Modern Classical Philosophers: Selections Illustrating Modern Philosophy from Bruno to Bergson

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AUGUSTE COMTE (1798-1857)

THE POSITIVE PHILOSOPHY

Freely translated and condensed from the French* by HARRIET MARTINEAU


INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER I. VIEW OF THE NATURE AND IMPORTANCE OF THE POSITIVE PHILOSOPHY

A GENERAL statement of any system of philosophy may be either a sketch of a doctrine to be established, or a summary of a doctrine already established. If greater value belongs to the last, the first is still important, as characterizing from its origin the subject to be treated. In a case like the present, where the proposed study is vast and hitherto indeterminate, it is especially important that the field of research should be marked out with all possible accuracy. For this purpose, I will glance at the considerations which have originated this work, and which will be fully elaborated in the course of it.

In order to understand the true value and character of the Positive Philosophy, we must take a brief general view of the progressive course of the human mind, regarded as a whole; for no conception can be understood otherwise than through its history.

From the study of the development of human intelligence, in all directions, and through all times, the discovery arises of a great fundamental law, to which it is necessarily subject, and which has a solid foundation of proof, both in the facts of our organization and in our historical experience. The law is this: -- that each of our leading conceptions, -- each branch of our knowledge, -- passes successively through three different theo

____________________
*
From the Cours de Philosophie positive, Paris, 1830- 1842. Reprinted from A. Comte The Positive Philosophy, London, 1853, vol. i, ch. 1.

-672-

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