Comte, Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier (1798–1857)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC016-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 05, 2021, from

5. The moral and political plan

The opuscules of his youth, appended to the fourth volume of the Système de philosophie positive, demonstrate Comte’s constant interest in moral and political reconstruction, in which semiotics played a role. As mentioned above, semiotics was connected with the law of three stages and the three theological sub-states. In Comte’s eyes, fetishism was superior to the other two sub-states because it founded human language. For Comte, the ‘fetishist thinker’ was closer to phenomenal reality than the ‘theologicist dreamer’. Yet the theologians taught us to consider purely ideal existences, without which we would not have been able to create the scientific realm. In addition, without monotheism, abstraction would have been impossible.

It is important to remember that mental states have their ontological foundation in the corresponding social state. It is impossible, for example, to speak abstractly of a society that embraces a specific intellectual and mental state. Thus man and society advance in correlation with the development of intelligence. As a result, the positivist project for society studies the different forms of learning, from the most ancient to the most advanced, by means of knowledge of the various forms of civilization.

The study of ‘social statics’ brings out the principle of solidarity that is crucial for the coexistence and cohesion underlying all social systems. The study of ‘social dynamics’ highlights the principle of the continuity and tradition of societies. In brief, scientific positivism demands that we act so that theory and practice are in harmony. This harmony in turn generates the harmony between the knowledge of the environment that surrounds us and our reaction to this environment.

If knowledge leads to power over the outside world, our industrial society should be able to realize an equitable political project only by developing an all-embracing moral project. If Comte had limited himself to considering the use of abstract science in the ‘sciences of application’, or the results of the latter on industry, the industrial activity arising from positive science would not suffice to constitute a project for society. Because of his familiarity with all scientific areas, Comte turned to a complete knowledge of man; he contended that abstract morality, the ‘final science’, could ‘systematize the special knowledge of our individual nature by combining the biological point of view with the sociological’ (1851–4: 2, 438). To this end, Comte provided the essential epistemological basis with the ‘cerebral chart’, established in 1851 from his method of classification. ‘Abstract morality’ usually precedes ‘concrete morality’; from the ‘cerebral chart’ emerges the principle of man’s action in society: ‘Act out of affection, and think in order to act’ (1851–4: 1, 680–733). The phrenology of Franz Josef Gall, which he criticized for separating the brain from the whole nervous system and detaching the individual from his social milieu, permitted Comte to maintain the innateness of human qualities and the importance of the emotions, as well as the distinction between the mind and the heart: their harmony constitutes the soul. For Comte, the rule of positive society will be love, a basic feature of humanity and thus something which it is possible to expect human beings to develop.

Citing this article:
Kremer-marietti, Angele. The moral and political plan. Comte, Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier (1798–1857), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC016-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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