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

5 - The Fundamental Opuscule and Comte's Rupture with Saint-Simon


The fact is that I foresaw the result for a rather long time, and I should have foreseen it earlier. M. de Saint-Simon had, like fathers vis-à-vis their children and like mother countries with regard to their colonies, the small inconvenience, which physiology shows to be almost inevitable, of believing that having been his student, I must continue to be so indefinitely, even after my beard grew.

Comte, 1824


Throughout Du système industriel, Saint-Simon had been appealing to the scientists, the “positive intellectuals” who should lead France to the industrial regime. Suddenly, in the article “VIe Lettre: Résumé des lettres sur les Bourbons,” Saint-Simon called for “positive philosophers” — “men busy with observing and coordinating positive generalities” — to develop a “general idea” to help the scientists form an “industrial doctrine.” He was willing to accept this “great mission,” but would be happier if it were taken up by a “more capable positive philosopher.” Saint-Simon obviously had Comte in mind. The essay that eventually emerged from Comte's pen was the Prospectus des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la société. Because, as he himself said, it marked his philosophical debut and “irrevocably” determined the direction of his life, it has always been called the “fundamental opuscule.”