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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

Conclusion

Summary

Great men, like kings, are more venerated than loved.

Auguste Comte, undated letter to his sister

ASSESSMENT OF THE MAN AND HIS PHILOSOPHY

The English have been particularly eloquent in confronting the phenomenon of Auguste Comte. Benjamin Jowett, the famous nineteenth-century Oxford professor, lamented that Comte was “a great man but also mad, with this idée fixe of madness…and the egotism of madness.” A more recent scholar has described Comte “as pathological an egocentric as ever strutted the stage in a Strindbergian madhouse.” His egotism was particularly salient in the last years of his life, when he tried to control his disciples, wife, family, and colleagues, who he thought should be more respectful of his mission. His “madness” was something he struggled with all his life, reaching peaks in 1826, 1838, 1842, and 1844–6; it certainly hastened his death, for filled with egotistical illusions about self-medicating, he would not consult a doctor. But perhaps doctors would not have been able to prolong his life by much after all. His body was diseased, and despite his theory that his physical and moral beings made up a whole, all the virtue in the world would not have been able to stop the spread of cancer. His search for harmony as a guarantee of health, whether in himself or in society, had reached an endpoint.

This search for harmony permeated not only his life but his philosophy.

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