The Positive Method in its Application to Social Phenomena

“For Comte, what distinguishes the scientific spirit is its steady subordination of imagination to observation, of reason to “facts.” … In Comte’s view, prediction, or “prevision” as he calls it, will facilitate social control, a primary and even exclusive aim of his positive doctrine. In those terms, “to predict in order to control,” becomes a totalitarian slogan in his hands. That becomes even clearer in his “scientific” conception of society.”

“As Comte proceeds in his exposition of social statics, he considers the individual, the family, and society, “the last comprehending in a scientific sense, the whole of the human species, and chiefly, the whole of the white race” (p. 105, italics added). […] The subordination of woman is natural and will continue in the “new” society: The female sex is in a state of perpetual infancy. “Sociology will prove that the equality of the sexes, of which so much is said, is incompatible with all social existence…” (p. 112). Thus Comte argues the organic inferiority of woman and attempts to provide a “scientific” rationale for the same state of affairs that the theological school regarded as determined by Providence.”

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“Despite the lip service he paid to “science,” virtually every assertion he makes is based not on experience, observation and reasoning, but on values and sentiments. He refused to see that the human being is not merely an object but an active subject; that he determines and is not merely determined; that he change society according to goals, “…something which positivism must deny, for goals, in their very nature, are something that have not as yet been experienced.(See Frank Hartung, “The Social Function of Positivism,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 12, no. 2 (April 1945), pp. 120-33.)

In his later work, Politique Positive (1851-54), the religious and sentimental factor finally prevailed and Comte unabashedly proclaimed himself pope of the new positive religion–an ironic turn of events for the ardent defender of positive science. Little wonder, then, that J. S. Mill described Comte’s later views as “the most complete system of spiritual and temporal despotism that ever issued from the brain of any human being–except, perhaps, Ignatius Loyola.”(Quoted in F. M. H. Markham, Henri Comte de Saint-Simon (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), p. xviii.)”

[Pp. 87-89 in Zeitlin, Irving M. 1994. Ideology and the Development of Sociological Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. [5th ed.] Additionally, all page references here are Comte, Auguste. 1893. The Positive Philosophy, 2 vols. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. See my other post on Comte and this book here.]

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