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

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC016-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved April 20, 2021, from

5. Influence

Comte’s system was replete with assumptions and dogmatic assertions about the need for a homogenous society that could be dismissed as unduly conformist. Yet with a rich doctrine that exuded certitude and combined science and religion, Comte had a significant impact, especially as people could select from it what they liked. Comte objected to this practice, complaining that people were not ‘complete positivists’ unless they accepted what he did in both his ‘first’ and ‘second’ careers. Most people, however, were taken by his first career, which laid down the basis of positivism, though there were adepts of the Religion of Humanity, chiefly in France, England, Russia, India, Mexico, and Brazil. Most of all, it was Comte’s scientific approach to history and society that had a large impact on the academic world. Positivism influenced philosophy (e.g. Ernst Renan, Charles Peirce, Ian Hacking, and Nishe Amani in Japan), the history and philosophy of science (e.g. Claude Bernard, Pierre Duhem, Henri Poincaré, Ernst Mach, and logical positivists), historiography (e.g. Hippolyte Taine, Henry Thomas Buckle), anthropology (e.g. Lucien Lévy Bruhl), and sociology (e.g. Émile Durkheim). Literary figures, such as George Eliot, Émile Zola, Michel Houellebecq, and Boleslaw Prus were also taken with elements of Comte’s thought.

Comte’s impact on the political world was vast. The Right admired his authoritarianism and stress on duties, elitism, hierarchy, and order. The Left liked his secular, anti-clerical approach to progress, his embrace of scientific thinking, and his republicanism devoted to the common good. Depending on what elements they chose to emphasise, reformers of all kinds could use positivism as a tool of modernisation. Comte’s influence can be seen in France (Emile Littre, Jules Ferry, and Léon Gambetta on the left and the Action Française on the right), the United Kingdom (George Henry Lewes, John Stuart Mill, and Beatrice and Sidney Webb), Russia, (Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Pyotr Lavrov), Poland (Józef Supiński,) Czechoslovakia (Tomás Masaryk), Turkey (The Young Turks and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk), and the United States, (Lester Ward, Edward Bellamy, Julia Ward Howe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton). Most Latin American countries welcomed positivism as a way to challenge the Catholic Church, social classes that maintained the status quo, and other legacies of colonialism. In Mexico, positivism was embraced by the ‘Científicos’, who supported the dictator Porfirio Diáz. Brazil’s flag still displays Comte’s original motto, ‘Order and Progress’.

Comte’s influence has been underestimated. He helped shaped modern consciousness in that it is now commonly accepted that science, especially the social sciences, can help solve social and political problems.

Citing this article:
Pickering, Mary. Influence. Comte, Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier (1798–1857), 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC016-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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