reduce human knowledge to a uniformly flat level of knowledge; it is not, and cannot be, a pure phenomenism. Thus it even admits, however minimal, however carefully circumscribed and delimited it may be, a possible beginning for independent philosophical knowledge. Thus too, its atheism is less serene and less smug than positivist atheism. It is an absolute atheism, but one which knows how threatened it is; it needs to defend itself and to attack; it must be militant; whereas Auguste Comte, having deprived human thought of the very idea that it might rise above the science of phenomena, by the same token entrusts the simple natural process of disuse with the care of eliminating God. He can count on such a process, he has not the least anxiety.

Thus it appears that, if Marxism is much more deeply and more efficaciously in agreement with the historical energies of modern atheism than is positivism insofar as these energies move toward the Deification of man (what is the mythification of the Great-Being in comparison with the revelation of "the true man, the deified man"?), on the other hand, positivism is much more deeply and efficaciously in agreement with the historical energies of modern atheism than is Marxism insofar as these energies move toward the definitive Resignation of the human intellect (what is a materialism still preoccupied with the theory of knowledge and with dialectical certitudes, however invested they may be in the phenomenon, in comparison with the fixation of the mind in the peace of full philosophical impotence erected into the final philosophy?).

We see at the same stroke that modern time's atheism, let us say atheism which claims to be the ultimate phase of evolution, is a house divided against itself.

Homo Positivus
18. We see, also, that in turning up his nose at Auguste Comte, Marx made a rash judgment, or rather he still remained (does not Tawney call him the last of the Schoolmen?) in the "outdated" perspective of the intrinsic values of the intelligence, he himself forgetting that for modern man and especially for Marxist man the sole valid criterion is that of history and of historical efficacy. From this point of view we must recognize that Comte has been, if not properly speaking the author, at least the prophet and the formulator of a revolution which doubtless has directly affected only the domain of ideas, but whose power of diffusion and (for that very reason) the index of universality are certainly more considerable than those of the Marxist revolution in the social domain. Positivism has exercised its influence throughout the entire world, East and West, in countries now communistic as well as in non-communistic countries and especially in the Western democracies, and it has done so on all the levels of culture. Doubtless it is quite true that, taken in its original form and its original codifications, we can speak of it only in the past tense. But, if the principal philosophical movements of the twentieth century have reacted powerfully against it and have discredited it as a philosophy, if the metaphysics that was thought to be dead and buried has indicated its own rights anew, the fact remains that under new forms and with new shoots positivist philosophy itself shows its vitality and pursues its process of development. It is true, too, and this is what is essentially important, that the state of mind that positivism or neo-positivism undertakes to formulate and to justify (but which has sources deeper than any philosophical theory, and the advent of which it was the stroke of genius of Auguste Comte to foresee), the anti-sapiential state of mind, is taking on in our age of civilization an extension so typical that no one need exert his imagination very much in order to ask himself whether we are not progressing toward a cleavage of the human species into two sub-species, homo sapiens and homo positivus, or toward the pure and simple hegemony of the second.

It is this hegemony of a new human sub-species that Comte announced, and it is in this -- at least, and I do not wish to say anything else, as concerns the direction of the forces which in his time were just beginning to make their appearance and which were later to have such great developments -- that he was somehow a prophet.

In order to describe in non-Comtian terms the way in which things seem to be moving, unless powerful contrary forces gain the upper hand, let us say that the sub-species homo positivus, such as it is developing before our eyes, has roughly three varieties: (1) an important number of specialists dedicated to the sciences of phenomena; (2) a large portion of the mass of common humanity; (3) a certain family of philosophers.

The men who belong to the first variety do not realize that science as such, mainly in its present highest and most ingenious form, theoretical physics, enjoys an overwhelming authority to rebuild the universe of observable and measurable facts into greater and greater syntheses of signs, definitions and mathematical deductions (or at least, as far as sciences of nature not yet mathematized are concerned, into syntheses of symbolic entities, worked out toward an explanation similar to mathematical explanation); they do not realize that science is thus not only entirely distinct from philosophical knowledge, but also distinct from any refusal of its validity. They are so disposed not by scientific inclination but by a very human, too human trend, to consider as null and void what is outside one's own field. Without, however, being doctrinal positivists (they are less and less so, it seems), these men dedicated to a certain kind of knowledge of nature which demands rigorous disciplines and has a formidable yield are quite naturally inclined to consider this kind of knowledge of nature as the only kind of knowledge possible; moreover the highly specialized training that scientific research demands, the natural talents which it presupposes and which are related to poetic imagination of the most adventurous kind, disciplined only by the exactitude of mathematical formulations and methods of experimental control, finally the mental habits it involves and sustains -- all of these together cause a great number of scientists to become "spontaneously freed", as Comte would say, from any idea that a philosophical and metaphysical knowledge of realities of a more profound order could complement the knowledge of nature gained through the science of phenomena. In short, they hold for what can be called an exclusivist concept of science.

I don't say it is the case of all scientists. There are scientists who recognize, without any limitation, the validity of the natural apperceptions of the intellect, and understand that a child has such a spontaneous grasp of the principle of causality for example, taken in its original and integral (ontological) meaning, only because in the primordial intuitions of childhood the human being is awakening to the life of human intelligence as such.{1} These scientists whom we can call liberals by opposition to the exclusive scientists (this distinction has nothing to do with science itself, for in both categories can be found men endowed with the highest scientific capacities), are ready not only to try to grasp reality far beyond phenomenon, but to recognize the necessity of using toward this end the properly philosophical equipment. We may expect that a day will come when such scientists' state of mind{2} will prevail. But as long as scientists do not devote more time to philosophy and philosophers do not meditate on science, the research people for whom the only authentic knowledge to be attained by reason is the domination of phenomena, will remain the most numerous group in the world of sciences.

We come back now to the group of scientists we were speaking about previously. These exclusive scientists will be able (this is something Comte had not foreseen) to adhere to one or the other of the traditional religions, to have a fervent faith and a lofty spiritual life; they will not be atheists as far as religion is concerned; they may also have and even recognize irrepressible metaphysical aspirations, which they will endeavor to satisfy by extrapolations, always more or less arbitrary, of their science -- every kind of metaphysical or philosophical wisdom will remain a dead letter for them; they will be atheists as far as reason is concerned.

This variety (homo scientificus exclusivus) of homo positivus, moreover -- in spite of its fundamental importance in our technological age -- faces the danger of abdication within. For, on the one hand, the scientist, in his deepest inspiration, lives only on truth and for truth; and yet the science of phenomena, once cut off from all vital connection with philosophical and metaphysical wisdom, to which the intellect tends as to the supreme natural accomplishment of the desire and the joy of knowing, inevitably loses (I say, in the very mind of the scientist, the "exclusive scientist") the strength to affirm against the pressure of social needs its essentially speculative and disinterested character, and passes under a yoke alien to its nature, that of utility, and of practical finalities. This passage is evident in Auguste Comte himself who never stopped manifesting his scorn for knowledge for the sake of knowledge;{1} in thus denying Aristotle and the great contemplative tradition of humanity he betrayed not only philosophy, he also betrayed science and submitted it (his own attempts at regimentation have showed this clearly) to the arbitrary rule of the practical interests of the human community. Facing the danger of seeing modern States subjugate some of the major fields of scientific research to their own practical and military purposes, all the more powerfully since the advancement of sciences requires in these fields immense financial resources, we understand Einstein's joke, declaring that if he had known, he would have chosen to be a plumber rather than a physicist. He was a liberal scientist, he had enough philosophy to hold above all for the spiritual dignity of physical science, and its goal to know for the sake of knowledge. Confronting a factual situation which seems helpless as long as humanity does not pass to a supra-national organization of the world, he was left at least -- with sadness and anguish -- with the chance to refuse to bend within, and the immovable conviction that science lives on freedom as well as truth.

19. In the sub-species homo positivus there is a second variety -- let us call it homo gregarius -- made up of vast portions (and I don't say portions only that are of Marxist or positivist persuasion) of the common mass of humanity. In this variety, as in the preceding one, many who believe in God can be found. But, believers or non-believers, all who belong to this group are characterized by their unresisting adaptation to, and their complete conformity to, the cultural environment proper to the scientific, technological or industrial age, and they are gregariously engaged in the system of thought and mental habits which predominate in such a culture. From this point of view Herbert Butterfield was not wrong in considering as a fact of central importance in human history the general diffusion and the cultural preponderance of a manner of thinking which is the popularized version of the way of thinking required by the science of phenomena, and according to which nothing is accessible to us and nothing has interest except what can be the object of a manipulation by means of symbolic formulas.{1} One of the consequences is the "Promethianism of science" and the confusion, the old magic confusion between knowledge and power. Invested with the power of the signs by which he masters nature and utilizes the unknown, "man the Manipulator takes charge of the Manipulated world" (here positivism and Marxism join forces).{2} The other consequence is the phenomenalization of thought. In his remarkable essay on "The Secularization of Culture", Thomas O'Dea points out, using the terminology of Martin Buber, that thenceforth, in the manner in which man envisages things, other men, and the mystery of being, the "technical relation" (in which he manipulates things by controlling them from the outside, and in which the other is nothing but an "it", a phenomenon) takes predominance over the "essential relation" (in which man responds interiorly to things as to subjects, and in which the other is a "thou", a being-for-itself).{3} In an essay on the Chemins de la Foi{4} I have pointed out two other typical aspects of this phenomenalization of thought: mental productivism or "fixation in the sign", and the primacy of verification over truth.

Such a manner of thinking, when it becomes preponderant, does not preclude religious faith (although it offers it a weakening climate). But it is strictly incompatible with the natural exercise of the intelligence -- preliminary to philosophy but in continuity with it -- by which the great mass of men spontaneously possess the treasure of certitudes on which a truly human life feeds. Homo gregarius, the human product resulting from a total adjustment to the manner of thinking with which we are now dealing, is, just as were the exclusive scientists we considered above, an atheist in the domain of reason, even when he is not at all an atheist in the domain of religion. And how could he still admit according to reason that there are ethical values which are objective and unconditionally founded? As far as values are concerned, he knows the value of the dime, and he knows that it is certainly relative.

Finally, the third variety of homo positivus is made up of those philosopher descendants of Auguste Comte (neo-positivists, logical-positivists, logical-empiricists, neo-empiricists, or whatever other name they call themselves) who in one way or another strive to complete the intellectual and cultural work begun by Comte, and to justify in reason the loss of the sense of being that is manifest in the world of to-day. This is the variety homo in-sipiens. In actual fact it is far from having the importance with which Comte saw his disciples invested. It is not its representatives who are called to form the new spiritual power. There is no high-priest of humanity, no "positivist clergy" among them. They are prosaic atheists, atheists who do not even try to replace what they destroy, incomplete positivists, as Comte said. Moreover, it was not really to philosophers that Comte entrusted supreme authority. It was rather to the scientists -- to those scientists inspired with his spirit, and capable of "synergy", whom "a true encyclopaedic initiation"{1} will have made capable of understanding "the mutual harmony" of "fiction" and "demonstration",{2} and capable of proceeding to the two indispensable "successive constructions: the one philosophical, the other poetic".{3} No desire, however, to serve humanity in this fashion has seemed to manifest itself yet among our most advanced scientists. In fact, on the day when the development of homo positivus would demand a religion according to his measure, it is the State in its openly or hypocritically totalitarian forms which, with the assistance of its technicians in Propaganda, means of mass communication, Collective Psychology and Depth Psychology, would provide -- and doubtless not with "love as a principle" -- for the production and distribution of the myths necessary for the consumption of its citizens.{1}

Impossibility of the philosophy of Anti-philosophy
20. On the fundamental truth systematically misunderstood by Auguste Comte, and in practice ignored by the scientist when he entrenches himself entirely in the knowledge of phenomena -- I mean, on this fact that other ways, typically different, of approaching and knowing the real are equally valid, and form with science an ensemble at once heterogeneous and coordinated, and that in particular the "ontological" approach to reality, the mode of knowing proper to philosophy and metaphysics, keeps, in the face of the science of phenomena, its superior legitimacy and its superior necessity -- I have insisted many times in several works.{2} The only point I would like to make here in this respect is the logical inconsistency of the position according to which the "empiriological" approach proper to the sciences of phenomena (resolution of concepts in the observable and the measurable as such, so as to construct thereon beings of reason that permit of a rational manipulation of the data of experience by means of well-founded symbols) is the only approach which attains to authentic knowledge of the real. Three remarks, we hope, will make our position sufficiently clear.

First: it is highly significant that positivism feels the need of justifying rationally (by the law of the three stages, for example) the anti-philosophical stage to which it destines culture and thought, and of presenting itself as a philosophy -- as definitive philosophy. But from the moment that there is a philosophy, it is necessary that it have in the universe of reality an object distinct from that of the sciences: to believe with dialectical materialism that without having a distinct object it at least has a distinct domain, or with positivism that without having either a distinct object or a distinct domain it at least has a distinct point of view, is to dupe oneself. Philosophy can have neither a domain distinct from that of the sciences nor a point of view distinct from theirs, except insofar as there is in what is, a certain knowability to which it is adapted, in other words, insofar as it has in the universe of the real an object, which is proper to it. However reduced, however one may diminish it, it is there in spite of everything (and even a pure logical empiricism{1} which seeks only to bring out the meaning of what the sciences themselves are doing, ascribes to itself not perhaps in the extra-mental real, but at least in the mental real, in the very universe of the sciences as they are in the mind, an object which is not the object of the sciences). Finally, if we look closely at the object in question, then however much materialism, positivism, or empiricism may impoverish it, we come to realize that, in fact, the only way of designating it which has any sense is to designate it as a residual aspect of being -- ah yes, here is that ancient one again, with his faithful Parmenides. And if being is there and is recognized as such, there is no reason not to give it all its dimensions . . . (Here we may note parenthetically that already in the Tractatus logico-philosophicus{2} one of the maxims of Wittgenstein: "Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is", can receive a fully philosophical sense, and can be regarded as a valid assertion of the metaphysics of esse. As to the principle put forth in the same work: "What can be said at all can be said clearly", it can be understood in the sense of the most narrow scientific univocation, according to which that only is "clearly said" which is defined by a means of mathematical or experimental verification. But it can be understood also in a sense truly worthy of the intelligence, signifying that, on the one hand, we can formulate statements clearly said" about things obscure in themselves (such as the materia prima of Aristotle) or obscure for us (such as the divine perfections), and that, on the other hand, the clarity of a statement is something essentially analogical, and that there are as many different ways of "clearly saying" as there are distinct steps in knowledge -- why should a philosopher accuse a physicist of not speaking clearly when he speaks of anti-matter? And why should a physicist accuse a philosopher of not speaking clearly when he speaks of being in potency or of contingent being?)

Second: the object proper to philosophy as an independent knowledge, which we were just now considering, that being seized (by the humbly human means of eidetic abstraction) beyond the observable and the measurable as such, seized as something determined in itself -- whether it is a question of the act of existence or of its determinations, intelligible natures or structures which are definable not through our operations of measurement but through their own intrinsic characteristics -- the very sciences of phenomena demand it. Indeed they presuppose that there is a reality independent of our perception or of our mind, and yet knowable to our mind, and this truth can be critically established and defended only in terms of philosophical knowledge.

Moreover, in the very operation of research and discovery, the mind of the scientist, even when it is taking for object only the observable and the measurable as such, can seize new relationships between phenomena or glimpse the possibility of a new global arrangement of explanatory symbols, only if the guiding idea surges up in it while it struggles obscurely, at the outer gateways of science, in the mystery of a certain reality which is not phenomenon but being, and of a certain rationality which is not that of its explanatory constructions but of the universe of things: this mystery remains for it a vast unknown; but that this unknown is there, it knows very well, in a prescientific or common-sense knowledge which only philosophy can bring to the level of science. And it is indeed by reason of this indispensable ontological background that (contrary to Comtian interdicts) the scientist does not deprive himself of making use of a whole lexicon of notions (substance, matter, nature, cause, energy, power, action. . .) which he has inherited from the philosophy of nature and from metaphysics, but (and this time in agreement with the most profound views of Auguste Comte) which he totally recasts in a purely phenomenalist perspective.

In the third place: scientific work is inseparable from a whole natural and human conditioning (in particular the human relationships of the scientist with his collaborators, his rivals, his laboratory personnel . . .) in which are involved processes of non-scientific knowledge, which stem from the natural intelligence, and which are valid processes, although not bearing on the phenomenon as such. And it belongs to philosophy (to the critique of knowledge) to establish and to elucidate the validity of these processes of knowledge, at the level of a knowledge of an order other than that of science.

21. Finally it must be noted that while the development of the sciences draws them to a state of ever greater specialization, the desire for unity and integration grows proportionately in the mind of the scientist. But at the same time science itself which prospers only in adventure, refuses all unification which would come from constraint, even were it in the name of the exigencies of the heart and of the interests of humanity; it does not want to be "regenerated" by any clergy, even a positivist one. The only unity which is worthy of it is a unity attained in the very order of knowledge. Does this mean that the unity in question must be expected from a kind of bastard philosophy which, on the one hand, would be, as Comte's philosophy was, on the same level with the sciences and deprived of any independent domain, and which, on the other hand, would claim, however, to know more than the sciences themselves do, so as to unite them in some object more fundamental than theirs? Those who foster such notions are not even good positivists. If the supreme objects proposed to metaphysical or religious thought have for centuries fulfilled the function of poetic integrator, as Julian Huxley says,{1} that has never been on the level of the explanation of phenomena; and to wish to find to-day this poetic integrator in the notion of some "self-transforming and self-transcending reality" would be only to adulterate the science of phenomena by mixing with it an ambiguous Hegelianism. In general the philosophical theories that certain scientists rightfully preoccupied with universal problems and anxious to attain to some unified conception of the world, like to build up without recognizing the proper instruments of philosophical thought, and with the aid only of an extrapolation of their scientific concepts, can finally only be disappointing for the mind; they bring it a momentary, sometimes vigorous, stimulation, but they feed it with confusions.

The only solution satisfactory both for science and for philosophy is to hold that the unity and the integration to which the scientist aspires in the very order of knowledge are attained not at the level of the sciences themselves, but beyond them and their domain, and higher, at the level of philosophical knowledge and of the realities which constitute its proper and independent object -- while each science goes its own way as the wind blows. It is the business of metaphysics, and still more of the philosophy of nature, to reinterpret in the proper perspective and the proper universe of philosophical knowledge, and to unify therein, the vast and perpetually changing material of facts and theories elaborated by the various sciences.{2}

To conclude, may I be permitted to reproduce a few lines from an essay in which I insisted upon the irreducible diversity of the intellectual virtues and of the types of knowledge which together constitute the integrity of human knowledge. "In the history of human knowledge we see now one, now another of these intellectual virtues, now one, now another, of these types of knowledge, trying, with a sort of imperialism, to seize, at the expense of the others, the whole universe of knowledge. Thus, at the time of Plato and Aristotle, there was a period of philosophical and metaphysical imperialism; in the Middle Ages, at least before St. Thomas Aquinas, a period of theological imperialism; since Descartes, Kant and Auguste Comte, a period of scientific imperialism which has progressively lowered the level of reason while at the same time securing a splendid technical domination of material nature. It would be a great conquest if the human mind could end these attempts at spiritual imperialism which bring in their wake no less serious damage, to be sure, than that which results from political imperialism; it would be a great achievement if the human mind could establish on unshakable foundations the freedom and autonomy as well as the vital harmony and the mutual strengthening of the great disciplines of knowledge through which the intellect of man strives indefatigably toward truth."{1}

The atheism of Comte
22. Comte became an atheist at the age of thirteen. "From the age of thirteen I have been spontaneously freed from all supernatural beliefs," he wrote in his Testament.{2} And in a letter to his father: "From the age of fourteen I had naturally ceased to believe in God."{3} Henri Gouhier tells us{4} that according to Dr. Robinet{5} this "emancipation" was "undoubtedly due to the vigor of a very superior cerebral organization" but might be "additionally explained" by the system of education to which the child was subjected.{6} Comte's violent reaction against the military regime which prevailed in the Montpellier lycée{7} in which he was enrolled as a resident student when he was barely nine years old, and in which a decorative religion was imposed by consular decrees and regulations on youth still imbued with the Jacobinism of the preceding generation, was able indeed to play an accidental role in the spiritual event under question. Such explanations, however, are not only secondary, they are obviously futile. The rupture with God mentioned by Comte -- the very way he speaks of it shows this clearly -- was an eminently personal decision, and one which derived, if not from a "very superior cerebral organization", at least from a power of moral self-determination which was remarkably sure of itself, since this decision was definitive and sufficed to keep Comte, during his whole life, in an atheism which he never questioned.

In all probability the major decision thus made at the age of thirteen coincided in Comte with that first act of freedom through which, in the moment that he leaves the regime of childhood and deliberates for the first time about himself, man chooses the end to which he makes his moral life tend and the good on which he makes it depend. It seems also that the observations on the first springing forth of atheism in the soul which we made previously{1} in regard to Marxist atheism are equally applicable to the atheism of Comte. Here, as there, it is a question of a first option in which the soul regards the refusal of any transcendent law (any "supernatural" law, to use Comte's term) as an act of moral maturity and emancipation, and decides to approach good and evil absolutely by itself alone, and therefore without any God in heaven and on earth before Whose will it would have to bend.

But between Marx's atheism and Comte's atheism there are two notable differences. On the one hand, it was through confusing Hegel's God with God that Marx rejected God, whereas in Comte there is no confusion of this kind: it was simply from the catechism that the schoolboy of Montpellier held his idea of God -- he was too young to know anything of the false gods of philosophy. On the other hand, Marxist atheism at its origin entails a rebellion (in the end a failure, as we have seen) against the Emperor of this world, and it is inseparable from a revolt against the world and the social order such as they are hic et nunc. Comte's atheism, on the contrary, was from the beginning a private affair between God and him and does not entail the shadow of a revolt against the world. As the whole career of the philosopher will show (and even more strongly in his second period), this atheism will be an atheism as conservative{2} as the theism of Hegel, and one which will not even have to justify the world, but will only have to note its laws by reason, and to venerate it with the heart.

This atheism, at least as far as its psychological dominants are concerned, puts us very far from Marx and Feuerbach, and even from Diderot, very far too from Kirilov. It is absolute, certainly -- as absolute as the "everything is relative" -- but it is not revolutionary,{1} it is neither militant nor argumentative, nor wishful of self-proof -- so surely and comfortably installed that it is not even conscious of an adversary (its Adversary has disappeared). It has a quality of ease and naturalness, of proud tranquillity, which makes it unique in its kind. It has no need for Prometheus, it does not insult the gods, and does not raise against God the claim of the enslaved or alienated man -- the old slavery and the "long minority of mankind" have spontaneously come to an end with "the irrevocable exhaustion of the reign of God".{2}

And this atheism does not want an eschatological effort of history thanks to which the human species will finally reach its divinity. Out of the human species the Great Being will be fashioned, and under this title it will substitute itself "definitively for God".{3} But originally, in the generative movement of Comtian atheism, it is not mankind that is the concern, but Comte himself. And Comte does not feel the need of being God, it is enough for him to be Comte. What happened in him when he became conscious of himself was a simple phenomenon of internal shiftings. He "spontaneously" and "naturally" recognized that the central place which God was thought to occupy really belonged to himself, Comte, and he slipped into that place as into the hollow of his bed, never to move from it. It was a psychological operation which could be accomplished with such irreproachable assurance only through that infinite self-esteem he indulged in from the very moment of his reaching the use of reason, and which he possessed from his constitutional egocentrism, symptomatic of the mental diathesis which was to appear later.{4}

23. Nor did Comte, who never deigned to use any other argument than the law of the three stages against the validity of metaphysical assertions and belief in anything absolute, ever pay God the honor of discussing His existence. This attitude has great significance. The problem did not arise for him, and was not to arise. Why? Because it was already resolved, not by way of rational inquiry and philosophical examination, but in virtue of an ethical private option -- in virtue of the wholly personal and incommunicable act of non-faith accomplished at the moment when he deliberated about his own life.

Thus, therefore, for Comte -- and it will be the same for Marx (although in the young Marx the decisive option was made more slowly, and in a mind caught up in the heady excitement of philosophy) -- atheism came from outside of philosophy, from a more personal and more profound source; and for both it is also through something outside philosophy that belief in God will disappear from the minds of men -- not through the effect of any rational examination of the problem, but as the consequence automatically precipitated by an inevitable radical change, either (for dialectical materialism) in the economic and social regime, or (for positivism) in the general regime of thought.{1} It is not surprising that both{2} showed little sympathy for the demonstrators of atheism, and that Comte, in particular, clearly separated himself from doctrinaire atheism, with which he has nothing in common, as he writes to John Stuart Mill, except "not to believe in God",{3} and whose "proud musings on the formation of the universe, the origin of animals, etc."{4} he strongly condemns. Those who wish to prove the non-existence of God are only wrong-way theologians and the most inconsistent theologians.

It is nonsense to wish to conclude from this that Comte was not an atheist, but only an agnostic. As Father de Lubac has very well shown, Comte does not remain on this side of atheism, he goes beyond it. "We have it on Comte's own authority that he wished to go beyond atheism, considering it a position that was over-timid and not proof against certain counter-offensives."{5} For him doctrinaire atheism "does not go far enough, it does not pluck out the root of the evil".{6} In brief, Comte's atheism is that of an anti-Church which wishes to be triumphant and sees itself as already triumphant. He knows that one does not get rid of God by reasoning against Him, but by forgetting Him, by losing sight of Him, by exercising the function of thinking in such a way that the question of God cannot even appear.

The ideal would be never to have to pronounce His name. History, however, obliges us to do so -- and on the occasions when he thus encounters the idea of God, Comte reveals by his violence to what degree he is affronted by it. We know that he reserved favored treatment for polytheism in order the better to belabor monotheism. Monotheism, however necessary it may have been at a certain period in history, now "more and more deserves the reprobation its advent inspired for three centuries in the noblest practitioners and theorists of the Roman world."{1} It leads man to adore a being who, if he existed, would degrade himself by a "puerile vanity".{2} It is incompatible with the sound equilibrium of the social order and progress. "The sincere and judicious conservatives . . . have remarked that the motto of the anarchists is God and the people, just as that of the reactionaries was already God and the king."{3} "Catholics, Protestants and deists" are all "slaves of God" "at once backward-minded and disturbers".{4} They "adore an absolute Being, whose power is without limits; so that His wishes necessarily remain arbitrary. if they were really consistent, they would then consider themselves real slaves, subjected to the whims of an impenetrable power. Only positivism can make us systematically free, that is, subject to immutable and known laws, which emancipate us from all personal rule."{5} Finally (and how deny the consequence if the first and constitutive function of religion is of the human order: to bring mankind here below to a state of consummate concord and unity?){6} God is contrary to religion; and the supreme benefit of the positive religion will be "to finally brush God aside as irreligious" -- a perspective capable of softening even M. Littré.{7}

Christianity is essentially "antisocial" (and therefore "immoral"),{1} not only because the seeking of salvation is pure egoism, and to love others for the love of God a "gasconade" which excludes any "human sympathy"{2} and covers a reckoning which is culpably selfish (positivist altruism lives on a disinterestedness no less sublime than that of the categorical imperative) but first and above all because, by "giving rise to purely interior observations", the Christian faith "consecrated the personality of an existence which, binding each one directly to an infinite power, profoundly isolated him from Humanity".{3} "There (it may be said) lies the radical evil: this linking-up of each man to God, which has the effect of 'exaggerating the human type', making every man an absolute like God Himself, and leading him to subordinate the world to himself. This accounts for the 'shamelessness' of 'monotheistic aspirations' and the 'anarchic Utopias' from which we are suffering to-day. For theology has infected metaphysics. In other words, on the plane of concrete facts, it is the personalism of the Christian religion that has given birth to the personalism of modern philosophy -- that philosophy whose 'dominating thought is constantly that of the ego', all other existences being hazily shrouded in a negative conception, their vague sum total constituting the non-ego, while 'the notion of we' secures no 'direct and distinct place in it'."{4} "The man who believes he is in direct touch with an Absolute Being can only be a ferment of social disintegration."{5} God is anti-social as He is irreligious, and the two condemnations make but one.

The reasons which prompted Auguste Comte to admire the apostle Paul and to insult Jesus are not very difficult to discern. Saint Paul, who was only a man, could (on condition that he first undergo a good cleaning up) be considered as the precursor -- just like Aristotle, Caesar and Charlemagne -- and even as the greatest precursor, of Auguste Comte. But how could one consider Jesus as Comte's precursor? He said He was the Son of God, there was nothing to do but to brush Him aside, Him and His Father, and deny Him even the smallest place in the positivist calendar. He was nothing but a "bogus founder",{1} "whose long apotheosis henceforth gives rise to an irrevocable silence",{2} and whose real work was purely subversive and disruptive.

To speak the truth, the "construction of western monotheism" presupposed a "divine revealer", but Saint Paul, "the true founder of what is improperly called Christianity", was too great to assume such a role, which demands "a mixture of hypocrisy and spellbinding". With "sublime abnegation", then, he contented himself with the role of an apostle, leaving the first place "to some one of the adventurers who were then often to attempt the monotheistic inauguration".{3} "It is clear," Father de Lubac comments in this regard, "that the imagination of the novelist was not totally lacking in Auguste Comte. Saint Paul finally adoring Jesus sincerely because it spares him that obligation always odious for an upright man of having to adore himself -- it's quite a pretty finding!"{4} All this, and the care that Comte takes, each time he has the opportunity, to disparage the Gospel, simply means that Jesus, not being a precursor, can only be a rival, and therefore an impostor by essence.{5} The analysis of an envy-complex so curiously significant would be the joy of the psychiatrists, if they did not reserve for Comte, even when they dissect his case, a kind of reverence (for, after all, was he not subject to "theopathic" states, and can he not be classified as a mystic?. . .).

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