Sociology Auguste Comte
by
Andrew Wernick
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0163

Introduction

Auguste Comte (1798–1857), mathematician, philosopher of science, grand systematizer of positivism, and in later years founder and High Priest of the Church of Humanity, coined the term sociology, a branch of knowledge he claimed to have established as a positive science. Positive, in Comte’s sense, meant abandoning absolute for relative truth, and the search for the real nature or cause of things, in favor of discovering laws, defined as predictable regularities in the behavior of observable phenomena. Comte’s sociology, divided into statics (laws of social order) and dynamics (laws of historical progress), was integral to his wider positivist system. Its founding completed the “encyclopedic scale” of the fundamental sciences (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, sociology) and made finally possible, he claimed, both a scientific politics and an all-embracing positive philosophy that was destined—following the “law of three states”—to supersede previous worldviews based on theology and metaphysics, together with their corresponding societal forms. Positive philosophy, complemented after the mid 1840s by positive religion, was the cornerstone of Comte’s program for social reform in post-Revolutionary France, and for the global establishment of an industrial-scientific order. Comte’s politics, like his philosophy, aimed to transcend the split between Enlightenment progressives and Counter-Enlightenment traditionalists. In addition to Bacon, Leibnitz, and Hume, he cited both Condorcet and de Maistre as major influences. Although the social sciences have long since abandoned Comte’s search for historical laws together with his wider system and project, the Durkheim tradition bears some of Comte’s imprint as do related currents in French thought like historical epistemology (Bachelard, Canguilhem) and structural Marxism (Althusser). Interest in Comte (influential in the 19th century but long considered a marginal figure) has revived in recent years among philosophers, social theorists, and students of religion, and his voluminous oeuvre has begun to be more sympathetically re-assessed. The rebellious elder son of a conservative provincial tax official and a devoutly Catholic mother, Isidore Auguste Marie Francois Xavier Comte was born in Montpellier in the penultimate year of the Directory before Napoleon came to power. By his mid teens he was a staunch atheist and republican. After winning admission in 1814 to the elite École Polytechnique in Paris to study mathematics and the physical sciences, he was expelled in 1816 together with his classmates after a conflict with school authorities. Following a year studying biology in the faculty of medicine at Montpellier, he returned to Paris, refused the loyalty oath to the restored monarchy that would have re-admitted him to the École, and joined the Saint-Simonian circle. He became Saint-Simon’s secretary and principal collaborator until they acrimoniously split in 1824. Between 1826 and 1840 (interrupted by a mental breakdown in 1826–1827) Comte presented a celebrated lecture series, sixty in all, with a number of eminent scientists in attendance. Published in six volumes—the last three devoted to sociology—the Cours de philosophie positive established Comte as a major intellectual figure, winning the support of John Stuart Mill in England and Émile Littré in France. However, his subsequent Systême de politique positive (1851–1854)—with its religious frame, neo-medieval social program and prayerful dedication to Clotilde de Vaux (their tragically short-lived Platonic affair in 1844–1845 had catalyzed his religious turn)—divided his followers and dimmed his reputation. In his final years he continued his writings, including the never completed Synthèse subjective, lobbied rulers including the Czar and Ottoman Sultan for reform from above, and organized his church. Recurrently in ill-health, he died in Paris in 1857.

General Overviews

Included in this section are studies, commentaries, and critiques that focus on Comte’s oeuvre as a whole. The more recent items (post-1960s) are listed separately, and contain the most useful overview material for contemporary readers. Items in the pre-1960s list, while of more historical interest, contain classic statements and remain important reference points in current discussion about Comte and his place in Western thought. Scholarly interest in Comte, it may be noted, has fluctuated greatly in the more than 150 years since his death. After a period of great influence and controversy that lasted through the end of the 19th century, Comte became increasingly regarded as a marginal figure and, with some notable exceptions, his work received little further serious attention until the latter decades of the 20th century. Since then, a re-examination has gathered pace and studies, both general and thematic, have proliferated. Whatever the period or approach, a persistent issue in general treatments of Comte’s thought has been the relation between positive philosophy and positive religion, and more generally between the earlier and later (post-1844 writings. For this reason and also because of the vastness and complexity of Comte’s system(s), overviews of his thought tend not to be purely introductory. Many are also significant in their own right as interpretations, responses, or interventions.

1850–1960

The first comprehensive examinations of Comte’s thought were by Littré (Littré 1971) and Mill (Mill 1968). Both are favorable to positive philosophy, Littré especially so, but highly critical of positive religion and of Comte’s effort to construct a “subjective synthesis.” This dichotomous view is challenged by Lévy-Bruhl 1903, which is more attentive to Comte’s anthropology and politics, and highlights continuities between the philosophical and religious phases of Comte’s project. Scholarly interest in Comte waned for a generation thereafter, but began to revive in France with the biographical work of Gouhier (see Gouhier 1933–1941 and Gouhier 1997, cited under Biographies) and Ducassé 1939, a re-examination of Comte’s project. With the rise of 20th century totalitarianisms, however, Comte’s positivism and its influence came under trenchant attack from both the neo-liberal right (Hayek 1980) and the neo-Marxist left (Marcuse 1941), with Comte condemned as historically determinist and a forerunner of social engineering and technocracy.

  • Ducassé, Pierre. 1939. Méthode et intuition chez Auguste Comte. Paris: Alcan.

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    A sympathetic study aiming to rescue Comte’s philosophy from caricature. Examines his thought as the unfolding of an intuition regarding the possibility, and necessity, of a logico-affective revolution. Forerunner, with Gouhier, of post-1960s revived interest in Comte in France.

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    • Hayek, Friedrich von. 1980. The counter-revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.

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      Originally published in 1952. Polemical critique by the neo-liberal Austrian economist of currents of thought that linked science to social engineering and authoritarian state management, with Comte a central villain.

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      • Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien. 1903. The Philosophy of Auguste Comte. Translated and with an introduction by Frederic Harrison. London: Swan Sonnenschein.

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        Translation of La philosophie d’Auguste Comte, 1900. Paris: Alcan. A detailed exposition of Comte’s positivist philosophy, and the best such account for at least a generation. Focuses mainly on the Cours de philosophie positive but against Littré argues that there are both political and theoretical continuities between this and the Systême de politique positive.

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        • Littré, Emile. 1971. Auguste Comte et la philosophie positive. Reprint. Farnborough, UK: Gregg International.

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          Originally published in 1863 (Paris: Hachette). Littré was the most important of Comte’s early Parisian followers. He broke with Comte in 1852, and with Pierre Lafitte’s leadership of the Positivist Society after Comte’s death, over positive religion and the “subjective synthesis” but remained faithful to the principles of positive philosophy outlined in the Cours. A classic statement of the view that there is an inconsistency between the two phases of Comte’s project and writing.

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          • Marcuse, Herbert. 1941. Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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            See especially, Part II, “The Rise of Social Theory,” chapter 2 “The Foundations of Positivism and the Rise of Sociology.” In this classic Frankfurt School work on the Hegelian roots of Marxism, Marcuse pairs Comte with Schelling as originators of philosophical positivism, critiqued as a reactionary and non-dialectical affirmation of existing structures of domination.

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            • Mill, John Stuart. Auguste Comte and Positivism. Ann Arbor: Michigan Univ. Press, 1968.

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              Originally published in 1865, the first systematic study in English and a great influence on Comte’s anglophone reception. A remarkably balanced discussion considering Mill’s dislike of Comte’s illiberal social program and their soured friendship. Part One examines the Cours de philosophie positive, Part Two, much more dismissively, “Comte’s Later Speculations.”

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              1960–Present

              Informed by post-1960s developments in the human sciences and spearheaded in France by Angèle Kremer-Marietti, Juliette Grange, Annie Petit, and others, interest in Comte has grown in recent decades, and there has been a new flowering of Comte studies. Bourdeau 2015 provides an excellent introductory overview, and anthologies edited by Petit (Petit 2003) and Bourdeau, Braunsten, and Petit (Bourdeau, et al. 2003) showcase a diversity of the new lines of approach. Kremer-Marietti 2007 and Grange 1996 highlight previously neglected areas of Comte’s thought, like his semiology and his anthropology of science, and new interpretations relating his earlier to his later work are advanced. Standley 1981 is somewhat outside the themes of the French revival but has a good discussion of Comte’s little-studied aesthetics. Muglioni 1995 and Sernin 1993 make strong arguments for Comte’s continuing political and philosophical relevance in the context of modernity’s unresolved problems and the weakening of Cold War ideologies.

              • Bourdeau, Michel. 2015. Auguste Comte. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta.

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                Best online survey of Comte’s life and works and excellent introduction to resources for his contemporary study.

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                • Bourdeau, Michel, Jean-François Braunstein, and Annie Petit, eds. 2003. Auguste Comte aujourd’hui. Paris: Kimé.

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                  Based on papers by front rank Comte scholars at a colloquium at Cérisy in 2001. Contributors include Bourdeau, Kremer-Marietti, Braunstein, Fedi, Pickering, Gane, with diverse estimations of Comte’s contemporary significance. Sections on Comte’s philosophy of the sciences, including biology and mathematics, sociology, political philosophy, and aesthetics.

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                  • Grange, Juliette. 1996. La philosophie d’Auguste Comte: Sscience, politique, religion. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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                    A re-reading of Comte’s oeuvre that connects the early with the later work and places at its center an anthropology of science, a reflexive sociology and a secular religion of humanity. Argues these aspects have been misunderstood and in key respects not surpassed. A key text for advanced students and specialists.

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                    • Kremer-Marietti, Angèle. 2007. Le kaléidoscope épistémologique d’Auguste Comte: Sentiment, images, signes. Paris: L’Harmattan.

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                      A thematically organized collection of mini-essays by the leading French Comte scholar of her generation. Sections on Comte’s life and work, political and religious projects, epistemology, objective and subjective methods, concept of normality/pathology, and relation to other thinkers, including Bacon, Descartes, Kant, Peguy, Bachelard, and Bernard. Comprehensive treatment at high conceptual level.

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                      • Muglioni, Jacques. 1995. Auguste Comte: Un philosophe pour notre temps. Paris: Kimé.

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                        Survey of Comte’s work and project that presents a strong argument for Comte’s contemporary relevance. Examines Comte’s thought as the analysis of, response to, and expression of a still unresolved crisis of modernity.

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                        • Petit, Annie, ed. 2003. Auguste Comte: Trajectoires positivistes, 1798–1998. Paris: L’Harmattan.

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                          Essays by leading, mainly French, Comte scholars originally presented at two colloquia (in Paris and Montpellier) marking the bicentenary of Comte’s birth. Sections on life and times, diffusion of his thought, and science, and politics. Excellent introduction to Comte’s thought in historical and intellectual context.

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                          • Sernin, André. 1993. Auguste Comte, prophète du XIXe siècle: Sa vie, son oeuvre et son actualité. Paris: Albatros.

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                            Clear and detailed account of Comte’s life and works. Makes the case for Comte’s being the greatest French philosopher since Descartes, and for his renewed relevance in the context of the late-20th-century exhaustion of Cold War ideologies.

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                            • Standley, Arline Reilein. 1981. Auguste Comte. Boston: Twaynes.

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                              Interesting general study that focuses on the paradoxical relation between Comte’s romantic embrace of sentiment and medievalism and his rationalist embrace of modern science. Sections on early life, positive philosophy, positive politics, and Comte’s aesthetics.

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                              Primary Sources

                              Comte’s writings fall into two main periods (1816–1844 and 1845–1857). Separated by his transformative relationship with Clotilde, these correspond to what he called his first and second careers. In the first, his major work was the sixty-lecture (and originally six-volume) Cours de philosophie positive (1830–1842); in the second, the four-volume Systême de politique positive, ou traité de sociologie instituant la religion de l’Humanité (1850–1854). As a further development of his system he had planned a four-volume Synthêse subjective, ou systême universel des conceptions propres à l’état normal de l’Humanité but only lived to complete the first volume, Systême de logique positive ou Traité de philosophie mathématique (1856). The relation between the Cours and the Systême has always been a matter of great contention. Despite the new elements—the primacy of the sentiments, the synthesis of head and heart, and the religion of Humanity—Comte saw them as logically interconnected. Both the Cours and the Systême are forbiddingly long. However, Comte’s introductory material provides a good summary of their argument, and in the 19th-century editions and translations the index and detailed Table of Contents are helpful for navigation. Some of his shorter writings also provide a good overview of his thought. Notable among these, as the first overall formulation of his project, is the 1822 Plan des travaux scientifique pour réorganizer la société, which Comte called his opuscule fondamentale and included, together with other early essays, as an appendix to the fourth volume of the Systême de politique positive. In a more popular vein, Discours sur l’esprit positif (1844) (which prefaced his Traité phiosophique sur l’astronomie populaire), Discours sur l’ensemble du positivisme (1848), Catéchisme positive (1852), and Appel aux conservateurs (1855) summarize key aspects of Comte’s later thought and position. In addition to his published writings, Comte left a voluminous correspondence, among which his correspondence with J. S. Mill is particularly significant as an intellectual document.

                              Collections and Anthologies

                              Most of Comte’s works in French and in English translation can be accessed online via the La Maison d’Auguste Comte website and the related E-textes positivistes/Positivist E-texts. In print there is no complete edition of Comte’s published writings. However, the twelve-volume Comte 1968–1971 collection (edited by Sylvain Perignon) contains early edition photographic reprints of all his major works. There is no equivalent collection in English translation. Among English-language anthologies, Comte 1969 (edited by George Simpson) and Comte 1975 (edited by Kenneth Thompson) contain key passages relevant to sociology, but the more comprehensive Comte 1998 (edited by Gertrud Lenzer) has superseded these as a general reader.

                              • Comte, Auguste. 1968–1971. Oeuvres d’Auguste Comte. 12 vols. Edited by Sylvain Perignon. Paris: Éditions Anthropos.

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                                Contains early edition reprints of all Comte’s major works, together with their preambles, notes, and appendixes. Volumes 1–6 contain the Cours de philosophie positive; Volumes 7–10 Systême de politique positive, including, in Volume 10, an Appendix with the six early essays; Volume 11 contains Catéchisme positiviste, Appel aux conservateurs, Discours sur l’esprit positiviste, and other shorter works; and Volume 12 contains Volume 1 of Synthèse subjective. A highly useful resource where available.

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                                • Comte, Auguste. 1969. Auguste Comte: Sire of Sociology. Selections from his writings with an introduction and commentaries by George Simpson. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.

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                                  Selections of annotated short extracts on the philosophy, statics, dynamics, and methods of Comte’s sociology. Provides a clear introduction, though somewhat glosses over the differences between the sociology of the Cours and Systême.

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                                  • Comte, Auguste. 1975. Auguste Comte: Foundation of sociology. Edited by Kenneth Thompson. New York: Wiley.

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                                    Thematically organized, with passages from the Cours de philosophie positive, Systême de politique positive and from the Mill-Comte correspondence on the equality of women. The introductory essay makes a strong case that Comte established the founding themes and problems of the discipline.

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                                    • Comte, Auguste. 1998. Auguste Comte and Positivism: The essential writings. Edited by Gertrud Lenzer. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

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                                      With a new introduction and postscript by the editor. Original publication 1975. Comprehensive coverage of Comte’s core writings with lengthy extracts. Lenzer’s new introduction provides a good account of the renewed interest in Comte. Best such anthology in English.

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                                      • E-textes positivistes/Positivist E-texts.

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                                        Omnibus site in ten languages with both primary and secondary sources. Useful but cumbersome navigation.

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                                        • La Maison d’Auguste Comte.

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                                          A useful portal for materials about Comte that includes easy access to all his major works. The Maison itself, at 10 rue Monsieur-le-Prince, was Comte’s Paris residence and headquarters. Turned into a Positivist shrine after his death, it is now a museum and resource center.

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                                          Major Works in English Translation

                                          While most of Comte’s principal writings have new or recent French editions with up-to-date commentary, English readers mostly still have to rely on 19th-century translations. Most are available in reprint, as is Harriet Martineau’s Comte-approved “condensed and freely translated” edition of the Cours de philosophie positive. However, the complete Cours, with its sixty leçons, has not yet been fully translated, nor some minor works including the 1843 treatise on geometry (Traité élémentaire de géometrie analytique) and the 1844 treatise on astronomy (Traité philosophique d’astronomie populaire). The Bobbs-Merrill edition of the first two chapters of the Cours is a good student introduction to the basic ideas of that work, though the translation is not considered reliable. The only major part of Comte’s oeuvre to have been re-translated in recent times is the collection of early essays that Comte appended to volume 4 of the Systême de politique positive, which includes the 1824 Plan of the Scientific Work Necessary for the Reorganization of Society. Here the 1998 edition, edited and translated by H. S. Jones, supersedes all previous ones in English. Following Comte’s division between his “first” and “second” careers, works originally published before 1845 are listed in one subsection, later works in another.

                                          Earlier Works: 1816–1844

                                          The major work of Comte’s ‘first career’ was the Cours, but the earlier essays are also important, especially the Plan of the Scientific Work Necessary for the Reorganization of Society, which the later Comte regarded as an essential preamble to his mature thought. While the pre-Cours writings have been translated there has never been a complete English translation of the Cours itself.

                                          • Comte, Auguste. 1903. A Discourse on the Positivist Spirit. Translated and edited by Edward Spencer Beesly. London: Reeves.

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                                            Translation of Discours sur l’espirt positif (1843). Reprint Nabu Press, 2012.

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                                            • Comte, Auguste. 1970a. Écrits de jeunesse, 1816–1826, suivis du Mémoire sur la cosmogonie de Laplace, 1835. Textes établis et présentés par Paulo E. de Berrêdo Carneiro et Pierre Arnaud. Paris: Mouton.

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                                              Contains some of Comte’s earliest writing.

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                                              • Comte, Auguste. 1970b. Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société. Notes and introduction by Angèle Kremer-Marietti. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne.

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                                                New edition with important introductory essay by Kremer-Marietti on the text, its context, and Comte’s first effort to establish a political science.

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                                                • Comte, Auguste. 1975. Cours de Philosophie positive. 2 vols. Edited by Michel Serres. Paris: Hermann.

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                                                  Currently, with its organization by numbered lectures, the best complete edition of the work that Comte originally published in six volumes 1828–1840. Leçons 1–45 contain the introduction plus the philosophies of mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology. Leçons 46–60 are on sociology. Vol. 1. Leçons 1–45; Vol. 2. Leçons 46–60.

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                                                  • Comte, Auguste. 1988. Introduction to Positive Philosophy. Translated by Frederick Ferre. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

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                                                    First published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1970. Contains the first two chapters of the first volume of the Cours de philosophie positive. Despite the dubiously simplifying translation, a useful student introduction to the law of three states, encyclopedic scale of the six fundamental sciences, and relation of these to resolution of the contemporary social crisis.

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                                                    • Comte, Auguste. 1995. Discours sur l’esprit positif. Edited by Annie Petit. Paris: Vrin.

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                                                      Published as the preface to Traité philosophique d’astronomie populaire, then separately as a manifesto for positivism as a general philosophy.

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                                                      • Comte, Auguste. 1998. Comte: Early political writings. Edited and translated by H. S. Jones. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                        New translation and edition of Comte’s six early essays from the 1820s that were appended to the fourth volume of the Systême. In addition to “Plan of the Scientific Work Necessary for the Reorganization of Society,” Comte’s “opuscule fondamentale” that formed the ground-plan for the Cours de philosophie positive, these include “On Opinions and Desires,” “Review of Past History,” “On the Spiritual Power,” “Science and Savants,” and “From Irritation to Madness.” The Jones edition has excellent notes and introduction on their content, context, and publishing history.

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                                                        • Comte, Auguste. 2003. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. Reprint. Freely condensed and translated by Harriet Martineau. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger.

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                                                          Did much to popularize Comte’s Cours at the time, and authorized by Comte, but dubious translation and simplifies the original. The complete Cours de philosophie positive has not yet been translated into English.

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                                                          Later Works: 1845–1857

                                                          The most important work of Comte’s later period is the Systême de politique positive (System of positive polity) (Comte 1875–1877). This and all his other later writings were translated in the late 19th century by Comte’s English followers. There are as yet no new translations.

                                                          • Comte, Auguste.1855. Appeal to the conservatives. Translated by T. C. Donkin and Richard Congreve. London: Trübner.

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                                                            Translation of Appel aux conservateurs d’ordre et progrès (1855). Reprint Kessinger Publishing 2010. Written after establishment of Second Empire, to which Comte gave critical support. Appeals to “conservatives” as those wanting to reconcile progress with order, rejecting both the radicalism of the egalitarian left and the reactionary nostalgia of the retrograde party.

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                                                            • Comte, Auguste. 1875–1877. System of positive polity. 4 vols. Edited by Edward Spencer Beesly, translated by John Henry Bridges, Frederic Harrison, Richard Congreve, and Henry Dix Hutton. London: Longmans, Green.

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                                                              Translation of Systême de politique positive, ou traité sur sociologie, instituant la religion de l’Humanité (1851–1854). Comte’s second system. Volume 1 contains “Preliminary Discourse and Fundamental Introduction.” Volume 2 contains “Social Statics, or Abstract Treatise on Human Order” (includes general theory of religion). Volume 3 contains “Social Dynamics or General Treatise on Human Progress (Philosophy of History).” Volume 4 is “The Human Future,” plus an appendix containing all Comte’s early essays.

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                                                              • Comte, Auguste. 1880 A general view of positivism. Translated by J. H Bridges. London: W. Reeves.

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                                                                Translation of Discours sur l’ensemble du positivisme (1848).

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                                                                • Comte, Auguste. 1891a. The catechism of positive religion; or, Summary exposition of the universal religion in thirteen systematic conversations between a woman and a priest of humanity. Translated by Richard Congreve. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner.

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                                                                  Translation of Catéchisme positiviste. Ou sommaire exposition de la religion universelle en onze entretiens systématiques entre une femme et un prêtre de l’humanité. 1852. Paris, self-published by Comte. Modeled on a Catholic catechism, and oriented especially to women, presents the essential ingredients of Comte’s positive religion, from its doctrine of Humanity as the Great Being and its forms of worship, public and private, to its moral regimen and sacerdotal organization as a church. Reprint 2009. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Library Collection, Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                  • Comte, Auguste. 1891b. Subjective synthesis, or universal system of concepts adapted to the normal state of Humanity. Vol. 1, System of positive logic. Translated by Richard Congreve. 1891. New York: Kegan Paul Trench and Trübner.

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                                                                    Translation of La synthèse subjective d’Auguste Comte: Ou systême universel des conceptions propres à l’état normal de l’humanité. Tome 1, Systême de logique positive. First volume of never completed larger work (the other volumes were to include two on la morale and a fourth on positive industry, or “L’action totale de l’huanité sur son planète”). This volume, on the subjective philosophy of mathematics, or positive logic, with its introduction to the entire concept of “subjective synthesis,” is the least studied of Comte’s writings.

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                                                                    • Comte, Auguste. 1999. Discours sur l’ensemble du positivisme. Edited by Annie Petit. Paris: Flammarion.

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                                                                      First published in 1848 as intervention into the turbulent politics that brought down Louis-Phillipe and ended in the Second Empire of Louis Bonaparte, then re-published in 1851 as a preamble to Systême de politique positive. Widened the meaning of positivism beyond philosophy and science and called for the establishment of an organized religion of Humanity.

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                                                                      Correspondence

                                                                      Comte’s vast correspondence—the modern French edition (Comte 1973–1990) runs to 8 volumes—is a primary resource for biographers and intellectual historians. Significant parts have also been published separately. Of particular importance for intellectual history is Comte’s correspondence with John Stuart Mill, translated into English by Oscar Haac in an excellent new edition (Mill and Comte 1995). Comte’s letters to Valat (Comte and Valat 1870), his mathematician friend from student days, are valuable for Comte’s early life and for his relation with Saint Simon and his followers. Also of great biographical interest are Comte’s correspondence with Caroline Massin, Comte’s wife, published in a new French edition with essays by Pickering and Kremer-Marietti (Comte 2006), and his correspondence with Clotilde de Vaux (Comte and Vaux 2009).

                                                                      • Comte, Auguste. 1973–1990. Auguste Comte: Correspondance générale et confessions. 8 vols. Edited by Paulo de Berrêdo Carneiro, Pierre Arnaud, Paul Arbousse Bastide, and Angèle Kremer Marietti. Paris: Mouton.

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                                                                        The complete Comte correspondence, with volumes ordered chronologically.

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                                                                        • Comte, Auguste, and Caroline Massin. 2006. Auguste Comte/Caroline Massin correspondance inédite (1831–1851): L’histoire de Caroline Massin, épouse d’Auguste Comte à travers leur correspondance. Edited by Pascaline Gentil. Paris: L’Harmattan.

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                                                                          Notes by Bruno Gentil, introduction by Mary Pickering. Important source on Comte’s relationship with his wife, Caroline Massin. Excellent introduction by Pickering examines the history of the relationship, as well as the distorted accounts of Massin and her role in Comte’s life by the later Comte and his followers.

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                                                                          • Comte, Auguste, and M. Valat. 1870. Lettres d’Auguste Comte a M. Valat, professeur de mathématiques 1815–1844. Paris: Dunod.

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                                                                            Comte’s thirty-year correspondence with Valat, a mathematician and close friend since his student days at the École Polytechnique, is an important source for Comte’s early life and thought, especially regarding his relationship with Saint-Simon and the Saint-Simonians.

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                                                                            • Comte, Auguste, and Clotilde de Vaux. 2009. Confessions and testament of Auguste Comte and his correspondence with Clotilde de Vaux. Edited by Albert Crompton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Library.

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                                                                              Translation of Testament d’Auguste Comte, avec les documents qui s’y rapportent: Pieces justificatives, prières quotidiennes, confessions annuelles, correspondance avec Mme de Vaux, publié par ses exécuteurs testamentaires, conformément à ses dernières volontés [sous la direction de Pierre Laffitte]. Paris: Fonds typographique de l’Exécution testamentaire d’Auguste Comte 1884, 570 S. Primary source material both for Comte’s correspondence with Clotilde and for the cult he created in her memory.

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                                                                              • Mill, John Stuart, and Auguste Comte. 1995. The correspondence of John Stuart Mill and Auguste Comte. Translated from the French by Oscar A. Haac, with a Foreword by Oscar A. Haac, and Introduction by Angele Kremer-Marietti. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

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                                                                                First English translation of the eighty-nine letters exchanged between Comte and Mill (who wrote in French), 1841–1847. Very good contextualizing introduction by Kremer-Marietti. Primary source material both for the relationship between the two philosophers, and for what it reveals about Comte’s position and personality during the period between the Cours de philosophie positive and the Systême de politique positive.

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                                                                                Biographies

                                                                                Comte’s his life and works were so intertwined that it would be hard to consider the one without the other. Readings in this section are distinguished from general overviews and treatments in their predominantly biographical aim or approach. Pickering’s magisterial three-volume intellectual biography (Pickering 1993–2009) is today the standard reference work. With its exhaustively researched account of all the twists and turns in Comte’s public and private life, it is likely to remain so for some time. Still valuable, though, is the work of Gouhier, the first serious biographer of Comte, and an important influence on modern French Comte scholarship. Although superseded by Pickering’s more complex account of Comte’s intellectual development, Gouhier’s study of Comte’s early life (Gouhier 1933–1941) remains a key source and Gouhier 1997 paints a vivid psychological picture of his life as a whole. Comte’s manic episodes, interpersonal difficulties, obsessions, and personality change after the death of Clotilde have provided rich material for several biographers. Sokoloff 1975 offers a sympathetic, quasi-Freudian, re-evaluation of what are easily dismissed in Comte’s project and writings as signs of madness. Kofman 1978 traces through Comte’s life and works what the author takes to be an acute case of gender identity conflict. Capurro, in a Lacanian study, examines the prominent theme of death in Comte’s project and writing. Less psychoanalytic, but seizing on another thread in the Comte psychodrama, Gentil 2012 examines Comte’s stormy and ambivalent relations with the École Polytechnique, from his student days to his bitter and failed campaign to secure a professorship. Comte’s relationships with Caroline Massin and Clotilde de Vaux form a sub-genre in themselves, with Pickering 1996 and Gane 1993 (See Sex and Gender (The Woman Question)) providing a fairer account, especially of Massin, than the pro-Clotilde hagiography in Style 1928.

                                                                                • Capurro, Raquel. 2001. Positivisme est un culte des morts: Auguste Comte. Translated by Capurro and Christine LeGaufey. Paris: Épel.

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                                                                                  First published 1999 as Auguste Comte—Actualidad de una herencia. A Lacanian study of Comte’s life and works that examines his episode of madness, his relationships with Caroline Massin and Clotilde de Vaux, and his preoccupation with memory, death, and mourning.

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                                                                                  • Gentil, Bruno. 2012. Auguste Comte, l’enfant terrible de l’École Polytechnique. Pomport, France: Editions Cyrano.

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                                                                                    Focuses on Comte’s ambivalent and stormy relations with the Ecole Polytechnique, from his student days to his employment as a répétiteur (tutor) and examineur (examiner) in mathematics, to the controversies surrounding his failing attempts to get a professorial chair and his eventual dismissal in 1844.

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                                                                                    • Gouhier, Henri. 1933–1941. La jeunesse d’Auguste Comte et la formation du positivisme. 3 vols. Paris: J. Vrin.

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                                                                                      A monument of scholarship that was the first serious 20th-century study of Comte. Played a major role in the revived attention to Comte in France and is still a key reference point for Comte specialists.

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                                                                                      • Gouhier, Henri. 1997. Vie d’Auguste Comte. Paris: J. Vrin.

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                                                                                        Originally published 1931. New edition introduced by Annie Petit. Taking off from the young Comte’s claim that his life was like a novel, and the older Comte’s world-historical self-identity, unravels the complex relation between his life and thought. Superseded by more recent scholarship, but an excellent and concise portrait that brings Comte to life.

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                                                                                        • Kofman, Sarah. 1978. Aberrations: Le devenir-femme d’Auguste Comte. Paris: Aubier Flammarion.

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                                                                                          A feminist and psychoanalytic account of Comte’s system and life-project, focused on what is taken to be his ambivalent gender identity, with Comte seen as desiring to be both mother and father of positivism.

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                                                                                          • Pickering, Mary. 1993–2009. Auguste Comte: An intellectual biography. 3 vols. New York and Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511527975Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            The standard reference. Pickering has gone more deeply into the archive than any other, and her intellectual biography is likely to be authoritative for a long time. Volume 1 deals with Comte’s early life and thought, including his relations with Saint-Simon and the Saint-Simonians; Volume 2 deals with the period surrounding the Cours de philosophie positive; Volume 3 covers the period from Comte’s romance with Clotilde de Vaux and the 1848 upheavals to Comte’s death in 1857.

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                                                                                            • Sokoloff, Boris. 1975. The “mad” philosopher, Auguste Comte. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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                                                                                              First published 1961. A sympathetic quasi-Freudian portrait of Comte’s life and work, which focuses on his manic episodes, his relationships with Caroline Massin and Clothilde de Vaux, and the personality change underlying his “second career.” Somewhat dated, but a stimulating introduction to the dramas and puzzles of Comte’s life.

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                                                                                              • Style, Jane. 1928. Auguste Comte: Thinker and lover. London: Kegan Paul, Trench.

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                                                                                                Popular biography written by a devotee of the Religion of Humanity through the prism of Comte’s relation with Clotilde and the commemorative cult he made of her. Unfair to Caroline Massin, but tells the story and useful as example of Comte and Clotilde hagiography.

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                                                                                                Comte and His Generation

                                                                                                Bridging between biography and intellectual history, the items in this section provide additional context by placing Comte in relation to other intellectual figures of his age. Manuel 1962, a classic study, includes Comte among a wider group of Parisian visionaries who in various ways sought to devise the utopian society promised by the French Revolution. Spitzer 1987 examines the whole French intellectual cohort—scientific, philosophical, literary—that came of age between the Bourbon restoration and the 1830 revolution. Aron 1998 examines Comte in relation to Tocqville and Marx, seeing these mid-19th-century figures as founders of the three main traditions of modern social and political thought.

                                                                                                • Aron, Raymond. 1998. Main currents in sociological thought. Vol. 1, Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, deTocqeville, and the Sociologists & the Revolution of 1848. Translated by Richard Howard and Helen Weaver. New introduction by Daniel J. Mahoney and Brian C. Anderson and preface by Pierre Manent. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

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                                                                                                  Original publication 1965. With Montesquieu as forerunner of the liberal sociology Aron champions and 1848 as a historical baseline, examines Comte alongside de Tocqeville and Marx as founder of one of the main traditions of modern social theory, and as a forerunner of the Durkheim School. Critical of Comte’s sociologism.

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                                                                                                  • Manuel, Frank. 1962. The prophets of Paris: Turgot, Condorcet, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Comte. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                    Highly readable and still classic portrait of leading Paris-based visionaries in the revolutionary period and its aftermath whose rival programs and predictions provide an illuminating backdrop to the formation of Comte’s own project.

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                                                                                                    • Spitzer, A. 1987. The French generation of 1820. Princeton, NJ, Princeton Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                      Detailed network analysis of the post-1789 generation of French intellectuals and writers. Ranges widely from Comte and the Saint-Simonians to Cousin, Hugo, and Balzac. Covers careers, schooling, journals, professional networks, and interpersonal relations and conflicts.

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                                                                                                      Particular Aspects of Comte’s Thought and Writings

                                                                                                      Somewhat like Hegelian philosophy, the various parts and levels of Comte’s system interconnect with every other. Thus the assignment of thematically oriented works on Comte to one or another of the headings listed here—positive philosophy, sociology, positive politics, positive religion, biology, sex/gender—is somewhat artificial and meant only as a general guide.

                                                                                                      Positive Philosophy and Philosophy of the Sciences

                                                                                                      The readings in this section focus on Comte’s epistemology and philosophy of science. These primarily address the Cours de philosophie positive with its law of three states (theological, metaphysical, and positive), classification of knowledge (in descending order of generality and ascending order of complexity), and history and theory of the six positive sciences. Some recent commentators, however, also examine the philosophical content of the Systême de politique positive, with its “subjective synthesis” and reconfigured philosophy of the sciences (with la morale added as a seventh). Lewes 1853, one of the earliest and most straightforward commentaries on the Cours, illustrates its contemporary appeal for the scientifically engaged. Evidently, though, an account of the theory and history of the sciences that stops in the middle of the 19th century has no such appeal today. Recent interest in the Cours has concerned, rather, its conceptual principles and architecture. Accompanying this has been a concern to distinguish Comte’s positive philosophy from 20th-century caricatures of it as deterministic, hyperempiricist, technocratic, etc. Thus Macherey 1989, deploying a sophisticated form of historical materialism, stresses the profundity of Comte’s attempted epistemological revolution, despite the dated and frozen-in error system of scientific knowledge on which it is made to depend. Scharff 1995, taking aim at confusions between Comte’s positivism and the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle, relates Comte’s socio-historically relative conception of knowledge to late-20th-century post-positivism. Bourdeau 2006 focuses on Comte’s law of three states, aiming to disentangle the epistemological, religious, and socio-historical meaning of the law’s three terms (theological, metaphysical, positive), as against their conflation by those who charge Comte with a reductive historicism. Other studies have taken a fresh look at Comte’s encyclopedic ambitions. Thus Wernick 2006 examines Comte’s map of positive knowledge in relation to that of Francis Bacon and of Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopedia of 1751, while Cherni 2005 relates Comte’s account of the rise of the positive sciences to his syncretizing cosmopolitanism, particularly regarding the relation between the history of European science and that of the Arab world.

                                                                                                      • Bourdeau, Michel. 2006. Les trois états: Science, théologie et métaphysique chez Comte. Paris: Éditions du Cerf.

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                                                                                                        Against narrow and historicist readings of Comte as a philosopher of science, examines Comte’s law of the three states in its double meaning as a theory of knowledge and of social development in order to elucidate, and disentangle, the simultaneously religious, social scientific, and political meanings of Comte’s construct.

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                                                                                                        • Cherni, Zeineb Ben Said. 2005. Auguste Comte, Posterité epistemologique et ralliement des nations. Paris: L’Harmattan.

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                                                                                                          Highlights the tension in Comte’s philosophy between its epistemological and social objectives, with the latter assuming moral primacy. Relates his dream of a global/universal polity to the rapprochement it presupposes between the Islamic and Christian worlds and their intertwined scientific traditions. A rare post-colonialist study of Comte’s project of world unity.

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                                                                                                          • Lewes, George. 1853. Auguste Comte’s philosophy of the sciences, being an exposition of the principles of the Cours de philosophie positive of Auguste Comte. London: Henry G Bohn.

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                                                                                                            Influential exposition of, and critical commentary on, Comte’s philosophy of the sciences by a prominent scientific and literary figure, and companion of George Eliot. Part one on “the six preliminary sciences” includes, against Comte, a section on psychology; part two is on sociology.

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                                                                                                            • Macherey, Pierre. 1989. Comte, la philosophie et les sciences. Paris: Presses universitaires Francais.

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                                                                                                              Difficult to access but important essay by leading Marxist philosopher and former member of Althusser circle. Against French philosophical detractors argues the profundity and radicalism of Comte’s approach to the theory and history of the sciences.

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                                                                                                              • Scharff, Robert. 1995. Comte after positivism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511609046Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                An important re-examination of Comte’s positivism. Critiques Mill’s misunderstanding of Comte’s rejection of “interior observation,” and the “mature” positivism this led to. Argues that the decline of positivism in analytic and hyper-empiricist forms and the rise of post-positivism (in the work of Rorty, Putnam, and Charles Taylor) has made Comte’s critico-historical version of positivism relevant to current debate.

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                                                                                                                • Wernick, Andrew. 2006. Comte and the Encyclopedia. Theory Culture and Society 23 (July):27–48.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/0263276406065112Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  Places Comte’s schema for mapping knowledge and the mental faculties in the context of Bacon’s groundbreaking Great Instauration and of the projects influenced by it, particularly the 1751 Encyclopedia edited by D’Alembert and Diderot, and examines the changes that Comte brought to these previous efforts.

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                                                                                                                  Sociology and Social Theory

                                                                                                                  Comte expounded his sociology—with its suppositions, laws of order and progress, analysis of the current grande crise, and picture of the coming positive polity—in Volumes 4–6 (leçons 46–60) of the Cours de philosophie positive. In revised form, and with religion at the center of the analysis, he did so again in the Systême de politique positive. The relation of Comte’s sociology to the subsequent tradition bearing that name is not straightforward. Durkheim 1958, as well as rejecting Comte’s wider system and aims, dismisses his “law of three states,” opposition to statistics, and loose approach to induction as pre-scientific and tendentious. Mainstream sociology has largely followed that view, rejecting as well Comte’s holistic understanding of social totalities, although some, like Thompson 1975, regard Comte as an important precursor who forged many of the discipline’s enduring themes. The re-examination of Comte since the late 20th century, however, has led to a more complicated assessment. Gane 2006 provides a full and thorough re-reading of Comte’s sociology, including its historical, religious, and sex/gender components. Kremer-Marietti 1982, in line with the author’s many writings on Comte, recasts the question of Comte’s sociology in terms of anthropology (which for the later Comte included biology and la morale as well as sociology), and highlights the under-examined place in it of language and signs. The historical significance of Comte’s social theorizing has been examined from several angles. For Heilbron 1995 the most significant feature of Comte’s sociology was its differential epistemology and carving out of the social as a quasi-autonomous domain of study. For Karsenti 2006, it was the idea of politics as a sociologically reflexive social practice. In a more polemical vein, Milbank 1990 sees Comte, with his hypostatized Society/Humanity and organicist pseudo-science, as carrying over into secular social theory the bad theology of the Catholic counter-revolutionaries.

                                                                                                                  • Durkheim, Emile. 1958. Socialism and Saint-Simon. New York: Antioch.

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                                                                                                                    Durkheim’s lectures on Saint-Simon and his successors present his own launching of sociology as critically in line with their project for a science of man, while dismissing Comte as a marginal figure and his sociology as a false start. Useful in tracing the history of French social theory and its striking disavowal of Comte and his influence on it.

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                                                                                                                    • Gane, Mike. 2006. Auguste Comte. London and New York: Routledge.

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                                                                                                                      Best account in English of Comte’s sociology and its complexities. Interrogates “the law of three states,” the place of metaphysics as a mediating term, and Comte’s various accounts of the stages of social development. Accessibly written, opens up many issues, and is a good introduction for students and scholars alike.

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                                                                                                                      • Heilbron, Johan. 1995. The rise of social theory. Translated by Sheila Gogol. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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                                                                                                                        Examines the pre-history of classical sociology. Against historicist readings of Comte focused on the law of three states, argues that Comte’s importance was in his classification of the sciences, and conceptualization of the social as a distinct domain of reality with its own laws and appropriate methods of study. An important study in European intellectual history.

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                                                                                                                        • Karsenti, Bruno. 2006. Politique de l’esprit: Auguste Comte et la naissance de la science sociale. Paris: Hermann.

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                                                                                                                          Presents Comte’s founding of sociology in terms of a historically situated political intervention into collective mentalities. The aim, a revolution in thought that had self-conscious parallels with Pauline theology, was to inaugurate a new form of politics in which society/humanity is both subject and object of knowledge and action, and acts upon itself.

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                                                                                                                          • Kremer-Marietti, Angèle. 1982. Entre le signe et l’histoire: L’anthropologie positiviste d’Auguste Comte. Paris: Klincksieck.

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                                                                                                                            Drawing on Nietzsche, Freud, and post-structuralist accounts of language, emphasizes the originality of Comte’s semiological and historical approach to social science. A pioneering interpretation that stresses the cumulative development of Comte’s project and his account of the three logics—of sentiments, images, and abstractions—that have succeeded one another in the history of human self-understanding, and that positivism aimed to synthesize.

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                                                                                                                            • Milbank, John. 1990. Theology and social theory: Beyond secular reason. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

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                                                                                                                              Landmark text by a leading member of the radical orthodoxy tendency (within contemporary Anglicanism) on the rise of classical European social theory. Highly critical of secular social theory as disguised bad theology, with de Bonald and de Maistre taken as the antecedents of the Durkheim school and Comte as a strategic intermediary.

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                                                                                                                              • Thompson, Kenneth, ed. 1975. Auguste Comte: The foundation of sociology. New York: Wiley.

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                                                                                                                                Long introductory essay arguing Comte’s formative significance for modern sociology is followed by thematically organized extracts from a wide range of his sociological writings.

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                                                                                                                                Positive Politics

                                                                                                                                Comte’s overriding aim, as he formulated it, was to resolve the “great crisis” of post Revolutionary French society, with its battles between the parties of progress and reaction, by establishing the intellectual and organizational framework needed to complete the transition from feudalism to industrialism. Positive politics, based on a predictive and diagnostic science of society, would guide the way. An early but illuminating formulation of Comte’s political project was his 1822 “The Plan of the Scientific Work Necessary for the Reorganization of Society.” Jones 1998, which contains this and Comte’s other early essays, has an excellent introduction that places Comte’s writings of the 1820s in relation both to his split from Saint-Simon and to the wider politics of the Bourbon Restoration. Also useful on the content and context of the Plan is Comte and Kremer-Marietti 1970. Arnaud 1965, in the essay that introduces the author’s selection of Comte’s political writings, provides a good overview of Comte’s political thought and its development from the 1820s to the 1850s. Comte’s vision of a positivist republic, as elaborated in the Systême de politique positive, is comprehensively analyzed in Frick 1990. Although Comte was a staunch anti-monarchist and passionate opponent of slavery, the conservative cast of his political program, with its critique of parliamentarism, freedom of thought, and equal rights; its restored division of temporal and spiritual powers; and its hierarchical division of labor between the classes and sexes has generally placed it outside the purview of liberal discourse. However, de Lacerda 2009 finds lines of convergence between Comte’s regime of universal duties and Rawls’s theory of justice as fairness. Useche Sandoval 2008–2009, in an essay on the little-studied European dimension of Comte’s project, examines his call for a federated Western Republic, spiritually united under its Parisian pontiff, against the background of the Treaty of Vienna, the Holy alliance, and the upheavals of 1848. While some studies of Comte’s politique positive focus on its programmatic aspects (politique as policy and polity) others focus on its meaning for politics as a practice. For Karsenti 2006 (cited under Sociology and Social Theory), what Comte articulated was a groundbreaking conception of politics as a socio-historically reflexive practice. Grange 2000, countering interpretations of Comte’s science of politics as merely instrumental and technocratic, turns the discussion around by examining his politics of science, arguing its renewed relevance in the context of ecological, ethical, and aesthetic debates about the human uses of technology.

                                                                                                                                • Arnaud, Pierre. 1965. Politique d’Auguste Comte, textes choisis et presentées par Pierre Arnaud. Paris: Armand Colin.

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                                                                                                                                  Thematically organized selection of extracts preceded by an introductory essay outlining the development of Comte’s political ideas and of positivism as a political project.

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                                                                                                                                  • Comte, Auguste, and Angèle Kremer-Marietti,. 1970. Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société. Notes and introduction by Angèle Kremer-Marietti. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne.

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                                                                                                                                    Introduction by Kremer-Marietti to this key early statement of Comte’s project examines his effort to develop a science of politics and his solution to the epistemological dilemma this entails.

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                                                                                                                                    • de Lacerda, Buscaia Gustavo. 2009. Fairness in the thought of John Rawls and Auguste Comte. Brazilian Political Science Review 3.1: 58–59.

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                                                                                                                                      A counter-intuitive comparison of Rawls’s and Comte’s ideas of social justice that shows affinities between them with regard to the rejection of an individualistic rights-based discourse in favor of one stressing duties, cooperation, and fairness.

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                                                                                                                                      • Frick, Jean-Paul. 1990. Auguste Comte, ou, La République positive. Nancy, France: Presses Universitaires de Nancy.

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                                                                                                                                        Places Comte among moderate republicans who accepted the first revolution of 1789 but not the second of 1792–1794, and who sought to reconstruct French society on a stable basis. Examines the historical context of Comte’s evolving political project, its presuppositions and orientations, its proposed institutional reform, and its conception of politics and history.

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                                                                                                                                        • Grange, Juliette. 2000. Auguste Comte: La Politique et la Science. Paris: O Jacob.

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                                                                                                                                          Examines Comte’s science of politics and politics of science, and their inter-relation. Against narrow readings of Comte as a science worshipping technocrat, argues for the renewed relevance of Comte’s analysis and attempted intervention in the age of Big Science, globalization, and narrow forms of social science that have lost their way.

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                                                                                                                                          • Jones, Stuart, ed. and trans. 1998. Comte: Early political writings. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                            Excellent introduction examines political context and content of Comte’s early writings.

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                                                                                                                                            • Useche Sandoval, Tonatiuh. 2008–2009. L’idée d’Europe dans la politique positive d’Auguste Comte. Philonsorbonne: Revue de l’École doctorale de philosophie de Paris 13:51–74.

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                                                                                                                                              Examines Comte’s project for a Western Republic federally uniting France, Britain, Germany, Italy, and Spain and, through the spread of Positivism and the Church of Humanity, for establishing this as the moral center of a peacefully united world society. One of the few studies made of the international dimension of Comte’s political thought.

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                                                                                                                                              Positive Religion

                                                                                                                                              Included in this section are readings both on Comte’s theory and history of religion, and on the religion of Humanity (“une foi demonstrable”) that the Systême de politique positive launched as the positive successor to theistic religion. Although Comte’s religious humanism struck an ideological chord, his Church, with its elaborate system of ritual, doctrine, and moral regulation, remained a minority affair and, added to the utopian eccentricities of his later writings, did much to discredit his intellectual reputation. (For the history of the positivist Church and of Comte’s religious ideas see Legacy and Influence: Religious and Moral.) Accordingly, and with some exceptions like an early study by the Oxford neo-Hegelian Caird (Caird 1885) and the occasional critique from the side of orthodox Chrtistianity like de Lubac 1945, this side of Comte’s work for a long time received less scholarly attention than his philosophy and social science. Recent scholarship, however, has given renewed attention both to Comte’s positive theory of religion and to positive religion itself. An excellent compendium of current lines of research is Bourdeau 2003. Regarding Comte’s religion of Humanity, Wernick 2000 dissects Comte’s religious project as a response to the post 1789 French version of the “death of God,” and De Boni 2013 examines it as the vehicle for a globally resonant industrial age utopia. Important on Comte’s sociology and anthropology of religion are Arbousse-Bastide 1966 on Comte’s (totalizing) concept of religion and its relation to his sociology, and Canguilhem 1995; on Comte’s general history of religion, and the foundational role of fetishism within it.

                                                                                                                                              • Arbousse-Bastide, Paul. 1966. Auguste Comte et la sociologie religieuse. Clermont-Ferrand: de Bussac. Archives de sociologie des religions 22.22: 3–57.

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                                                                                                                                                Examines Comte’s idea of religion and society and how it develops in his thought. Discusses Comte’s decoupling of religion and “theology,” his identification of religion with synthesis and social unity, the law of three states, and the positive significance of fetishism. Argues that Comte has a religious sociology rather than a sociology of religion. An important essay by one of the leading postwar Comte scholars.

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                                                                                                                                                • De Boni, Claudio. 2013. Storia di una utopia, la religione dell’Umanità di Comte e la sua circolazione nel mondo. Milan: Mimesis Edizioni.

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                                                                                                                                                  Examines Comte’s predictive description of perfected positive-industrial society as a species of utopia, and his religion of humanity as the means for its global circulation.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Bourdeau, Michel, ed. 2003. Auguste Comte et la religion positiviste. Extract from Revue des sciences philosophiques et theologiques. Vol. 87. Paris: Vrin.

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                                                                                                                                                    Essays by Bourdeau, Picon, Clauzade, Braunstein, Petit, Loué, Fedi. A stellar collection, excellent for both scholars and students as a critical exposition of key aspects of Comte’s positivist religion, together with its biographical and historical context.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Caird, Edward. 1885. The social philosophy and religion of Comte. Glasgow: Maclehose.

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                                                                                                                                                      A sympathetic but critical examination by a leading Victorian neo-Hegelian of the ethical and religious side of Comte’s thought. Concentrates on the Positive Polity, which it sees as attempting to provide the positive complement to the anti-metaphysical thrust of Comte’s earlier philosophy of science.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Canguilhem, Georges. 1995. Histoire des religions et histoire des sciences dans la théorie du fétichisme chez Auguste Comte. In Études d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences. Edited by Georges Canguilhem, 81–98. Paris: Vrin.

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                                                                                                                                                        Reprint of 1964 article. Examines the provenance of Comte’s notion of fetishism, its relation to early-19th-century debates about the first forms of religion, Comte’s understanding of the concept and its relation to his theory of human nature and the progress of knowledge, and why for him it was the absolute origin of religion.

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                                                                                                                                                        • de Lubac, Henri. 1945. Le drame de l’humanisme athée. Paris: Spes.

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                                                                                                                                                          Reprint in de Lubac, Henri. 1998. Œuvres complètes. Vol. II. Paris: Le Cerf. Part two of a three-part study by a celebrated and controversial Jesuit theologian. Opposes Comte’s claim to have superseded Christianity while seeing in his religion of humanity something close to Christian humanism. Other parts of the book examine the relation between anti-theism and humanism in the thought of Feuerbach, Kierkergaard, and Dostoevsky.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Wernick, Andrew. 2000. Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The post-theistic program of French social theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                            Detailed and critical examination of Comte’s “post-theistic” religious project in the context of post-1789 ideological reconstruction. Relates Comte to Marx and Nietzsche as analyst of the social crisis of industrial capitalism, and explores the influence of his attempted founding of a scientific religious humanism on modern and postmodern French social theory.

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                                                                                                                                                            Biology

                                                                                                                                                            For Comte, biology, with its laws of life, comparative anatomy and physiology, and classification systems, was one of the six basic sciences, and the one upon which sociology immediately depended. From biology came a physiological understanding of the individual, while the composite being of society was itself, understood positively, a special kind of organism, with ultimately the whole planet as its milieu. Comte’s conception of biology, its relationship to the various schools of biology of his time, and his own contribution to its development as a coherent field in the 19th century, is mapped out in Canguilhem 1994a and Canguilhem 1994b. Greene 2000 provides a useful comparison of Comte with Herbert Spencer regarding the biological concepts their respective versions of sociology built on. These earlier studies (first published in the 1950s) focus on the treatment of biology in the Cours. More recent work takes account of the Systême as well. Clauzade 2009 shows how the “science of the soul” Comte derived from a version of Gall’s phrenology is the key to understanding the “subjective synthesis” pursued in his later works. Braunstein 2009 examines the multiple ways in which biological ideas figure in the vision of the positive polity advanced in the Systême.

                                                                                                                                                            • Braunstein, Jean-François. 2009. La philosophie de la médecine d’Auguste Comte: Vaches carnivores, Vierge-Mère et morts vivants. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.3917/puf.braun.2009.01Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              A study of Comte’s philosophy of biology and its relation to his sociology and politics. Highlights the emphasis on sickness/health and the medical model, with positivist priests as doctors for individuals and society. Explores Comte’s notion of biocracy, his utopia of sexless reproduction, and such paradoxes as the achievement of social vitality through memorializing practices that effectuate the rule of the dead over the living.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Canguilhem, Georges. 1994a. La philosophie biologique d’Auguste Comte et son influence en France au XIXe Siecle. In Études d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences. By Georges Canguilhem, 61–74. Paris: Vrin.

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                                                                                                                                                                Places Comte’s philosophy of biology and his concepts of milieu, organization, dichotomy of matter and life, and normality/pathology in relation to Lamarck, Bichat, Blainville, Gall and Cuivier, and others. Argues that Comte was more up to date in his account of biology than of mathematics, his professional specialty. Reprint of article in Bulletin de la Sociétê francaise de philosophie, 1958, special issue on centenary of Auguste Comte’s death.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Canguilhem, Georges. 1994b. L’école de Montpellier jugée par Auguste Comte. In Études d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences. By Georges Canguilhem, 75–80. Paris: Vrin.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Reprint of communication au XVIe Congrès d’Histoire de la Médecine, Montpellier, 1958. Discusses influence of Barthez and the vitalism of the Montpellier school on Comte’s understanding of biology, particularly in his rejection of physico-chemical reductionism, and sharply distinguishes Comte’s approach from that of German naturphilosphie. First published in Scalpel No. 3, January 1961.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Clauzade, Laurent. 2009. L’organe de la pensée, biologie et philosophie chez Auguste Comte. Besançon, France: Presses Universitaires de Franche-Comté.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Examines Comte’s cerebral physiology, drawn from Gall’s phrenology, and its mapping of mental functions (of feeling, intellect, and action) to regions of the brain. Shows centrality of resulting “science of the soul” to the subjective synthesis and positive polity of Comte’s second system. Sees Comte, despite false science, as raising fundamental questions about the relation of philosophy to biology.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Greene, John. 2000. Biology and social theory in the 19th century: Comte and Spencer. In Herbert Spencer: Critical assessments. Vol. 2. Edited by John Offer, 203–226. London and New York: Routledge.

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                                                                                                                                                                      First published in 1958. Straightforward comparison of the place of biology in the sociology and social evolutionism of Comte and Spencer. Includes useful discussion of their relation to Lamarck, Lidell, population theory, and social holism.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Sex and Gender (The Woman Question)

                                                                                                                                                                      Backed by “positive biology” and what he took to be the mental and physical inferiority of women, Comte posited as natural a hierarchy and division of roles between the sexes that became accentuated with progress and would be brought to harmonious perfection in the positive polity. In both the Cours and the Systême, Comte’s views on “the woman question” were pronouncedly anti-egalitarian. His break with John Stuart Mill was over this issue. However, the revised “cerebral physiology” in the Systême, the centrality accorded the sentiments, and a heightened appreciation of women as le sexe affectif led to a more complicated position. Women would still be restricted to the household, but, as the fount of altruism, would be elevated, within and without, as a moral force and an indispensable component of the new spiritual power. Petit and Bensaude 1976 provides an incisive analysis of the paradoxical but still “phallocratic” place of women in this schema and its ramifications in the spheres of religion, education, the family, and sexuality. Moscovici 2000 examines the same paradox with regard to the Systême’s gendered conception of citizenship; while Kofman 1978 sees in Comte’s pro-woman but patriarchal thought on sex and gender, and war against “aberrations,” a profound conflict of gender identity. Given the importance of Clotilde de Vaux in the development of Comte’s thinking, and the special place given the cult of her memory in positive religion, the public and personal sides of his thought about male-female relations are not easily separated. A number of studies examine the interrelation, particularly regarding Comte’s marriage to, and estrangement from, Caroline Massin, and his tragically short-lived Platonic affair with Clotilde de Vaux. As against Style 1928’s orthodox pro-Clotilde account, Pickering 1996 and Gane 1993 trace Comte’s evolving position on love, sex, and the contemporary “woman question” in the context of both relationships.

                                                                                                                                                                      • Gane, Mike. 1993. In Worship: Auguste Comte and Clotilde de Vaux. In Harmless lovers? Gender, theory, and personal relationships. By Mike Gane, 120–127. London and New York: Routledge.

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                                                                                                                                                                        Perspicacious account of Comte’s relationships with Caroline Massin and Clotilde de Vaux, and their relation to the development of his gender theory and program. Part of wider study of heterosexual relationships in the work and life of leading modern social theorists.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Kofman, Sarah. 1978. Aberrations: Le devenir-femme d’Auguste Comte. Paris: Aubier Flammarion.

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                                                                                                                                                                          A Freudian and feminist reading that argues that Comte’s writing, both in form and content, is marked by a disavowed gender confusion in which Comte identifies himself as both father and mother of the new positivist order. A key text for examining the sex and gender dimension of Comte’s work.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Moscovici, Claudia. 2000. The social model of citizenship: Comte’s A General View of Positivism. In Gender and citizenship: The dialectics of subject-citizenship in nineteenth-century French literature and culture. Edited by Claudia Moscovici, 13–36. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139106672.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                            Examines the contradictory civic position of women in Comte’s positive polity, incorporated as a moral force but otherwise excluded from public life. At the same time, sees Comte’s social model of citizenship as providing a space for women and a dialectical step in the movement toward “ambisexual” citizenship.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Petit, Annie, and Bernadette Bensaude. 1976. Le féminisme militant d’un auguste phallocrate (Auguste Comte, “Système de politique positive”). Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger 166.3 (July–September): 293–311.

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                                                                                                                                                                              A wide ranging analysis of the paradoxical position of women, as both exalted and dependent, in Comte’s pro-woman but “phallocratic” vision of the positive polity. Covers the areas of religion, education, family, and sexuality.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Pickering, Mary. 1996. Angels and demons in the moral vision of Auguste Comte. Journal of Women’s History 8.2 (Summer): 10–40.

                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2010.0471Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                Examines Comte’s relationships with Caroline Massin and Clotilde de Vaux, how and why Comte’s attitude toward women changed, the impact of this on the development of positivist doctrine, and what it tells us about tensions in 19th-century patriarchy.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Style, Jane M. 1928. Auguste Comte: Thinker and Lover. London: Kegan Paul, Trench

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                                                                                                                                                                                  A glowing account of Comte’s life journey as the founder of the religion of humanity, centering on his relations with women and experience and conception of love. Follows the party line (and Comte’s) in its pro-Clotilde anti-Massin treatment, but has interesting detail and is a good example of the narrative critiqued by later scholarship. Reprinted Read Books 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Legacy and Influence

                                                                                                                                                                                  Readings in this section examine the diffusion and historical influence of Comte’s ideas. That influence fell short of Comte’s ambitions, and it was not his overall system that took root but selective parts and themes. Positive philosophy circulated independently of positive religion and the resonance of positive politics was different in Latin America than in France. Whatever his significance for the human sciences, Comte left no school of sociology. Nevertheless, for at least a half century after his death in 1858 Comte remained a major figure for a wide range of thinkers and constituencies, not only in France but internationally, and his ideas came to mark several domains.

                                                                                                                                                                                  General and Intellectual

                                                                                                                                                                                  A comprehensive overview of the extent and diversity of Comte’s intellectual influence in the second half of the 19th century is provided by Simon 1963. The more recent essays in Petit 2003 are similarly multifaceted but range into the 20th century as well. Somewhat more specialized are Singer 2005, which focuses on the Comtean legacy in and through Mill and Littré, with particular attention to law and social sciences, and Hesse 1986 on Comte’s influence on George Eliot, notable as one of the few studies on Comte’s impact on literature and the arts. A fresh look at the wide-ranging influence of Comte’s thought in Latin America is provided by Gilson and Levinson 2012.

                                                                                                                                                                                  • Gilson, Gregory, and Irving Levinson, eds. 2012. Latin American positivism: New historical and philosophic essays. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Collection of new essays examining diverse aspects of the philosophical, political, religious, and literary reception of Comte’s positivism in Latin America. Divided into sections on Ideology and Implementation, with emphasis on Brazil and Mexico. Useful introduction to complicated historical field.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Hesse, David Maria. 1986. George Eliot and Auguste Comte: The influence of Comtean philosophy on the novels of George Eliot. New York: Peter Lang.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Examines the importance of Comte’s thought, particularly his religion of Humanity and the role advocated for art and artists, for an understanding of George Eliot’s novels. One of the few Comte-related studies to treat his influence on art and literature.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Petit, Annie, ed. 2003. Auguste Comte: Trajectoires positivistes 1798–1998. Paris: L’Harmattan.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        In this important collection, part three “La Diffusion du Positivisme” contains essays on diverse aspects of the reception of Comte’s ideas. Topics range from Comte’s philosophical and religious disciples in France, England, Holland, and Italy, to positivist republicanism, positivism and free speech, and the impact on anthropology.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Simon, W. M. 1963. European positivism in the nineteenth century: An essay in intellectual history. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Detailed and wide-ranging study of Comte’s intellectual influence in France, England, and Germany. Figures treated include Lafitte, Littre, Taine, Maurras, Congreve, Harrison, Bridges, Mill, Spencer, and Schmoller.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Singer, Michael. 2005. The legacy of positivism. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1057/9780230288522Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            Focuses on the positivism transmitted through Mill and Littré, Comte’s chief early supporters, and its paradigm-changing impact on the human sciences. Sections on Comte’s philosophy of science and social project, Mill and Littré’s appropriation, and positivism in law and legal studies.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            Religious and Moral

                                                                                                                                                                                            In its organized form Comte’s religion of Humanity never became more than a sect. Nevertheless, branches were established in several West European countries as well as in the Americas, some lasting well into the 20th century, and the more general idea of altruism and humanism as replacements for Christianity resonated widely. Wartelle 2002 provides a full account of the positivist Church, its Parisian founding, its inner life, its international spread, and its complicated history of tendencies and splits. English developments are detailed in McGee 1931, and also in Wright 1986 as part of a broader study of Comte’s ideological impact on Victorian Britain. As Dixon 2008 shows, the ethical message of positive religion was a force in itself, with altruism (a term Comte invented) becoming a central element in Victorian moral discourse. Although focused specifically on Comte’s impact on Anglo-American Protestantism, Cashdollar 1989 traces the great importance of his thought for a wide range of 19th-century thinkers and debates about religion.

                                                                                                                                                                                            • Cashdollar, C. D. 1989. The transformation of theology (1830–1890): Positivism and Protestant thought in Britain and America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1515/9781400860104Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                              Major study of positivism’s 19th-century impact on diverse currents of British and American Protestantism. Besides the theological impact, valuable for details of Comte’s wider intellectual reception, including his relation to Mill, Darwin, and Spencer, the 19th-century religion/science debates, and early American sociology.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Dixon, Thomas. 2008. The invention of altruism: Making moral meanings in Victorian Britain. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264263.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                Examines the impact and spread of Comte’s “altruism” as word and moral principle in Victorian Britain. Figures discussed include Eliot, Darwin, Spencer, Henry Drummond, Benjamin Kidd, and, in a final chapter on “egomania” as a counter-trend, Oscar Wilde, G. E. Moore, and Nietzsche. A landmark study.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Gallo, Rodney. 2013. The birth of a new political philosophy: Positivism and religion in nineteenth-century Brazil. In Latin American positivism: New historical and philosophic essays. Edited by Gregory Gilson and Irving Levinson, 153–170. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  Useful account of organized positivism and its importance in late-19th-century Brazil. In the context of the religious and political crisis that led to the overthrow of Pedro II and establishment of a republic in 1889, examines the rise of positivism in Brazil, its relations with Paris, its leading personalities and splits, and the founding in 1881 of the Positivist Church of Brazil.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • McGee, John E. 1931. A crusade for humanity: The history of organized positivism in England. London: Watts.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    Traces history of Comte’s religion of humanity in England from early converts and the split between Congreve and Harrison to the movement’s early-20th-century decline. Partisan in its claims about the Church of Humanity’s unifying influence vis-à-vis class and science/religion conflict but readable and well-documented.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Wartelle, Jean-Claude. 2002. L’héritage d’Auguste Comte: Histoire de “l’église” positiviste 1848–1946. Paris: L’Harmattan.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      Comprehensive history of the positivist church from its founding, early disciples, splits, and international spread to its 20th-century decline. Focuses especially on leading actors and adherents. Authoritative and scholarly but leavened with wit.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Wright, Terry. 1986. The religion of Humanity: The impact of Comtean positivism on Victorian Britain. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Wide-ranging study that examines both the English Church of Humanity and its splits, and the wider intellectual influence of Comtean positivism on Victorian philosophers, novelists, and sociologists. Figures treated include Mill, Lewes, Congreve, Harrison, Eliot, Matthew Arnold, and Hardy.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Political

                                                                                                                                                                                                        In France the political legacy of Comtean positivism was relatively slight. Comte’s opposition to parliamentarism and attempts at conservative alliances during the Second Empire placed him outside the republican mainstream, and with the founding of the Third Republic what resonance his political ideas still had was primarily on the right. As Sutton 2002 shows, there was a Comtean strand in the pre-1914 ideas of Maurras, leader of Action Française. The political influence of positivism was more significant, however, in the New World, particularly in Latin America where, in the late 19th century, the advocacy of scientific education, a republican state, and guided social reform appealed to modernizing elites in several countries. The essays in Woodward 1971 provide a good survey of these developments and their diversity. In much greater detail, Freyre 1986 examines the founding of the Brazilian Republic and the prominent role of positivism within it. Hale 1989 likewise examines the intricacies of republican transition in Mexico. Much less well known is the impact of Comte’s followers on Progressivism in the United States, a chapter in American political history richly illuminated in Harp 1994.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Freyre, Gilberto. 1986. Order and progress: Brazil from monarchy to republic. Edited and translated from the Portuguese by Rod W. Horton. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          The third volume in Freyre’s classic trilogy on early Brazilian history. Thick description of the racial, class, economic, and cultural elements in Brazil’s transition to a republic. Shows the distinctiveness of Brazilian republicanism in Latin America by way of deciphering, as an emblem for the new regime, the positivist slogan (Ordem e Progresso) on its flag.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Hale, Charles. 1989. Transformation of liberalism in late nineteenth-century Mexico. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            Detailed analysis of the Mexican reception of positivism and the influence of Comte-inspired scientific politics on the outlook and policies of the Profiro Diaz regime. Argues against too sharp a division between liberalism and positivism as phases in the early Mexican Republic, stressing continuities and intermixing.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Harp, Gillis. 1994. Positivist republic: Auguste Comte and the reconstruction of American liberalism, 1865–1920. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              Examines the American reception of positivist social and political ideas, and their formative impact on the liberalism and progressivism of the Gilded Age. Figures treated include T. B. Wakeman, Lester Ward, Edward Bellamy, Albion Small, and Herbert Croly. Important study highlighting a largely unrecognized element in American political culture.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Sutton, Michael. 2002. Nationalism, positivism and Catholicism: The politics of Charles Maurras and French Catholics 1890–1914. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                Study of Maurras’s pre-WW1 attraction to Comte, his effort (echoing Comte’s in the 1850s) to unite French Positivists and Catholics in his ultra-nationalist movement and the fierce debates this provoked. Presents a striking instance of Comte’s conservative appeal in post-1871 France, and illuminates the complex ideological politics in play.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Woodward, Ralph, ed. 1971. Positivism in Latin America 1850–1900: Are order and progress reconcilable? Lexington, MA: Heath.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Collection of case studies by Latin American historians and political scientists on the impact and fortunes of positivism in the late-19th-century politics of Chile, Argentina. Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Caribbean. Somewhat dated analysis but covers many countries and a useful introduction to Comte’s political reception in Latin America.

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