Jacques Maritain Center

Moral Philosophy


Positivism and Human Conduct

Auguste Comte -- The High Priest of Humanity

I The Systematization of the Heart and the Positive Religion

The subjective synthesis
I. Why is unity better than dispersion? One can hardly see how this question could pertain to scientific knowledge such as Comte conceived it. It seems, however, that for philosophers who reduce all our knowledge to phenomena and turn away from being, unity becomes, as it were, a functional substitute for being -- the more they forget the metaphysical significance of unity, the more they cling to this transcendental. At any rate, no other philosopher had more nostalgia for unity than Comte. "As the principal characteristic of our existence is unity, our growth is essentially bound to develop human harmony."{1}

Moreover Comte saw very well that unity of the intellectual and spiritual order is the highest and the most precious kind of unity for us, and that without it unity in man -- unity of each man with himself and unity of men among themselves -- shall never be perfect.

It was also quite clear to him that the science of phenomena cannot satisfy the need for unity of the human intellect. And since for him no other science was possible -- in other words, since he had completely de-ontologized knowledge and denied philosophy any right to an independent domain and way of knowing -- it was clear to him that intellectual unity could not have its source in the object, or in the "objective synthesis". It is in turning to the subject -- the universal subject, humanity -- that Comte claims to have discovered the hierarchy of the sciences, and, in general, the possibility of regulating scientific research and unifying the work of the intellect. No wonder that sociology, the peak of the objective synthesis, will become -- but in a new and regenerated perspective{2} -- the starting point of the "subjective synthesis", which, from the viewpoint of humanity as center, will forcefully submit "the theoretical spirit", naturally anarchic, to an "irresistible discipline, first by regenerating its mathematical source, then by establishing its moral destination".{1} Besides, the laws proper to sociology are those of the most complex and noble phenomena and, as such, easiest to modify. They reveal that mankind inevitably marches toward unity; at the same time, being "modifiable fatalities",{2} they allow man, especially the great Western founder, Auguste Comte, actively to accelerate this movement toward unity and, above all, toward the final spiritual unity.

2. The fact remains that since it is not by integrating themselves to a higher objective truth that the sciences can be unified, it can only be by their subordinating themselves to the needs and practical utility of the subject. It is also clear that unity of the understanding alone is in no way enough. The whole man must be unified. In other words, intellectual and spiritual unity, really capable of reaching the entire man, cannot be the work of the intellect all by itself, even if it coordinates and directs the sciences from the point of view of the subject. Only in becoming entirely subordinate to feeling (and this is quite logical, because no truth superior to phenomena -- whether the suprasensible truths of metaphysics, or the first truth of the revelation -- is accessible to intelligence) can the intellect become a real instrument of human unification. This means then that the intellect leaves the objective or scientific domain and passes to the subjective, poetical or religious realm. There, under the guidance of love, it will work out the cult and the (mythical) dogma through which feelings themselves are to be systematized -- that is to say taken away from the robber which is our natural and inextirpable individual egoism (a sort of substitute for original sin in Comte's view), and led back, in a powerful convergent reflux, to the supreme unifying principle which must be developed and consolidated before everything else -- namely, sympathy. "So far as relatively grounded, the synthesis may wholly consist in extending and consolidating sympathy, which is both the source and the destination of the supreme existence. Sympathy disposes the intellect to assist feeling in a more direct manner and to a deeper degree than by merely unveiling the order of the world. Having to depict this order only approximately in the degree adapted to our wants, the mind, after having sufficiently discharged its passive function, may assume an attitude of activity by rising from philosophy to poetry, in order to develop worship, the main component of religion. This second domain is to be looked on as the normal complement of the first; for when the intellect passes into the direct service of feeling, it by no means ceases to serve activity, ultimately destined to the perfecting of our moral constitution."{1}

Thus religion, the task of which is to assure supreme human unity,{2} is, to the same extent to which it is distinguished from science and philosophy, essentially subjective, and founded uniquely on feeling. In contrast to the maxim of the ancients, "the will needs to be guided by the intellect in all its actions" (incidentally, by no means incompatible with the doctrine of the supremacy of charity), the heart has now to guide and regulate the intellect, even in theoretical matters. "Act from affection, and think to act."{3} "Under this regime, feeling . . . takes therein an irrevocable ascendancy",{4} and if the intellect "acquires a dignity previously unattainable", it is so because of "its religious consecration to the ceaseless service of sociability, the sole source of its own growth".{5} Thus are assured the "worthy subordination of male reason to female feeling",{6} and the "constant predominance of the heart over the mind", which is "the sole basis of our true unity".{7} Briefly, "the normal solution of the human problem" can be found only "by devoting the reason to the service of feeling",{8} and submitting it to a discipline that will fix its objects and direct its efforts in the name of human needs and the primacy of the heart.{9}

Here we have a double abdication of intelligence -- in favor of praxis and in favor of feeling. This is, no doubt, the deepest reason why Littré was scandalized by the second career of his master. But, despite an evident difference in emphasis, this abdication is coherent with the positions taken by Comte from the beginning. "On the question of the unity of his doctrine Comte wins the case against Littré."{1} Since the days of his youth, he affirmed that philosophy was only a preamble, and that the final end was the positive religion erected on this philosophy. As he wrote to John Stuart Mill in 1845 (the year of his fourth and last brain crisis,{2} and the year which opened the "second half" of his "philosophical life"), he considered his fundamental work (the Cours) as only preparatory, because the systematization of feelings was "the necessary continuation of the systematization of the ideas", and the "indispensable basis for that of the institutions".{3} If he had first to put an end to mental anarchy by changing science into philosophy, it was in order that he might put an end to moral and political anarchy by changing philosophy into religion. "I have systematically devoted my life to making real science provide, at last, the necessary bases of sound philosophy, in accordance with which I had, in a second step, to construct true religion."{4}

3. Comte is essentially an organizer. From the very start, his end is practical, and he attributes to praxis no less importance than Marx -- with this difference, that Marx was down-to-earth, whereas Comte remained content with pontificating and changing the world on paper.

His ultimate aim is the reorganization of social and political institutions. To reach this goal, religious organization is needed, the construction of the true and definitive universal religion is necessary. I previously pointed out that Comte saw very well that intellectual and spiritual unity was the highest and most precious unity for us. Yes, this is so. But in another respect Comte was lacking in perspicacity; for he made this highest and most precious unity, and in its strictest form, the indispensable condition of all other kinds of unity. Two reasons account for this. On the one hand, he craved unity too much and too deeply to be satisfied with anything less than total and faultless unity. On the other hand, as we observed in the preceding chapter, he had read Joseph de Maistre too well,{1} and believed that mediaeval Christendom with its sacral regime (he mistook it for theocracy) offered the only possible type of political unity and organic civilization. Comte held, therefore, that unity of religion was the indispensable foundation and the condition sine qua non of political unity. Hence, for him there were only two conceivable solutions: either a return to mediaeval Christendom, which was impossible; or the establishment of a sort of atheistic Catholicism which, universal as reason itself, would organize, regenerate and discipline, both morally and politically, first the West, then the rest of civilized peoples. God, who in the last analysis is irreligious, will have been only a precursor{2} of the supreme, though relative, object of love and adoration -- Humanity.

What strikes Comte above all in mediaeval Christendom, is "the miracle of the papal hegemony".{3} In contrast to Hegel, he considers the distinction between the spiritual power and the temporal power as an essential progress and a marvel of wisdom, but of political wisdom, because for him the order and progress of the social organism remain the only aim to which everything is related.{4} It is this order and progress of the terrestrial society which demands that the priest who governs minds should direct the prince who governs the State. Hence it is that the distinction between the two powers is justified in view of the temporal. Therefore, frankly speaking, Comte who exalts this distinction is less remote than one would think from Hegel who rejects it. We must completely secularize Catholicism -- eliminate from it God, Christ and the Gospel; reject its faith and doctrine, but restore its morals thoroughly purged from any supernatural beliefs; re-establish its institutions and authoritative structure on a wider and stronger basis furnished to us by positive philosophy. Thus the "government of souls" will pass into the hands of the positivist clergy. "The more I scrutinize this immense subject, the more I am confirmed in the feeling which I already had twenty years ago, at the time of my work on the spiritual power, that we systematic positivists are the true successors of the great mediaeval men, taking over the social work from where Catholicism has brought it."{1} "In a word, except for the dogma, Comte borrows from the Catholicism of the Middle Ages almost everything, its organization, its regime, its worship and, if he could, its clergy and its cathedrals. His religion will be a desecrated Catholicism."{2}

4. It seems to me that we can neither fully see the historical significance of the task undertaken by Comte, nor understand how he could have dreamed of carrying it out, without taking into account the religious degeneration in certain social strata of his day, which furnished him with an already distorted image of Catholicism. Comte is an extravagant, but singularly representative, phenomenon of the French bourgeoisie. We must consider his physiognomy against the background of the French bourgeois society of his time. Thomas Huxley said that positivism is "Catholicism without Christianity". It is a fact that at Comte's time a noticeable part of the French bourgeoisie had already inaugurated this kind of Catholicism. If Comte could dream of founding an atheistic Catholicism, it was because the class in question had among its most solid members a number of practical atheists, more or less brought up by Voltaire and Béranger. They called themselves Catholic, though in all their principles of conduct they denied God, Christ and the Gospel, and upheld religion for merely temporal and political reasons -- preserving social order and prosperity in business, consolidating their economic power, and keeping the lower classes in obedience by means of a virtuous rigor sanctioned from on high. The existence of this type of so-called Catholics made the idea of creating an atheist version of Catholicism less impossible; at the same time, the sort of inconsistency and hypocrisy which affected them was for the founder of positivism an incitement to endeavor to regenerate them. The religion of humanity was, so to say, a reply to their negativeness. It told them: Admit what you are -- and instead of adoring God with your lips without really believing in Him, and instead of being socially useless, because you despise the commandment given to you to love each other, adore the Great Being which is made known to you by sociology, and make yourselves useful by serving it with that atheistic love which is called altruism.

Such an appeal was bound to remain unheard, because no matter what love and devotedness one spoke of, this was precisely what the persons thus addressed did not want at any cost; besides, they had no desire to deprive themselves of the slim chance offered to them by a Christian death, in case the priests were prating more than fairy tales.

The appeals Auguste Comte made to conservatives, even to the "Ignatians",{1} were equally bound to remain unheard, but for quite different reasons. In approaching the Jesuits, he was not dealing with profiteers in the religion of façade which I just described, and which he wishes to regenerate by making them positivists. But this made Comte happy: the men with whom he sought an alliance did not interest him unless they were authentic Catholics and real believers. However led astray by their belief in God they might be, he regarded them as reasonable and open-minded enough to consider that the moral and political reorganization of earthly society mattered first and foremost. They disappointed his expectation. Fond as they were of social order and stability, positivist alliance was for them not even, as it was to be for some Catholics later on, a temptation to repel.{2} They did not take Comte seriously.

5. Although, in Comte's eyes, worship and "regime" (that is, discipline of conduct) together are of a much greater importance for religion than dogma,{3} nevertheless religion founded by him cannot lack a dogma and a faith. The positive faith (even after passing to the stage of myth) will be first of all a faith in human science and philosophy constructed on it; briefly, a faith in the system of Auguste Comte.

It is true, as he takes pleasure in insisting, that every one of us, not being able to repeat for himself the work of all the scientists of the world, in fact believes (except as regards the minute point in which he may happen to specialize, if he is a scientist) the things which in all the fields of science competent men hold to be true. We believe these things -- but certainly without putting our hand into the fire to prove them, and without other advice than that of our own reason. Moreover, when we deal with philosophers and their authority, that is quite another matter, all the more so because they are in mutual opposition. Universal in its object, philosophy is an eminently personal matter as to our approach to it. Even if one is not a philosopher, one adheres to a philosophy only because one has tested it oneself and judges that it is well-founded. To ask of those who have competence neither in science nor philosophy (that is, of the great majority of people) an act of faith, a morally obligatory adherence to the dicta of scientists and philosophers, even to those of the founder of positivism,{1} is both an insult to the intellect, upon which no purely human authority has the least claim, and a violence done to science and philosophy, which live on the freedom to criticize. lt is reasonable for me to hold that the earth turns around the sun: what, in this case, for modern astronomy is a scientific certitude, for me who am not an astronomer, is a sensible opinion. But if it were made into a dogma to which I must adhere or commit a fault against the Great Being, and to which I must adhere because the astronomers-priests-of-humanity who teach me this have a right to require the adherence of my mind, I would prefer to believe that the sun rises each morning to run after the moon. Comte plays with words when in his famous passage on the freedom of conscience, written in 1882 and reproduced in the fourth volume of the Cours,{2} he declares that "there is no freedom of conscience in astronomy, physics, chemistry, psychology, in the sense that everyone would find it absurd not to believe with confidence in the principles established in the sciences by competent men". Science itself advances only by constantly questioning the "principles established by competent men"; nay more, if a man who is not a physicist is not free to disbelieve the law of gravity, it is only because he has understood the proofs given for this law in the textbooks of physics. Otherwise he is not obliged to believe even Newton or Einstein. He is equally free to remain, if he wishes, ignorant of physics altogether.

When religion teaches divine truths, it can leave the domain of human truths to our free investigation. But if a so-called religion teaches a scientific or philosophical dogma, there can no longer be a free investigation in the realm of human truths. The refusal to leave room for error in the believers' minds must necessarily extend to the entire field of thought. Even before assuming the chief priesthood, Comte manifested a naive and proud intolerance which only grew with years. This intolerance is of great interest to us, since it was manifested by a man for whom the idea that everything is relative was the supreme truth. This shows us that intolerance is not a privilege of those who believe in the absolute, and that, contrary to a widespread prejudice which is a shame for the intellect, mutual tolerance is not tied up with a cast of mind in which every conviction would be affected by a note of relativity. There is real and genuine tolerance only if we fully respect the right to exist, and to speak his mind, of him who we are fully convinced is in error. Intolerance is created not by the sense of the absolute, but by the instinct of domination and the loss of the sense of transcendance.

6. The Church of Auguste Comte is not in charge of a revealed deposit which it has only to transmit to men. lt is the spiritual power itself which constructs faith, because the content of faith is but scientific-sociological-philosophical truth, relative as it is. Comte prides himself that the positive faith thus is a "demonstrated faith", that is, a faith by which those who do not know, believe what for those who know is rationally demonstrated. In Catholic faith man, without seeing them, believes, on the word of God, things which God sees; in the same way, in the positive faith, the ignorant one, without seeing them, believes, on the word of the clergy and people who know, things which are seen by the latter, and by Auguste Comte.

But, as a matter of fact, the "demonstrated faith" is only the first stage of the positive faith. If Comte sometimes gives the impression of forgetting this, it is so because his confidence in himself is so great that the demonstrability in question seems to him to extend to the poetical elaboration itself to which he submits the contents of this faith -- is this elaboration not justified by such evident reasons that everyone must necessarily recognize it as well-founded? The second stage of the positive faith is no longer "demonstrated faith", but what we might call fabled or mythified faith. This second stage is indispensable: since the scope of religion is to bring about moral and political unity and regulate human conduct, its essential mission is to systematize the heart, or feelings, by which alone it can have a hold over action. Thus the primary object of the "construction of the positive synthesis" is to bring us to a state in which sympathy must irrevocably prevail, or, as Comte put it, to the "most sympathetic state. We may affirm beforehand that such a state will be, as a direct consequence, the most synthetic and the most synergic."{1}

Hence it is absolutely necessary that the demonstrated assertions of the positive dogma satisfy the hearts both of the ignorant and the learned, as well as the minds of the learned, and exert on feeling and the sympathetic inclinations a powerful, irresistible appeal. This is possible only if these assertions are transformed into myths ceaselessly echoing in our affective faculties, or into well-founded poetical fictions, by regenerating the most primitive and most venerable form of the theological state, which is fetishism. In the intellectual regeneration required by the "final regime", "Positivism absorbs fetishism whilst discarding theologism",{2} and, in this way, "accomplishes the universal integration by regenerating fetishist dispositions".{3} "Rallying the advanced portion of the white race with the larger portion of the yellow and the whole of the black race, the incorporation of fetishism into Positivism can alone give its full consistence to the universal religion."{4} Thus is brought to a close and consummation the construction of the true faith; thus was instituted, by the efforts of Auguste Comte, the Trinity of the positive religion.

The religion of Humanity
7. The concept of humanity is, as it were, the hinge on which the positive faith turns in order to pass from the "demonstrated" to the fabled stage. Humanity is the object of a science -- the highest science of phenomena, sociology -- which studies, after the manner of other natural phenomena, moral and social ones. They are the most "complex" and "noble" of all; their laws are established by social statics and dynamics. On this plane of science and philosophy, the human person has already been sacrificed -- nothing, moreover, is less reducible to phenomenon. According to Auguste Comte, man is man only through society; the human intellect, as such, is a purely biological object. The properly human functions of intelligence and morality "are essentially social things".{5} In other words, the human species must be considered an "immense organism" resulting from the social consensus and growing through history, or "a single 'immense and eternal' individual".{6} The human species forms a higher collective unity, an undivided whole; the individual is elevated to human quality by participating in it. Man is man only by his participation in humanity as a social whole and universal subject.

Consequently it is enough -- and this is no longer the job of science or philosophy -- to personify this immense organism by making it the principle of all moral, intellectual and affective values, of every effort of progress and devotedness, of all the accumulated good deeds which constitute the treasury of human history: the immense organism in question will be transformed into an object of love and adoration and, by the same stroke, brought onto the plane of myth or well-founded fiction. Humanity is far from being perfect, she is not eternal, one day she will end like the planet on which she lives. But she is the noblest thing in the world (Saint Thomas said this of the human person; now this must be said of the historical social whole); we are and live through humanity; we must love her more than ourselves; we are born in order to serve her. "The necessary basis of human order" is "the entire subordination of man to Humanity."{1} Thus the human race is transformed into the Great Being (Hobbes would have said, into the mortal God). To this "new Supreme Being",{2} "composed of" its "own worshippers",{3} "who is for us the only true Great Being, and whose necessary members we consciously are, every aspect of our life, individual or collective, will henceforth be directed. Our thoughts will be devoted to the knowledge of Humanity, our affections to her love, our actions to her service."{4} "In a word, Humanity definitely substitutes herself for God, without ever forgetting his provisional services."{5}

This very process calls for a definition of humanity no longer by the simple criterion of fact, but rather by the criterion of quality. Hence it requires, to the extent to which humanity is the Great Being, that there be cut off from it everything which is dead dregs and useless tare. Not every man is a member of the Great Being. "All those who are not or were not 'sufficiently assimilable', all those who were only a burden to our species, do not form a part of the Great Being."{6} The sword of the positive religion divides the elect from the reprobate, and rejects into the outer darkness the simple "digesting machines",{7} so that only those may have life in humanity who have lived for her. Thus at once appear both the mythico-moral unity of the Great Being, and the sort of consoling paradise which everyone can hope to find in it. For, through "subjective immortality", all the worthy members of the Great Being will subsist in it, insofar as they will be remembered for generations -- in much the same way as, during our existence, everyone of us, heir of the generations past, lives by remembrance, gratitude and veneration, more with the dead than with the living. To tell the truth, the mortal God is not the God of the living, as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:{1} he is the God of the dead. In fact, not only is humanity composed more of the dead than of the living, but, "as the conduct of each one can only be finally judged after his death, humanity is essentially made up of the dead",{2} and, "if the living are admitted it is, except in rare instances, only provisionally".{3} Hence, once dead with the dead, and entirely dead as they are, I shall find myself, if I was an altruist, inseparably incorporated into the Great Being by the remembrance which others will have of me.

Let us not insist on the risk which the good positivist runs by counting in this way on the memory of his neighbor, and entrusting his posthumous existence to the image which man is supposedly keeping of man. (Moreover, since the unfortunate is not judged by God who does not exist, his fate will be "irrevocably fixed", seven years after his death, by priests; they shall place him, in the memory of the people, among the elect or the reprobate.){4} I find something else to be noted here: man has such a raging thirst for perpetual existence, that the Comtian faithful, when he thinks of future centuries honoring him, does not actually envision that the whole matter will have lost all interest for him -- he rather acts as if he should then possess just enough existence to keep enjoying the tender self-satisfaction with which this saintly perspective provides him at present. However that may be, it is curious to see how the same Comte who stigmatizes the egoism of Christians because they hope to see God, promises as reward to his faithful the delights, not despicable, I admit, but somewhat suspect as to the forgetting of oneself, which stem from the good reputation they will have in the opinion of men, and from the positive incense which the recognition of the servants of humanity will send up toward their name.

8. The institution of the Great Being was the primordial step. The same process, extended and completed, achieves the positivist Trinity. Comte's intention, we remember, is to fix the understanding and imagination in a system of representations and incitements which will make sympathy, "the only principle of Positive unity",{5} irrevocably prevail. For this purpose he uses the very principle of fetishism, which stocks things with anthropomorphically conceived wills.{1} "Inaugurated as the adoration of Humanity, Positive worship is next addressed to the World, and should be completed by including Destiny."{2}

"A trinity which admits of no change" thus directs "our conceptions and our adoration, both always relative, first to the Great Being, then to the Great Fetish and lastly to the Great Milieu".{3} The Great Fetish is the Earth which nourishes us and must be regarded as animated by a blindly but inexhaustibly beneficent will. "Our homage is next paid to the active and benevolent seat whose voluntary though blind concurrence is always indispensable for the supreme existence."{4}

As to the Great Milieu, that is, the Space -- to whose regenerated theory{5} is dedicated the first volume (the only one published), or Treatise on Mathematical Philosophy, of the Subjective Synthesis -- we must conceive it as an animated receptacle, "passive no less than blind, but always benevolent",{6} which kindly receives and preserves, thanks to its "generally fluid character" and its "sympathetic suppleness",{8} not only all the geometrical forms and situations, but "densities, savours, temperatures, scents, colours, sounds, and all the other material attributes",{9} abstractedly separated from the bodies. This "fictitious medium, hitherto turned to account only in mathematics, but henceforward available for all external phenomena", is the "residence" required by the "worship" of the "supreme destiny".{10}

9. There is something at once quite pitiable and surely affecting in the daily worship paid by Auguste Comte to Clotilde de Vaux: idealization of a frustrated eroticism accompanied by a real purification of feelings and a manifest moral renewal. But in the poetical incorporation of fetishism required by the "definitive regeneration"{1} there is nothing but repugnance to the mind. The primitive man had an authentic belief in myths which, arisen from the collective unconsciousness, came to him, as he saw them, from the bottom of the ages, and from a past more divine than time. But the faithful of the positive religion know perfectly well that the things they worship are "purely fictitious existences, the subjective origin of which must admit of no doubt".{2} The spectacle of the high priest of humanity warming up his sympathetic instincts, and those of his disciples, at the fire of his own laboriously combined fables, and offering his and their hearts to imaginary, deliberately invented beings, is a remarkable indication of the degradation to which the intellect could be exposed in the nineteenth century.{3}

Moreover, the Trinity of the Great Being, the Great Fetish and the Great Milieu do not exhaust the mythopoetical genius of the positive religion. We are offered quite a number of other sympathetic fictions which similarly ape, by depriving them of reality, things which Catholicism venerates, and by which Comte was singularly obsessed. Thus he has his "positivist prayer", which "takes complete possession of the highest domain formerly reserved for supernatural grace".{1} He has his guardian angels{2} who are Clotilde his chaste companion, Rosalie Boyer his venerable mother, and Sophie Bliot his worthy servant, whom he had raised to a spiritual daughter. He wants each of his faithful to be assisted by a similar angelic triad. He has his saints who are the benefactors of humanity inscribed in the positivist calendar, and his elect, those canonized by the ninth social sacrament, the incorporation.{3} He has his worship of the Virgin-Mother, and this is for him the supreme utopia, because it corresponds, as an "ideal limit",{4} to our paradoxical aspiration to raise woman, insofar as she has a mission to give life to a new member of humanity, above the lust of the sexual instinct, itself nevertheless destined to the perpetuation of life. In other words, and in a more Comtian language, woman's life-giving task, if it were exempted from the "brute passions of man"{5} and from the carnal love between her and a male individual, would become more altruistic and change into a function purely social, "in its origin and its accomplishment" as well as "in its results".{6} (If artificial insemination had been known at Comte's time, he would, doubtless, have greeted it as an irrevocable step in the direction of his utopia; we can imagine the new spiritual power directing by its advice the generalized practice of this method in view of the eugenic improvement of the Great Being.)

10. On Monday, Homer 20, 63, in a letter to his disciple, Dr. Audiffrent,{7} Comte announces that he himself will assist at the inaugural ceremony of the new religious regime at Notre Dame of Paris, "which must become the great Western Temple where the status of Humanity will have for pedestal the altar of God", surrounded by the "sacred wood" in which "will be assembled the tombs of the twenty-four principal great men of the modern West". On another day, after another prophetic vision, he described the Pantheon transformed into a Temple of Humanity. After the service, a woman cries out in tears: "Thank thee, adored Master, I will endeavor to imitate thy courage, and shall succeed by nourishing myself on thy example. Thou too hast seen how people were unaware of thy generosity and sacrifices; nevertheless thou remained faithful to thy duty. Auguste Comte, our father, founder of our Holy Church, may thy memory guide, sustain and conserve me, a faithful daughter of Humanity, from this day on until the hour of my death. Amen."{1}

The correspondence with Audiffrent does not lack particularly instructive details. There we see our philosopher organizing with great apostolic zeal the "female proselytism". After congratulating Audiffrent for "his lucky positivist attempts toward the beautiful Marseillaises", and recommending to him a "worthy female propaganda", preferably among the "worthy Catholic types" of the South, he declares on Charlemagne 20, 63: "Having become, for Humanity, a double organ, I feel in advance to be a true brother, and, if necessary, father or son, of every worthy woman."{2}

It is known with what imperturbable gravity Comte fulfilled his pontifical functions, asking for all the decisions of the "supreme organ of Humanity" an "act of faith", and a "holy worship", "stigmatizing" the "unworthy" positivists who were contemning his authority, solemnly defining the "utopias" proposed to the faithful of Humanity, initiating the institution of the priesthood{3} and of the "nine social sacraments",{4} as well as the regulation of the positivist marriage, which carries the "engagement of an eternal widowhood"{5} and the law of a previous "trimester" of "objective continence".

Let us add that the first positivist marriage was solemnly administered by Comte in June 1848. In the course of the ceremony, "the wedded couple, after a worthy exhortation on the new marriage, have signed, all in tears, the free engagement of the eternal widowhood". On Thursday, November 28, 1850, Auguste Comte conferred, in the presence of about twenty-five positivists of both sexes, "the first social sacrament, the presentation of the young child", the offspring of this marriage. The parents were poor workers. Two or three years later, as Comte explains in his letter of Frederick 8, 64, the unfortunate father, "fallen into a state of senile idiotism, in contradiction with his age of thirty-nine years", had to be delivered to a lunatic asylum. This persevering man finally received, under the presidency of Auguste Comte, "on Saturday, Dante 1, 65, a fully positivist burial in the cemetery of Montparnasse", and the high priest of Humanity proceeded without delay to release his widow, "only twenty-five years old, beautiful and witty", from the ties of eternal widowhood.

II The Ethics of Messianic Positivism

The supreme Science
11. In the hierarchical organization of sciences established by Comte at the time of his Cours de philosophie positive, there are six fundamental sciences: Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Sociology. But in his second career Comte understood that sociology was not the definitive summit. Above it, and distinct from it, must come the seventh, more elevated science -- Ethics.{1} This is perfectly coherent, on the one hand, with the general, essentially practical, scope of Comte's philosophy, and on the other, with the principles which had led him to the subjective synthesis. The seventh science supposes all the others, especially sociology. But it could not be treated as long as we remained in the (provisional) perspective of knowledge and mind, and did not turn to the (definitive) perspective of feeling and religion. The reason for this is that moral science, a science which deals with the direction of human actions, is conceivable only from the point of view of the subjective synthesis, and as an instrument of religion. In other words, Ethics is by nature a sacerdotal science.{2} It is par excellence the science of the high priest of Humanity, who uses it to guide people, and who knows that the most important thing in human conduct is the improvement of feelings.{1} The encyclopaedic culture of the positive clergy must be crowned by a science which is the science of the heart.

Comte died before he could write the treatise on Ethics which was destined to bring his work to completion. But, even without speaking of the quite summarily drafted sketch he made of it, and which was published by Pierre Laffitte,{2} we find in his other works, notably in Politique positive, Synthèse subjective and Catechisme positiviste, sufficient and precise enough data to form an idea of Comtian ethics.

Because of Comte's general principles which forbade him to go beyond the phenomena and the relative, this ethics is not, and cannot be, a moral philosophy properly so called. It offers us no systematic and critical reflexion on the principles of human action, or on the meaning and import of moral obligation and conscience, or on the rational validity of the laws with respect to which men feel obliged. Instead of the building which he refused to construct, all we can find is, on the one hand, the foundations which would have supported it, and on the other, suspended, so to say, in the air, the furniture which would have decorated that building, had it existed. The furniture consists of a kind of "ethical psychology",{3} the essentials of which are supplied by the "cerebral table"; entirely busy with practical application, it is destined to supply the casuistics needed by the positive clergy for the government of souls. The foundations interest us more. They are the theoretical views which correspond to the speculative background presupposed by every moral philosophy. In Comte, they can only be concerned with the "encyclopaedic" laws, the contents of which come from the sciences of phenomena. The first theoretical view concerns the order of the world, to the knowledge of which all the sciences contribute. The second deals with the notion of humanity which we owe to sociology. This science already has for its object the moral facts (moral fact and social fact are synonymous for Comte); but it is occupied with establishing the general laws of order (social statics) and of progress (social dynamics){4} of human societies, rather than with ordering and directing (always from the point of view of the social, and in view of the social){1} the conduct of individuals, which is the proper task of Ethics.{2}

12. The order of the world is revealed to us by science. This is a relative and phenomenal order, the totality of all the verifiable laws or invariable relations between phenomena which science discovers, and the immense network of which does not cease to extend and become more unified.{3} This idea of universal order is the highest encyclopaedic notion. To what degree this idea is an extrapolation with regard to positive science, and how much it really depends on inherited metaphysical preconceptions, particularly those of Descartes, unconsciously accepted, is another question. Comte himself held it to be a purely "positive" notion. And from the positive point of view, we must not submit ourselves to a sort of stoic fate, evincing the inflexible wisdom of a God immanent in the world, but to a fate which is the necessity of the mere course of phenomena, without any reference whatever to a cause, or a why. Moreover, this fate or fatality is modifiable, so that the fundamental duty of resignation is joined by that of effort and active cooperation in progress.{4}

Another essential theoretical presupposition of Ethics -- and the most essential of all -- is the notion of Humanity which we owe to sociology. Here again we have a notion which Comte holds to be scientific, but which, in reality, bulges with metaphysical preconceptions handed down to our philosopher by his "precursors" (he himself was a more striking example than he thought of the law that the living are governed by the dead). Be this as it may, Humanity for Comte is not only the human species; she is also, and indivisibly, the social human community -- a social whole which carries in itself a radical exigency of unity, and irresistibly advances toward it through the vicissitudes of history. This implies that progressive preponderance of sympathetic inclinations over egoistic instincts, the fostering of which is the essential mission of religion (in other words, the fact that "man becomes more and more religious").{1} And Humanity, conceived as a collective whole, is the true human reality; the individual is an abstraction, because he exists, lives, acts, has value and dignity only as a part of this whole. All he is, and all he has, he got from Humanity. Since he lives by her, he must live for her.

But then, one will ask, how do we pass from a theoretical presupposition to a moral conclusion, from discovering the order of the world to a precept to submit ourselves to it, from a sociological theory of Humanity as a whole on which the individuals depend to a precept to dedicate ourselves to her service, and love her more than ourselves? To this question Comte does not give, and cannot give, any philosophical answer (it would be necessary to enter the territory of the why). He entrusts man's moral instinct, the spontaneous feeling of the common conscience, with giving the answer in his stead. In fact, he refers to this spontaneous feeling as a factual datum which he uses, but which he does not criticize any more than he criticized that factual datum which is the knowledge of the world obtained by the sciences. I do not mean to say that he erected a philosophy of natural moral feeling into a system;{2} I mean to say that he rested on the natural moral feeling in order to make up for a lack of philosophy. And he is doubtless right in respecting moral knowledge in its pre-philosophical state, latent as it is in the instinct and the spontaneous inclinations of the common conscience.{3} But he is wrong, on the one hand, in paying attention neither to the deeper data which are necessarily implied in the judgments of the common conscience, nor to the heterogeneous elements which they can contain, and which must be sifted; and on the other hand, in not understanding that it is the proper task of philosophy to make the prephilosophical knowledge in question rationally explicit and critically justified.

13. If the "worthy" female type or the "worthy" proletarian type (not to speak of the "worthy" banker and the "worthy" physician) whom Comte addresses, spontaneously judge that we must gladly submit ourselves to the universal order discovered through the sciences, this is because they obscurely think that this universal order is good; and if they think that this order of the world is good, this is because they think, still more obscurely, that it carries an imprint of a certain wisdom, of a certain purpose directed toward the good of the whole. In short, that same moral instinct, of which Comte takes advantage to excuse himself from philosophizing, implies a natural belief unformulated and unconscious as it may be, in natural law, which in the logical order is totally repugnant to positive philosophy.

Likewise, the people whom Comte addresses, once persuaded that we have everything from Humanity and live by her, will quite naturally admit, by an instinctive sense of justice, that it is our duty to live for her, and serve her by loving her more than ourselves. Comte himself will note this explicitly when he says that, since "everything in us belongs to Humanity", and "everything comes to us from her", we must "duly feel that we are necessarily destined to her unintermitting service"{1} -- thus transferring to the "new Supreme Being" what the theologians teach of God and the creature's obligations toward him. This obligation of everyone toward Humanity is the only relation of justice which finds a place in Comte's thought; though it is nothing more than a spontaneous manifestation, in our philosopher himself of the instinct of justice which is at work in the common conscience -- without ever giving rise in him to the least philosophical elaboration.

Although spontaneous morality has something to say, it remains a fact, for all that, and Comte knows it very well indeed, that nature by itself is not enough, and needs the support of an ideology and a discipline. As concerns ideology, Comte is forbidden by the positivist system to look for any rational justification of our moral obligations; so he replaces it by the fictions of regenerated fetishism, in accordance with the exigencies of the heart. He injects into the world (the Great Fetish and the Great Milieu) benevolent and beneficent wills, and makes of Humanity the Great Being. As a result we shall not only submit ourselves to the order of the world, we shall adore fate; not only shall we understand that "between Man and the World, Humanity must be",{2} but we shall also adore the Great Being and address to it "the admirable wish through which the sublimest of the Mystics foreshadowed in his own way the moral motto of Positivism (Live for others): May I love Thee more than myself nor love myself save for Thee. Amem te plus quam me, nec me nisi propter te!"{3}

But discipline, we must admit, is more important than ideology, because the only problem which interests Comte in ethics is purely practical -- to develop and strengthen, against the egoism of the individual, sympathetic feelings and inclinations. And discipline is the business of the priesthood. Without the power of signs with which worship surrounds and nourishes our lives, and, above all, without the constant pressure of instructions and prescriptions issued by the spiritual authority, there is no assured moral progress for men. One would say that philosophers who, like Hegel, misconstrue or, like Comte, completely reject, the notion of natural law, are forced to ask either from the authority of the State, or from that of a godless positivist clergy, the prime rational incitement toward a right moral life which they can no longer find in human nature as an interior principle present in every man.

Love as Our principle{1}
14. Comte understood much better than the positivists of to-day that Ethics cannot be reduced to the positive sciences, not even to sociology. But according to his principles, Ethics, which is at once a science and an art, and which itself remains, as science, a science of (moral) phenomena, is totally measured by the social (in the progress of which it is supposedly obligatory to cooperate). On the other hand, by the very fact that Ethics cannot be reduced to the sciences, which are the prerogative of the intellect, Ethics can have its principle only in feeling (sympathy, instincts of sociability), that is to say, feeling as an autonomous source springing forth entirely apart from the intellect.

The crucial importance of benevolence, of good, of the sense of human communion, the necessary preponderance of the heart and the primacy of love, the fact that without love the best things can make us only worse, that love is at the beginning and at the end of our moral progress -- such ideas (Christian in their origin, but de-christianized and mutilated by Comte) belong to the stock of those few "simple and powerful" ideas, as has been said,{2} which serve as a support to the Comtian follies and explain the prestige of the positivist system in certain well-intentioned minds deprived of critical sense. But in what consists, and what is worth a love whose source is entirely separated from intelligence? It is impossible not to ask the question whether what Comte calls love really deserves the name.

True love passes through the Good. True love -- I mean properly or specifically human love, the soul of human morality -- is a movement of the power of desire which is rooted in the intellect (in other words, a movement of the will),{3} and thus necessarily presupposes the universal idea of good which is proper to intellectual knowledge, and is beyond the province of simple sense knowledge. True love goes out to an object which, no matter how attractive it might also be to the senses and the instincts, is, insofar as it is an object of properly human love, first grasped as good by the intellect. In this sense it must be said that true love passes through intelligence and through the good (the transcendental Good, not necessarily the moral Good). And since it supposes the idea of good, it supposes, by the same token, the idea of the absolute Good, which can remain outside the field of explicit thought, and even outside the field of consciousness, but which is implicitly tied up with the idea of good. Thus man cannot love another being with a genuinely human love without, in fact, having God in his mind, at least in an unconscious manner.

But what is unconsciously in the mind, can, if certain obstacles are removed, one day rise to consciousness. Here is a risk for atheism -- and this is, no doubt, the true reason why Marxist atheism so carefully keeps away the idea of love. Comtian atheism, on the contrary, holds to this idea; however, in order to avoid the risk in question, and to be sure that God is eliminated, love is given the same kind of treatment as knowledge was given. As knowledge for Comte deals purely and exclusively with phenomena, in the same way love for him has its origin in the mere instinct. Lest it pass through the Good, it does not go through the intellect. It has its source springing forth entirely apart from intelligence, in the territory of feeling, tendencies, natural inclinations, conceived as the domain of sense and instinct. Atheistic love is a headless love, it is secure only when, even rationalized, it keeps to the level of animality in man. What remains of fraternal love, when it has "irrevocably" been cut away from the love of God by the perfected methods of positivism, are natural inclinations toward benevolence and sociability insofar as they emanate only from instinct.

15. It never occurred to Comte to get exact information on Catholic theology before criticizing it, and the study of what Catholic theology teaches on the radical goodness of human nature -- which is perfected, not destroyed, by grace -- was sure to be contrary to his "cerebral hygiene". If he indulged in absurdly reproaching Christianity for its so-called denial of the existence in us of disinterested natural inclinations and natural tendencies toward benevolence, goodness, devotedness, this was because he believed, and wanted to believe, that for Christianity nature was purely and simply bad -- he was, no doubt, misled in this by the old French Jansenistic rhetoric, and perhaps also by the vocabulary, not theological, but mystical and practical, of the Imitation. Be that as it may, the existence of the inclinations in question, and the fact that they are a precious natural preparation for virtues, have always been recognized, and people did not wait for Doctor Gall to become aware of so obvious a datum. Comte nevertheless attaches crucial importance to what he considers the incomparable discovery of Gall.{1} Why? Because he saw in the phrenological theory the possibility of henceforth reducing the inclinations we just mentioned to the sole domain of nature's instinct and of the superior animality which is that of man{1} -- whereas, in reality, these natural inclinations proceed both from the instinct of nature characteristic of the animal realm, and from a spontaneous propensity of reason itself acting beneath the level of conceptual deliberation and free choice, in a way which is natural too, but natural to man as endowed with spiritual powers.

The most obvious result of Gall's "discovery", as re-interpreted and systematized by Comte, is henceforth the drama of moral life that takes place at the level of nature's instinct (reason intervenes, it is true, but from outside). We have, on the one hand, egoistic natural inclinations peculiar, both in man and animal, to individuality; and on the other, sympathetic natural inclinations, present both in animal and man, but more developed in man and showing that he belongs to the Great Being. The whole human problem boils down to making, by means of an appropriate training, the latter predominate over the former which will always be present, but can be surmounted.{2}

But there is something that cannot be surmounted -- namely the kind of Manichean division which, despite the supreme "harmony" whose secret Comte boasted to know, is inevitably implied in such a conception of moral life. In fact, no reconciliation is possible (but only a sort of practical arrangement or compromise) between love for oneself if it is conceived as always and in every case egoistic, and love for others, if it is conceived as repugnant by its very nature to every kind of love for oneself.

In the Catholic system, re-interpreted in his own way, Comte saw the same type of conflict between nature and grace; and he extolled Saint Paul for having recognized in us, in his doctrine on grace, the existence of natural inclinations of benevolence and sympathy.{3} The genius of Gall brought that of Saint Paul to completion: "The imaginary conflict between nature and grace was thenceforth replaced by the real opposition between the posterior mass of the brain, the seat of the personal instincts, and its anterior region, the distinct seat of the organs for the sympathetic impulses and the intellectual faculties."{4}

16. But let us leave aside this remarkable phrenological exegesis. Two points interest us more. First: although the idea of love for others in the Comtian sense directly relates, as we have seen, only to the instinctive inclinations of benevolence and sympathy, it implies, nevertheless, a requirement for cultivating, developing and strengthening these instinctive inclinations by means of a training by reason, so that they may become a dominant disposition in which conscious reflection takes pleasure. Second: once the preponderance of sympathy over egoism is assured by the holy influences of positive religion and of the positivist clergy, love, which will then prevail over "personal" instincts among men (and is already prevailing over them in the high priest of humanity), will be a love without the slightest trace of any reference whatever to the proper good of the subject, an atheistic "pure love".{1} It is true that the egoistic inclinations are ineradicable and will always be present tn us. But to the extent to which they will be satisfied (and to which positive religion itself will take care of satisfying them through subjective immortality and incorporation into the Great Being), this will be only through a necessary concession -- legitimate and beneficial, moreover, once altruism wins the game -- to the imperfection of our nature and to the inevitable evil of individuality. The inclination to personal good, because it is held to be essentially egoistic, will never be integrated into disinterested love of others, and the latter will never admit the slightest trace of the former, because love for others is supposed to be essentially a repudiation of every kind of love for oneself.

In the reality of things the picture is quite different. In actual fact, disinterested love for others does not truly exist, and cannot truly prevail over egoism, unless it draws to itself and transforms into itself the natural love which the existing subject has and must have for himself. I am in no way suggesting that natural self-love should be considered the end to which love for others is directed, as the theoreticians of egoism absurdly believe. But because the one whom I love is another myself my natural love for myself is the matrix in which a new love, utterly different, takes form, loving another not for my sake, but for his sake, and loving him as myself that is, as truly and really as I love myself -- and, as to quantitative measure, sometimes less than, sometimes as much as, sometimes more than myself. Thus, natural love for oneself is always there, as an ontological support, vitally involved in disinterested love of others, even when this love for others grows to such dimensions that it entirely eclipses natural self-love.

But analyses of this kind, because they go further than phenomena, have no sense for Comte.{2} For him everything is reduced to a duel between pure love located in the anterior lobes of the brain, and pure egoism located in the posterior cerebral mass. And when pure love has won, the sensational turn of events -- necessary, according to the laws of rationalist dramatics, to make everything end well -- causes happiness, which has supposedly nothing to do now with the desire for personal good because it is purely supererogatory, to spring forth from this pure love, which carries it with itself to the blue skies of disinterestedness.{1}

Contrariwise, when a good Christian, as Comte sees him, performs his duty for the love of God -- that is, "without any human sympathy"{2} -- he does so only in virtue of a personal calculation which is in reality degrading, "from the lure of an infinite reward or from the fear of an eternal punishment".{3} Briefly, Christian charity dissimulates a fundamental egoism modelled on "the absolute egoism of the supreme type";{4} care for salvation, and the idea that we are exiled on earth,{5} impresses on it an indelible "stain of selfishness".{6}

It is indeed remarkable that both Marxist and Comtian atheism endeavor to calumniate charity with similar zeal. But in the case of Marxist atheism, this is done in order to throw out love (confounded with vain sentimentality) from the realm of the historico-social forces; in the case of Comtian atheism, this is done in order to install, as the supreme historico-social force, a love supposedly better than charity. Later on we shall come back to speak of the meaning and import of this difference. As regards Auguste Comte, if that atheistic love which he calls altruism is, in his eyes, essentially superior to "theological love",{7} this is so because he conceives it as a love of others from which is excluded all love for the lover's own being and his proper perfection. No doubt, it does not eliminate "the personal instincts"; even, once they have been subordinated to pure love, it "implicitly sanctions" them, "as necessary conditions of our existence".{8} But in itself this atheistic love is nothing but a tender adoration of the Great Being which leaves no place in us for any desire for the good of our own person. When it prevails in us, our life is no longer, under any aspect, for us, but exclusively for others.

Headless love
17. The trouble is that, properly speaking, there are no longer others. True love tends to others because it passes through the intellect, and because the intellect -- that is, undiminished intellect, not phenomenalized intellect -- tends to being, and grasps not only me, but also the one who is not me, as a being which subsists and has value in itself; the intellect knows others as persons or subjectivities (beings for themselves, ontological depths, absolute entities), that is to say, precisely as others. Therefore, there can be a love or affective union with others which really is a gift of one's life, a death of oneself for the good of others -- which is the mark of true love.

But headless love cannot tend to others as such. Others are for it only a point of outlet for an inclination, or an object proposed to action, not a "thou". Here, as in the realm of knowledge, to use the expression of Martin Buber, the "essential relation" has disappeared and given way to the "technical relation", where others are not a "thou", but an "it".{1} In the illusory perspective in which Comte places himself love does not even tend, as in the animal, to a "thou" blindly grasped by senses. The intellect through which it does not pass, but which cultivates and sustains it, and which is entirely phenomenalized, presents to it in others only qualities or observable features, taken in their relation to the spectator and cut off from any ontological density, cut off from the absolute of the subjectivity.

How, then, would the love in question, in spite of its claim to pure disinterestedness, escape in reality the clutches of the ego (or of the super-ego), the ruses and disguises of egocentrism thriving on the very sublimity and delights of devotedness? It is a love or an affective union to others which really is not at all a gift of self and of one's life, but a complacency and delectation in the sweetness of being good and feeling oneself to be good and beneficent. This sentimental hedonism is the characteristic of false or abortive love.

Thus, there can be a love (an abortive love) without the gift of self. And, inversely, there can be a gift of self without love. This remark adds a complement to our reflections on atheism. For, although the kind of cleavage I just mentioned can arise from any causes, one of them surely is absolute atheism. We saw in the preceding chapter{2} that Marxist atheism demands from man a real gift of his life, a total gift of self to the movement of becoming and to revolution, to what we called the blind god of history. But this gift of self does not involve love: it is, in fact, an immolation of the human self carried along in the dialectical transformation of the world; whereas love is, by essence, union in duality, and necessarily implies that everyone remains himself while giving himself to the other. Contrariwise, Comtian atheism proclaims love to be its principle, but involves only an illusion of the gift of self.

I am well aware of the fact that, when we come to the conduct of individuals, here again, spontaneous restorations effected by nature can baffle the internal logic of the system. Cases can occur in concrete existence, and doubtless they are not rare, where an authentic love of mankind and an authentic love of the oppressed may become grafted, in actual fact, on the Marxist gift of self to the Revolution; similarly, an authentic gift of self may happen, in actual fact, to be grafted on the sentimental hedonism of positivist love. Do we not know that in the moral behavior of Comte himself a striking progress occurred, as in his second career he strove to be good, and to live only for the love of Clotilde and of Humanity? His saintly colleague restored in him, at least as far as she was concerned, the sense of thou. Georges Dumas notes with emotion that Comte "reconciled himself with Arago whom he hated, with his family at Montpellier whom he scarcely loved; he inspired such an affection in Sophie Bliot and her husband that, when he was in difficult straits, these two servants offered him, of their own accord, what they possessed. He was chaste, he was sober, and ended with refusing the least pleasures of the table; he abolished the dessert to mortify himself and every evening he finished his meal with a piece of dry bread in order to remind himself of the unfortunate who died from hunger. . . . He lived . . . with his eyes fixed on Clotilde, with his soul turned toward her, sharing with her in his daily prayers, in his confessions, experiencing the joy of feeling her familiar figure accompany him everywhere, and applauding himself for having transformed his sexual instincts into 'necessary stimulants of the most eminent affections'."{1} All this is true. The writer could have even added, if he had been a believer, that, after all, no one can know if the very God whom Comte rejected did not profit by the altruistic effusions provoked by Comte's worship of "the new Beatrice"{2} and his worship of Humanity, in order to inject there, secretly, some impulse of true charity, and thus make His entrance again into the philosopher's soul.

18. We do not doubt that, as far as God is concerned, such a fact was possible, by reason of the very humility of divine ways, and also with a view, perbaps, to teasing the logic of theologians. But, looking at it more closely, it seems to us very doubtful that, as far as Comte himself was concerned, and despite his total sincerity, abortive love ever made way in him to authentic love and to a real gift of self. No doubt, as he advanced in years, his moral life became purified, and he went in for goodness. But, at the same time, he became more and more intoxicated with the sublimity of his own enterprise; he grew firmer in his pride, in his dreams of grandeur and in his ambition to attract upon himself the thanksgiving of mankind in saecula saeculorum; he shut himself up more and more in the circle of his ego and of the imaginary world in which he took pleasure. And his delight in being good did not succeed in preventing him from preparing a carefully poisoned posthumous weapon against his "unworthy wife".{3} But what make us most of all suspect the psychological quality of the love which Comte fostered in himself are the very expressions he used to describe it. He owed to Clotilde, as he put it, his having "experienced the full strength of that feeling which is most fitted to bringing man out from his primal personality, by making his own satisfaction depend on another".{1} "Before I became Positivist," he has the Woman say in Cahéhisme positiviste,{2} "I used to say: 'What pleasures can be greater than those of self-devotion?' Now I shall be able to defend this holy principle against the sneers of egoists, and perhaps raise in them emotions which will prevent their doubting it." To this the Priest replies: "Those degraded beings, who in the present day aspire only to live, would be tempted to give up their brutal egoism had they but once really tasted what you so well call the pleasures of self-devotion. . . . Our imperfect nature will indeed always need a real effort to subordinate to sociability that personality of ours which is constantly stimulated by the conditions of our existence. But such a triumph once gained, it tends of itself not to mention the power of habit, to gain strength and to grow by virtue of the incomparable charm inherent in sympathetic emotion and sympathetic actions."{3} All this indicates pretty well the hedonism inhering in altruistic effusions, and the curious affinities between Comte's sentimentality and that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. We see, by the same token, the true significance of the famous phrase: "we tire of thinking and even of acting; we never tire of loving".{4} The pleasure we feel in loving is so incomparable that it makes any tiredness impossible.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus. Whoever has gone through the merciless demands, discouragements and agonies of true love for others, knows what tiredness it sometimes requires man to overcome. Comte's idea of love suits only the love of complacency with one's own goodness -- abortive love.

19. True love consummates justice and does not supplant it. It is so because true love passes through the intellect. On the other hand, love which is only sentimental effusion, disguised seeking for the ego contemplated in the mirror of its own goodness, and complacency with the pleasure of self-devotion, is inconvenienced by justice. Justice contends with it, supposedly intervenes only to excuse from loving;{5} this love does not superabound beyond the relations of justice, it suppresses them.

The notion of right and that of justice are banished from Comtian philosophy and the Comtian city. What's the use of defending my rights when I live for others, and the others live for me? Man has no rights, he has only duties. "The vain and tempestuous discussion about rights" must give way to the "fertile and salutary appreciation of duties, whether general or special".{1}

"We feel how false as well as immoral is the notion of Right", because it always "implies absolute individuality", wrote Comte in Système de politique positive.{2} "In the Positive state, where no supernatural claims are admissible, the idea of Right will entirely disappear."{3} And in Catéhisme positiviste: "The idea of right has to disappear from the political, as the idea of cause from the philosophical domain. For both notions refer to wills above discussion.{4} Thus, all rights whatever imply of necessity a supernatural source, for no other can place them above human discussion . . . .{5} Positivism never admits anything but duties, of all to all. For its persistently social point of view cannot tolerate any notion of right, constantly based on individualism. Whatever may be our efforts, the longest life well employed will never enable us to pay back but an imperceptible part of what we have received. And yet it would only be after a complete return that we should be justly authorized to require reciprocity for the new services. All human rights then are as absurd as they are immoral. As divine right no longer exists, the notion must pass completely away, as relating solely to the preliminary state, and directly incompatible with the final state, which admits only duties, as a consequence of functions."{6}

Comte had the merit of pushing to the end the logic of positivism and the exclusively social conception of the human being. This conception, even if as in his case, it admits and exalts love -- because love is affective and subjective -- irrevocably rejects justice, because justice claims, by its very concept, to be objective and exigible in reason, and thus depends upon truths superior to time. Comte clearly saw that right is nothing if there is no intangible dignity in the individual who possesses it, and if its source is not in a wisdom superior to the world. He was more decisive than any other philosopher in expelling the notion of natural law and denying that human being possesses by nature any right. This makes his memory particularly dear to political schools which are inconvenienced by freedom: they are grateful to him for having explicitly offered to modern times the idea of a social order in which the individual person, deprived of every title to invoke justice, is charged only with duties and obligations.

20. In Comte's system, the positive clergy has a mission to teach us these duties and obligations. This is an essentially moral mission; and, by the very fact that Comte professes the distinction between the two powers and the primacy of the spiritual power over the temporal power, he also professes the primacy of ethics over politics. Yet, the very ethics in question has only social criteria.

By reason of the distinction between the two powers, it is no longer the State, as Hegel wanted it, that determines and promulgates the objective rule of morality; it is the spiritual power, the atheistic clergy of positivism. For all that, as we observed previously, the final end remains the temporal order and temporal progress, which the clergy is only busy with aiming at from a higher point of view.

The positive clergy take an oath never to aspire after temporal domination{1} and political power. What's the use, moreover, of aspiring after them? Truth to tell, the positive priests already have them eminently, because their government of souls, and the religion which they inculcate, have no other final object than to organize the temporal welfare and political life of men according to the rules of positivist wisdom; the duty of political authorities is merely to supervise detailed application of these rules in particular cases.{2} "It is thus that the priesthood", whose function consists in advising (that is, directing souls and controlling feelings and thoughts), "becomes the soul of the true sociocracy."{3} In Comte's thought, the temporal power, charged with commanding, is by essence only an executive agent, the secular arm of the spiritual power.{4} On the one hand, this implies an entire elimination of the democratic principle{5} and of the notion of an authority for self-government possessed by the people, in which men designated by the people are made participant. And on the other hand, it entails a reduction and a general weakening of the organs and functions of temporal authority to the advantage of a really sovereign spiritual authority. Thus Comte turned the distinction between the two powers into an instrument of perfect atheistic theocracy which he calls sociocracy. Less prudent than Marx, who left to the dialectical movement of history the care of enlightening us on the structures of the new Jerusalem where all will be reconciled, Comte, on the contrary, bestows upon us every precise detail of the final reorganization of the West under the auspices of this sociocracy -- it seems that positivist utopia is by nature a blueprinting utopia.

There will be only small countries with "a population of one to three million inhabitants, at the average rate of one hundred and fifty per square mile".{1} "Before the end of the nineteenth century", France will thus "of its own free will be divided into seventeen independent republics, each comprising five of the existing departments."{2} And the Great Western Republic will comprise sixty republics of similarly limited extension which "will have really in common only their spiritual regime".{3} The public regime will wholly and entirely consist "in the due realization of these two maxims: Devotion of the strong to the weak; veneration of the weak for the strong".{4} In virtue of the principle of sociocratic heredity, "the worthy organ of any function whatever" will itself choose his successor, "submitting, however, this designation to his own superior".{5} "All citizens" will be raised to the condition of "social functionaries".{6} "In each separate republic, the government properly so-called, that is to say, the supreme temporal power, will be vested naturally in the three leading bankers, respectively, in charge of the operations of commerce, manufacture and agriculture. It is therefore first of all to these two hundred triumvirs that the Western priesthood, under the direction of the High Priest of Humanity, will have worthily to submit the legitimate claims of an immense proletariat,"{7} to whom, incidentally, the priests will have proved "the thorough reality of that admirable maxim of the great Corneille: On va d'un pas plus ferme à suivre qu'à conduire -- 'With firmer step we follow than we lead.'"{8} "The main office of the patriciate" will be "to secure to all the peaceable enjoyment" of "domestic satisfactions, in which our true happiness chiefly lies".{9} A new chivalry, to which "many industrial chiefs, especially amongst the bankers" will be affiliated, "will busy itself either of its own impulse, or on an appeal from the priesthood, with generous intervention in the more important contests".{1} Finally, there will never arise "a temporal power with a possibility of universal dominion, such as the phantom emperor of the Middle Ages";{2} and "the sixty republics of the regenerated West" will have only a "religious and not political" union among them, so that "the High Priest of Humanity will be, more truly than any mediaeval pope, the only really Western chief".{3} This is obviously the great affair in which Auguste Comte is most interested. The labors of the great precursor, Gregory VII, will thus be worthily brought to consummation.

But what about the poor sinners, the ones unfaithful to humanity: by what means will the priesthood bring them back on the right road? First, no doubt, by means of persuasion, "by acting first on the culprit's heart, then on his intellect".{4} But in case of failure the priesthood must have recourse to other means which depend on the "real coercive power"{5} which is constituted by the judgment of others. Then the priesthood will, in the first place, use "a simple remonstrance in the family, before the relatives and the friends called together for the purpose; then a public censure, proclaimed in the temple of Humanity; lastly, social excommunication, either for a time or for ever", by pronouncing, "in the name of the Great Being, the absolute unworthiness of a false servant, thus rendered incapable of sharing in the duties and benefits of human society".{6} We see that, although the spiritual power "advises" and does not "command", it is far from being disarmed; it can exercise against the nonconformists various sanctions which reach them in the most vulnerable points of their socio-temporal existence and, if necessary, cut them off from human communion.{7}

The Comtian city is not submitted to a totalitarianism properly so called, but to an omnipotent atheistic clericalism and a spiritual dictatorship of sociocrats, technocrats and psycho-technicians who hold all the resources of our life and our activity under their dominance. Our conduct is exposed there to the "examination of an inflexible priesthood".{8} Under the pretext that it is necessary to "live openly",{9} everyone's existence is entirely socialized. No place of refuge where God might appear behind closed doors. The Great Being controls the brains and the hearts, its piercing eye is everywhere, it has microphones in all the walls.{1}

21. The lesson of Auguste Comte. We see, then, to what final point the positivist principles: love is our principle and live for others, are leading us. These sacred formulas of positivism are a mystification, because the love they invoke is an abortive love which stops at sentimentality, effusions of nature, pleasure in being good, and which makes justice and right null and void. As Father de Lubac remarks, "Auguste Comte was able to harbour illusions regarding the character of the 'harmony' which he wished to establish. He was steeped in sheer Utopianism. Nevertheless, he illustrated that too-often neglected truth that charity without justice inevitably turns into oppression and ruins the human agent which it ought to ennoble."{2}

Here Auguste Comte teaches us a lesson worth retaining which touches what is most profound in the problems concerning human morality. No doubt, the first precept of moral law is love; and without love moral law, holy as it may be, has no other effect except to aggravate our misery. And ethics itself tends to a superior regime where love becomes the only regulator of action. But, in all this, the great question is to know which love must be at work. For Saint Paul, this love is the supernatural virtue of charity, which is the greatest of the three theological virtues; whereas for the philosopher who saw in Saint Paul his incomparable predecessor, love means the sympathetic instincts seated in the front portion of the brain.

Already in the natural order we must distinguish between abortive love which is a tyrant and which enslaves, and true love which liberates. As in God the Spirit proceeds from the Word, in the same way in us true Love passes through the Intellect; and because it superabounds beyond justice, it necessarily presupposes justice. Pardon does not destroy justice but consummates it (because to forgive is to give, and if I give to the one who robbed me that which he had taken from me, he no longer owes me anything; thus justice is satisfied without having had to be exercised). But if at the outset there had been no debt which it is the property of pardon thus to remit, there would be pardon no longer.

It is to true love that our moral life aspires; it is true love that moral law prescribes. If abortive love takes its place, the whole moral order flounders.

III A Cosmic-Naturalistic and Social Ethics

Ethics and Religion
22. Comte teaches us in yet another way, which this time is rather amusing. It is, in fact, difficult not to appreciate both the funny and the instructive in the double spectacle jointly offered by him and certain of his adversaries.

On the one hand, we have the respectable choir of those theologians and, if not those Christian philosophers (this expression would run the risk of annoying them), at least those Christians who are philosophers, in whose eyes moral philosophy, on penalty of losing its philosophical character, is bound chastely to remain ignorant of any religious or theological data.

On the other hand, we have a philosopher, as atheist as possible, in whose eyes ethics is so strongly bound to religious faith that he feels himself obliged to found at last the true religion -- that of the Great Being, the Great Fetish and the Great Milieu -- in order to be able rationally to establish moral science and the rules of human conduct.

Value and Finality
23. In characterizing Comtian ethics, we may ask ourselves, in the first place, what part is played in it by value and finality.

To the extent to which Comte, in fact, uses as basic reference, but without philosophical elaboration -- we saw this previously{1} -- the spontaneous morality at work among men and the pre-philosophical notions of good and evil, of duty, etc., which it involves, to the same extent his entire ethics, as that of the common conscience, is an ethics of value and finality. But if we consider the order of system and conceptualization, finality has in his ethics, as in that of Hegel and Marx, and, in general, in every essentially social ethics, a decisive preponderance over value. In Comte, this is all the more evident because his absolutization of the relative makes the relativity of all values an essential point of doctrine. Just as in the realm of science he confuses the relative state of our knowledge with a so-called relativity of truth itself so in the realm of morality he confuses the relativity (on account of historical development, conditions of environment, etc.) of our own mode of knowing with a so-called relativity of the object known, or of the very value of our acts -- briefly, with a so-called relativity of good and evil. Lévy-Bruhl benign but vainly undertakes to reassure our timid minds on this point by promising that, when we shall have recognized that "there are indeed 'moral standards', as well as 'truths', which are provisional and temporary"{2} (such is, he really means, the case with every "moral standard"), ethics will be none the worse for it. Let us pass, then, to the consideration of finality. For Comte, no doubt, the ultimate end is immutably fixed -- "the persistent aim of human life" is "the preservation and perfecting of the Great Being whom we must at once -- as the Catholic catechism says of God -- "love, know and serve".{1} But by virtue of the variety of historical conditions what is good to-day with regard to such an end, will be bad to-morrow. All depends on the moment in time and on the cultural environment to which we are and must be adjusted. "In all respects, each of us depends entirely on Humanity, especially with regard to our noblest functions, always subordinated to the time and place in which we live, as you are reminded by these fine verses in Zaire:

Further, it seems that Comte -- after having imagined in the most vulgar manner the way in which believers think of the relationship of their actions to their ultimate end (my actions have no value in themselves, they are good or bad only insofar as they help me or not to attain Beatitude) -- simply transferred this way of thinking into his own perspective. There is no absolute value, but there is a relatively supreme end: namely Humanity and her progress, to which everyone is called to cooperate; and, secondly, with regard to everyone in particular, incorporation into the Great Being. And our actions have a moral value only and exclusively as means to this end -- a value which changes with the movement of history, since the ultimate end itself is within history. But this does not prevent the absolute, banished from the sphere of knowledge, from returning into that of commandment; for, although all the values of our conduct are irrevocably relativized, the imperative which we obey "by the Ganges" or "in Paris" is unconditioned{3} -- this imperative emanates not from the State, as in the case of Hegel, but from the Great Being itself and from the social environment modelling "our noblest functions", as well as from the two powers, spiritual and temporal, the directions of which we must venerate.

And we are free in obeying them -- not because the law of the city is interiorized in us by reason and the sense of justice, but because the instincts of sympathy and sociability have definitely gained the upper hand over the egoistic instincts and over personality. "Our young disciples will be accustomed, from childhood, to look on the triumph of sociability over personality as the grand object of man."{4} Each one of us is man only by Humanity;{5} he is truly man only if every claim of the individual person in him fades away when confronted with the exigencies of the social.

A Cosmic and Naturalistic Ethics
24. If the ethics of Comte has an essentially social character, it has also an essentially cosmic character. In fact, the Great Being which is at the peak of animality, but does not go beyond it through any spiritual and eternal element,{1} is all the more submitted to the world, since it is its noblest manifestation.{2}

The ethics of Comte is cosmic in the sense (and this is a great verity in our eyes) that it restores the ties between the universe of nature and the universe of morality, and sees in the rules of human conduct an eminent case of the laws that govern the universal order. But, going to the opposite extreme of Kantian apriorism, this ethics is cosmic also in another sense (and this is a great error in our eyes): Comtian ethics makes human morality depend on nothing but the earth -- on the world alone and its order alone (taken, incidentally, as a simple factual existence, without knowable cause or why) -- and refuses to see that the rules of human conduct, although an eminent case of the laws governing the order of the universe, transcend this very order. Thus Comtian ethics belongs to the category of what we may call the "cosmic-closed".

The last word of this ethics is submission to the world. "True happiness is above all the result of a worthy submission."{3} "Between Man and the World, Humanity is needed. . . . Modifying the World and swaying Man, Humanity transmits to man the main influence of the former whilst perfecting that influence more and more."{4} By this subordination to Humanity, therefore, man is definitively submitted to the domination of the World, a domination which Humanity perfects and reinforces. We have to "ennoble our inevitable resignation by converting it into active submission",{5} which will foster "of itself a sincere social affection".{6} For it is not enough that we are necessarily dominated by the social and the cosmic; we must be dominated voluntarily, offering ourselves, of our own accord, to their verifiable sovereignty -- contented mercenaries who think they are free, because the individual person has been defeated in them; servants of Humanity who are, certainly, no longer "slaves of God", but worshippers of the World and "slaves of the elements of the world".{7}

25. Finally, however much Comte depends on the rationalist and Cartesian tradition, his ethics must be called naturalistic: in this sense that the inclinations, the instincts and feelings, the determinations of nature usurp in Comtian ethics a function which in reality pertains to reason. Not that he would not indicate the importance of reason for human conduct. His failure is in ignoring the nature and the why of this importance, and the essential function, the specifically ethical function, which reason exercises in moral life.

We have here a rather delicate point, which is worth understanding. Just as in the order of knowledge, the function of reason is, in the eyes of positivism, to connect, formulate, integrate, construct and deduce by manipulating signs, but not at all to see into things (there is no intelligible object which the intellect would grasp beyond phenomena), in the same way, in the order of action, positivism is ignorant of the specifically ethical function of reason, which is to regulate and to direct our conduct from within by means of normative judgments (it is up to the free will to conform itself to them or not). The only function of reason in moral life which positivism recognizes consists merely in cultivating the instinctive inclinations by appropriate psychological devices: favoring the growth and development of some, the diminution of others. Of course, one of the functions of reason is to influence our conduct in this manner. But this is not its principal and specifically ethical function in the order of human actions: it is a technical or psycho-technical function by which reason orientates moral life only from the outside and indirectly. Briefly, in the positivist perspective, reason is for the moral universe an extrinsically regulating principle; only feelings and instincts are the intrinsically governing principles of human conduct.

Comte is right in observing that in most cases people obey, as a matter of fact, feeling and instinct more than reason. But he is wrong in regarding this factual situation as normal, and in making it the basis of ethics, because he is wrong, in the first place, about the structure and the primary exigencies of human nature. It is important to submit the interior world of instinctive inclinations and feelings to a rational cultivation and development; but it is still more important to strive to live according to reason, and to develop in ourselves moral virtues: this is, doubtless, the surest way finally to improve our inclinations and feelings. It is enough to push a trifle further the Comtian conception on the uniquely technical or psycho-technical function of reason in moral life, and the conclusion will be that the best, if not the only way to raise the moral level of the human species is that afforded by inhibiting or stimulating chemical products (not to speak of brain surgery). Not only will such means be considered advisable in certain pathological cases, but they will one day permit the medical art to play at will with our instincts and inclinations, peace of soul being then assured by tranquilizers. After all, our race will then perhaps be somewhat less tormented; but the government of self will have been delegated to physicians, pharmacists and services of social security and there is little probability that general happiness will gain much thereby.

Another sign of the naturalism inherent in Comte's thought can be found in his very concept of human society. Man is by nature a political animal -- for Aristotle, this meant that human nature, because it is rational, prompts man to the act of reason and will from which results life in common in a society properly so-called. In the positivist perspective, it means that life in society necessarily results from instinctive inclinations of nature; in other words, from the instinct of sociability which is more developed in man than in animals; reason is only for perfecting, by a kind of art, that which has been done by instinct. In his reaction against the Rousseauist "contract", Comte plunges into the opposite error. No doubt, he knows well that human society is not a colony of polyps;{1} but he does not know that, however great may be the dispositive or preparatory part which is played by instinctive inclinations and pressures, as well as by external necessities, political society is, in its essence, a work of reason and of virtue.

Between the religion of the Great Being and the Myth of Science
26. We have previously noted{2} that, in the ethical realm, positivism is in a direct reaction against Kantian formalism. With regard to the ethics of Comte himself, or the ethics of Messianic positivism, this reaction against Kant manifests itself by many fundamental characteristics: preponderance of finality over value; relativization of all values; the triple character -- essentially social, cosmic and naturalistic -- of the ethics in question.

However, if Comtian ethics is wholly incompatible with the Kantian doctrine on the postulates of practical reason, nevertheless it, too, requires -- this time as an intrinsic necessity -- the assistance of a belief; to constitute itself as ethics and as a power to direct human conduct, it must be hooked up to the religion of humanity, to its worship and dogma, and to its regenerated fetishism. On the other hand, it remains a normative ethics, the principal function of which is to prescribe duties and to regulate human conduct; and in this way it has something in common with traditional ethics, and even, at least for a summary evaluation, with the ethics of Kant.

The reaction against Kant will become complete with the purely scientistic-positivist, or secularized-positivist conception of ethics (or of what remains of ethics). This conception was briefly characterized at the beginning of the preceding chapter; its essential feature is the rejection of all normative morality. We shall have to discuss it, especially in its sociologist form, in the second volume of this work.

What we would like to note here is that positivism, taken generally, by the very fact that for it intelligence and philosophy are enclosed in the realm of phenomena and can see nothing beyond that realm, is purely and simply incapable of establishing a moral philosophy properly so called. Either Messianic positivism absorbs ethics into religion (atheistic religion worshipping the great Social Whole); or secularized positivism absorbs ethics into science (the sciences of phenomena and, above all, sociology, which are held, on the one hand, to be the only sort of knowledge capable of objective certitude, and on the other hand, are considered the only kind of knowledge required and sufficient for the good state of human affairs, and made in actual fact mythical substitutes for wisdom).

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