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  • Print publication year: 1993
  • Online publication date: January 2010

14 - Cours de philosophie positive: Positivism and the Natural Sciences


Let us not forget that in almost all minds, even the most elevated, ideas usually remain connected following the order of their first acquisition and that it is, consequently, a failing, which is most often irremediable, not to have begun by the beginning. Each century allows only a very small number of capable thinkers at the time of their maturity, like Bacon, Descartes, and Leibniz, to make a true tabula rasa in order to reconstruct from top to bottom the entire system of their acquired ideas.

Comte, 1830


Comte dedicated the Cours to Joseph Fourier and Blainville, both of whom had been a source of personal encouragement and exemplified the positive spirit in the inorganic and organic sciences respectively. In Comte's view, Fourier's mathematical theory of heat was the most valuable scientific contribution since Newton's law of gravity. Blainville's work was admirable for its synthetic and systematic character and use of classification and hierarchy. His theory that every living being should be studied from two points of view — the static (its conditions) and the dynamic (its actions) — was used throughout the Cours, for Comte believed it could be applied to all phenomena “without exception.”