Auguste Comte--the first in my series on the survival of the fittest philosophers to have been born after the American and French revolutions bestowed radical freedoms on its citizens—spent years designing a Religion of Humanity in the mid-1800's. That religion has almost entirely disappeared now, but it did once inspire followers all over the world. The motto written on Brazil's flag--Ordem e Progresso ("Order and Progress")—was inspired by Comte's motto: L'amour pour principe et l'ordre pour base; le progrès pour but ("Love as a principle and order as the basis; Progress as the goal"). Several of the revolutionaries involved in the military coup d'état that unseated the monarchy and turned Brazil into a republic were fervent followers of Comte's ideas. In fact, a few Temples of Humanity still exist in Brazil. The last one in Europe is in Paris, near where Comte lived for 16 years until his death in 1857. The chapel there is exactly (apart from its reduced size) as the layout conceived by Auguste Comte with thirteen arches depicting the thirteen months of the positivist calendar. See six of them in the picture below, plus a bonus arch for the leap-year day dedicated to women.
Comte's thirteen months were given chronological themes, and a single person was chosen to represent each one of them. They are: (1) The Initial Theocracy: Moses, (2) Ancient Poetry: Homer, (3) Ancient Philosophy: Aristotle, (4) Ancient Science: Archimedes, (5) Military Civilization: Caesar, (6) Catholicism: Saint Paul, (7) Feudal Civilization: Charlemagne, (8) Modern Epic Poetry: Dante, (9) Modern Industry: Gutenberg, (10) Modern Drama: Shakespeare, (11) Modern Philosophy: Descartes, (12) Modern Policy: Frederick, and (13) Modern Science: Bichat. Today, for example, September 12th, is Shakespeare 3rd according to the online Positivist Calendar converter. Each month was also given 28 human "saints" so there would be one to be remembered each day. That's too many to list here, but today's, in the month of Shakespeare, is dedicated to Fernando de Rojas, the author of La Celestina, which was published in 1499 and "considered to be one of the greatest works of Spanish literature, and traditionally marks the end of medieval literature and the beginning of the literary renaissance in Spain." The story of that book is about "a bachelor Calisto who uses the old procuress Celestina to start an affair with Melibea, an unmarried girl kept in seclusion by her parents. Though the two use the rhetoric of courtly love, sex not marriage is their aim. When he dies in an accident, she commits suicide. The name Celestina has become synonymous with procuresses, especially an older woman used to further an illicit affair." This is just a random exercise, but I gotta say I think Comte could have chosen some better humans to revere. And maybe that's a good point about this whole exercise in a religion of humanity. We're humans; not gods. I think it's a great idea to regularly remind ourselves of what the best of us have done in the past, but to create a religion around those remembrances comes too close to mimicking the uncritical worship and blind deification that goes along with religions. Let's hear two good quotes from Comte though to show that he had good intentions before I go over his main beliefs in further detail.
The principle of co-operation is the basis of society, and the object of society must ever be to find the right place for its individual members in its great co-operative scheme. There is, however, a danger of exaggerated specialism; it concentrates the attention of individuals on small parts of the social machine, and thus narrows their sense of the social community, and produces an indifference to the larger interests of humanity. It is lamentable to find an artisan spending his life making pin-heads, and it is equally lamentable to find a man with a mind employing his mind only in the solution of equations.
Social positivism only accepts duties, for all and towards all. Its constant social viewpoint cannot include any notion of rights, for such notion always rests on individuality. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. These obligations then increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service. Any human right is therefore as absurd as immoral.
(Note that by having duties to one another, we grant each other freedoms and benefits that some try to claim as god-given rights. Rights don't exist, but by working together we can earn freedoms and benefits within a just society.)
Auguste Comte (1798-1857 CE) was a French philosopher, a founder of the discipline of sociology and the doctrine of positivism. He may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. His concept of sociologie and social evolutionism, though now outmoded, set the tone for early social theorists and anthropologists, evolving into modern academic sociology as practical and objective social research.
Positivism holds that in the social as well as natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical and mathematical treatment are together the exclusive source of all worthwhile information. Introspective and intuitional attempts to gain knowledge are rejected. Comte saw the scientific method replacing metaphysics in the history of thought, observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science. This has been a long-running theme, so again, yes. Introspection and intuition may guide directions for hypotheses and experimentation, but they cannot produce true knowledge on their own.
Needs to Adapt
Comte offered an account of social evolution, proposing that society undergoes three phases in its quest for the truth according to a general law of three stages. Comte's stages were (1) the theological, (2) the metaphysical, and (3) the positive. The theological phase was seen as preceding the Enlightenment, in which man's place in society and society's restrictions upon man were referenced to God. Man blindly believed in whatever he was taught by his ancestors. He believed in a supernatural power. Fetishism played a significant role during this time. By the "Metaphysical" phase, he referred not to the metaphysics of Aristotle or other ancient Greek philosophers. Rather, the idea was rooted in the problems of French society subsequent to the revolution of 1789. This metaphysical phase involved the justification of universal rights as being on a higher plane than the authority of any human ruler. This stage is known as the stage of investigation, because people started reasoning and questioning although no solid evidence was laid. The stage of investigation was the beginning of a world that questioned authority and religion. In the positive scientific phase, people could find solutions to social problems and bring them into force despite the proclamations of human rights or prophecy of the will of God. Science started to answer questions in full stretch. These three phases have occurred in the history of mankind, but not in a straight line, and often all at the same time. If we want to know real truth, we do have to follow these steps, but in the blindness of evolution there is no guarantee that we will figure this out.
Comte proposed a Religion of Humanity for positivist societies in order to fulfill the cohesive function once held by traditional worship. He proposed a calendar reform called the positivist calendar in which months were named after history's greatest leaders, thinkers, and artists, arranged progressively in chronological order. Each day was dedicated to a thinker, in the manner of Catholic saint's days. In Système de Politique Positive, Comte stated that the pillars of the religion are: altruism, leading to generosity and selfless dedication to others; order: Comte thought that after the French Revolution, society needed restoration of order; progress: the consequences of industrial and technical breakthroughs for human societies. In Catéchisme Positiviste, Comte defined the Church of Humanity's seven sacraments: Introduction (nomination and sponsoring); Admission (end of education); Destination (choice of a career); Marriage; Retirement (age 63); Separation (social extreme unction); Incorporation (absorption into history three years after death). The Religion of Humanity was described by Thomas Huxley as "Catholicism minus Christianity.” Although much declined, the church survives in present day Brazil. Religion does need to be replaced, although its use of calendar reminders and ritual traditions to instruct humans is something that could be very useful. The word religion, however, connotes deity belief and worship. After evolutionary philosophy is honed, the Religion of Humanity could be replaced with something like a “Society for Life.” Some new atheists and secular humanists appear to be working along these lines already. I hope to contribute to their efforts.
Comte saw this new science, sociology, as the last and greatest of all sciences, one that would include all other sciences and integrate and relate their findings into a cohesive whole. This grand vision of sociology as the centerpiece of all the sciences has not come to fruition. The biologist E.O. Wilson uses the term consilience to describe the unity of knowledge. Based on that theory, I subsume sociology into the biological sciences, slotting in above organismic biology, but below ecology in terms of size and scope. Based on its MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) nature of inquiry, philosophy could be seen as the centerpiece of all the sciences, but only in the sense of categorizing and analyzing the rest of knowledge.
Comte's good friend John Stuart Mill (who I'll be covering next week) characterised the lifetime of Comte's work as dividing into phases of "good Comte and bad Comte." I think my analysis bears this out as well. I can sympathise with that all too human description of the man though, which is precisely why I'll stay away from his religion of humanity, even if I also long for more communion with others who may think similarly.