What struck me was his want of apprehension of the great features of science; his strange mistakes as to the merits of his scientific contemporaries; and his ludicrously erroneous notions about the part which some of the scientific doctrines current in his time were destined to play in the future. With these impressions in my mind, no one will be surprised if I acknowledge that, for these sixteen years, it has been a periodical source of irritation to me to find M.
Comte put forward as a representative of scientific thought; and to observe that writers whose philosophy had its legitimate parent in Hume, or in themselves, were labelled "Comtists" or "Positivists" by public writers, even in spite of vehement protests to the contrary. It has cost Mr. Mill hard rubbings to get that label off; and I watch Mr. Spencer, as one regards a good man struggling with adversity, still engaged in eluding its  adhesiveness, and ready to tear away skin and all, rather than let it stick.
My own turn might come next; and therefore, when an eminent prelate the other day gave currency and authority to the popular confusion, I took an opportunity of incidentally revindicating Hume's property in the so-called "New Philosophy," and, at the same time, of repudiating Comtism on my own behalf. The few lines devoted to Comtism in my paper on the "Physical Basis of Life" were, in intention, strictly limited to these two purposes. But they seem to have given more umbrage than I intended they should to the followers of M.
Comte in this country, for some of whom, let me observe in passing, I entertain a most unfeigned respect; and Mr. Congreve's recent article gives expression to the displeasure which I have excited among the members of the Comtian body. Congreve, in a peroration which seems especially intended to catch the attention of his readers, indignantly challenges me to admire M. Comte's life, "to deny that it has a marked  character of grandeur about it;" and he uses some very strong language because I show no sign of veneration for his idol.
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I confess I do not care to occupy myself with the denigration of a man who, on the whole, deserves to be spoken of with respect. Therefore, I shall enter into no statement of the reasons which lead me unhesitatingly to accept Mr. Congreve's challenge, and to refuse to recognize anything which deserves the name of grandeur of character in M.
Comte, unless it be his arrogance, which is undoubtedly sublime. All I have to observe is, that if Mr. Congreve is justified in saying that I speak with a tinge of contempt for his spiritual father, the reason for such colouring of my language is to be found in the fact, that, when I wrote, I had but just arisen from the perusal of a work with which he is doubtless well acquainted, M.
Though there are tolerably fixed standards of right and wrong, and even of generosity and meanness, it may be said that the beauty, or grandeur, of a life is more or less a matter of taste; and Mr. Congreve's notions of literary excellence are so different from mine that, it may be, we should diverge as widely in our judgment of moral beauty or ugliness. Therefore, while retaining my own notions, I do not presume to quarrel with his.
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But when Mr. Congreve devotes a great deal of laboriously guarded insinuation to the endeavour to lead the public to believe that I have been guilty of the dishonesty of having criticised Comte without having read him, I must be permitted to remind him that he has neglected the well-known maxim of a diplomatic sage, "If you want to damage a man, you should say what is probable as well as what is true. And when Mr. Congreve speaks of my having an advantage over him in my introduction of "Christianity" into the phrase that "M.
This is obvious from the mention of Catholicism," demonstrates that Mr. Congreve has no acquaintance with the "Philosophie Positive"? I think the suggestion would be very unjust and unmannerly, and I shall not make it. But the fact remains, that this little epigram of mine, which has so greatly provoked Mr. Nothing can be clearer. Comte's ideal, as stated by himself, is Catholic organization without Catholic doctrine, or, in other words, Catholicism minus Christianity. Surely it is utterly unjustifiable to ascribe to me base motives for stating a man's doctrines, as nearly as may be, in his own words!
My readers would hardly be interested were I to follow Mr. Congreve any further, or I might point out that the fact of his not having heard me lecture is hardly a safe ground for his  speculations as to what I do not teach. Nor do I feel called upon to give any opinion as to M. Comte's merits or demerits as regards sociology.
Mill whose competency to speak on these matters I suppose will not be questioned, even by Mr. Congreve has dealt with M. Comte's philosophy from this point of view, with a vigour and authority to which I cannot for a moment aspire; and with a severity, not unfrequently amounting to contempt, which I have not the wish, if I had the power, to surpass. I, as a mere student in these questions, am content to abide by Mr.
Mill's judgment until some one shows cause for its reversal, and I decline to enter into a discussion which I have not provoked.
Here are two propositions: the first, that the "Philosophie Positive" contains little or nothing of any scientific value; the second, that Comtism is, in spirit, anti-scientific. I shall endeavour to bring forward ample evidence in support of both.
Appeal to mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, 7 chemists, biologists, about the "Philosophie Positive," and they all, with one consent, begin to make protestations that, whatever M. Comte's other merits, he has shed no light. To be just, however, it must be admitted that even M. Comte's most ardent disciples are content to be judiciously silent about his knowledge or appreciation of the sciences themselves, and prefer to base their master's claims to scientific authority upon his "law of the three states," and his "classification of the sciences.
A critical examination of what M. Comte has to say about the "law of the three states" brings out nothing but a series of more or less contradictory statements of an imperfectly apprehended truth; and his "classification of the sciences," whether regarded historically or logically, is, in my judgment, absolutely worthless. Comte consistent with himself in making these assertions? And is he consistent with fact? I reply to both questions in the negative; and, as regards the first, I bring forward as my witness a remarkable passage which is to be found in the fourth volume of the "Philosophie Positive" pp.
Compare the propositions implicitly laid down here with those  contained in the earlier volume.
Catalog Record: Discours sur l'esprit positif | HathiTrust Digital Library
Comte is careful to point out, not through the first. I leave M. Comte's disciples to settle which of these contradictory statements expresses their master's real meaning. All I beg leave to remark is, that men of science are not in the habit of paying much attention to "laws" stated in this fashion.
The second statement is undoubtedly far more rational and consistent with fact than the first; but I cannot think it is a just or adequate account of the growth of intelligence, either in the individual man, or in the human species. Any one who will carefully watch the development of the intellect of a child will perceive that, from the first, its mind is mirroring nature in two different ways.
On the one hand, it is merely drinking in sensations and building up associations, while it forms conceptions of things and their relations which are more thoroughly "positive," or devoid of entanglement with hypotheses of any kind, than they will ever be in after-life. No child has recourse to imaginary personifications in order to account for the ordinary properties of objects which are not alive, or do not represent living things. It does not imagine that the taste of sugar is brought about by a god of sweetness, or that a spirit of jumping causes a ball to bound.
Comte would call the "positive" state. But, side by side with this mental condition, there rises another. The child becomes aware of itself as a source of action and a subject of passion and of thought.
The acts which follow upon its own desires are among the most interesting and prominent of surrounding occurrences; and these acts, again, plainly arise either out of affections caused by surrounding things or of other changes in itself. Among these surrounding things, the most interesting and important are mother and father, brethren and nurses.
The hypothesis that these wonderful creatures are of like nature to itself is speedily forced upon the child's mind; and this primitive piece of anthropomorphism turns out to be a highly successful speculation, which finds its justification at every turn. On the contrary, nothing is more curious than the absolute irreverence, if I may so say, of a kindly-treated young  child; its tendency to believe in itself as the centre of the universe, and its disposition to exercise despotic tyranny over those who could crush it with a finger.
Still less is there anything unscientific, or anti-scientific, in this infantile anthropomorphism. The dog has a sort of intelligence, so has the cat; why should not the doll and the picture-book also have a share, proportioned to their likeness to intelligent things? All the rest are regarded as things which explain themselves, or are inexplicable.
Comte's writings, being a general term of abuse for anything he does not like. What is true of the individual is, mutatis mutandis, true of the intellectual development of the species. It is absurd to say of men in a state of primitive savagery, that all their conceptions are in a theological state. Nine-tenths of them are eminently realistic, and as "positive" as ignorance and narrowness can make them.
Discours sur l'ensemble du positivisme | Open Library
It no more occurs to a savage than it does to a child, to ask the why of the daily and ordinary occurrences which form the greater part of his mental life. But in regard to the more striking, or out-of-the-way, events, which force him to speculate, he is highly anthropomorphic; and, as compared with a child, his anthropomorphism is complicated by the intense impression which the death of his own kind makes upon him, as indeed it well may. The warrior, full of ferocious energy, perhaps the despotic chief of his tribe, is suddenly struck down. A child may insult the man a moment before so awful; a fly rests, undisturbed, on the lips from which undisputed command issued.
And yet the bodily aspect of the man seems hardly more altered than when he slept, and, sleeping, seemed to himself to leave his body and wander through dreamland. What then if that something, which is the essence of the man, has really been made to wander by the violence done to it, and is unable, or has forgotten, to come back to its shell? Will it not retain somewhat of the powers it possessed during life? May it not help us if it be pleased, or as seems to be by far the more general impression hurt us if it be angered? Will it not be well to do towards it those things which would have soothed the man and put him in good humour during his life?
It is impossible to study trustworthy accounts of savage thought without seeing that some such train of ideas as this lies at the bottom of their speculative beliefs.