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Auguste Comte and Positivism

John Stuart Mill

Book Overview: 

Part 1 lays out the framework for Positivism as originated in France by Auguste Comte in his Cours de Philosophie Positive. Mill examines the tenets of Comte's movement and alerts us to defects. Part 2 concerns all Comte's writings except the Cours de Philosophie Positive. During Comte's later years he gave up reading newspapers and periodicals to keep his mind pure for higher study. He also became enamored of a certain woman who changed his view of life. Comte turned his philosophy into a religion, with morality the supreme guide. Mill finds that Comte learned to despise science and the intellect, instead substituting his frantic need for the regulation of change.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Mr Spencer has not shown that it is ill adapted to those purposes: and we cannot perceive that his own answers any ends equally important. His chief objection is that if the more special sciences need the truths of the more general ones, the latter also need some of those of the former, and have at times been stopped in their progress by the imperfect state of sciences which follow long after them in M. Comte's scale; so that, the dependence being mutual, there is a consensus, but not an ascending scale or hierarchy of the sciences. That the earlier sciences derive help from the later is undoubtedly true; it is part of M. Comte's theory, and amply exemplified in the details of his work. When he affirms that one science historically precedes another, he does not mean that the perfection of the first precedes the humblest commencement of those which follow. Mr Spencer does not distinguish between the empirical stage of the cultivation of a branch of knowledge, and the scien. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Interesting read

Great book if you're into the origins of sociology. It begins with an overview of how man has explained the natural phenomena. It started with fetishism, then polytheism, monotheism, metaphysics and finally positivism which uses empirical data to prove the natural laws. Comte used the methodology of

Much fun!

John Stuart Mill's "essay" provides an honest account of Comte's principal works in a relatively succinct form. Mill doesn't shy away from criticizing Comte's absurd notions of "regeneration of human society," through which the institution of "Positive Religion" would be instituted for all of humani

This is a relatively engaging summary of Comte's philosophical, scientific, political and religious positions. It also contains Mil's criticism of Comte's positions. The account often also gives a sense of Mill's position on issues like the proper definition of science as he contrasts his ideas with

The golden rule of morality, in M. Comte's religion, is to live for others, “vivre pour autrui.”

All education and all moral discipline should have but one object, to make altruism (a word of his own coining) predominate over egoism.

A very interesting introduction to Comte, an eccentric genius. The comments seem sharp and unbiased.

This is an outstanding and essential work that should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in philosophy, psychology, sociology and human development

Auguste Comte is so bad... J.S. Mill seems to admire him in many ways, but also criticizes the more obviously weak points of the philosophy. Comtean Positivism reeks of narcissism, suffers from an inability to abstract from a western cultural context, an inability to abstract from a 19th century con

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