Auguste Comte and Positivism HTML version

PART II. The Later Speculations Of M. Comte
The appended list of publications contain the materials for knowing and estimating what
M. Comte termed his second career, in which the savant, historian, and philosopher of his
fundamental treatise, came forth transfigured as the High Priest of the Religion of
Humanity. They include all his writings except the Cours de Philosophic Positive: for his
early productions, and the occasional publications of his later life, are reprinted as
Preludes or Appendices to the treatises here enumerated, or in Dr Robinet's volume,
which, as well as that of M. Littre, also contains copious extracts from his
In the concluding pages of his great systematic work, M. Comte had announced four
other treatises as in contemplation: on Politics; on the Philosophy of Mathematics; on
Education, a project subsequently enlarged to include the systematization of Morals; and
on Industry, or the action of man upon external nature. Our list comprises the only two of
these which he lived to execute. It further contains a brief exposition of his final
doctrines, in the form of a Dialogue, or, as he terms it, a Catechism, of which a
translation has been published by his principal English adherent, Mr Congreve. There has
also appeared very recently, under the title of "A General View of Positivism," a
translation by Dr Bridges, of the Preliminary Discourse in six chapters, prefixed to the
Système de Politique Positive. The remaining three books on our list are the productions
of disciples in different degrees. M. Littre, the only thinker of established reputation who
accepts that character, is a disciple only of the Cours de Philosophie Positive, and can see
the weak points even in that. Some of them he has discriminated and discussed with great
judgment: and the merits of his volume, both as a sketch of M. Comte's life and an
appreciation of his doctrines, would well deserve a fuller notice than we are able to give
it here. M. de Blignières is a far more thorough adherent; so much so, that the reader of
his singularly well and attractively written condensation and popularization of his
master's doctrines, does not easily discover in what it falls short of that unqualified
acceptance which alone, it would seem, could find favour with M. Comte. For he ended
by casting off M. de Blignières, as he had previously cast off M. Littre, and every other
person who, having gone with him a certain length, refused to follow him to the end. The
author of the last work in our enumeration, Dr Robinet, is a disciple after M. Comte's
own heart; one whom no difficulty stops, and no absurdity startles. But it is far from our
disposition to speak otherwise than respectfully of Dr Robinet and the other earnest men,
who maintain round the tomb of their master an organized co-operation for the diffusion
of doctrines which they believe destined to regenerate the human race. Their enthusiastic
veneration for him, and devotion to the ends he pursued, do honour alike to them and to
their teacher, and are an evidence of the personal ascendancy he exercised over those
who approached him; an ascendancy which for a time carried away even M. Littre, as he
confesses, to a length which his calmer judgment does not now approve.
These various writings raise many points of interest regarding M. Comte's personal
history, and some, not without philosophic bearings, respecting his mental habits: from
all which matters we shall abstain, with the exception of two, which he himself