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

5 - Système de politique positive: Comte's Philosophy of History

Summary

The present century will be principally characterized by the irrevocable preponderance of history in philosophy, in politics, and even in poetry.

Auguste Comte

INTRODUCTION

Reflecting Comte's obsession with the domination of the dead and covering the destiny of the Great-Being, which was the object of his religion, the third volume of the Système was devoted to the “sacred science” of history. Because he was so familiar with history, he spent only six months writing this volume – February to August 1853 – in contrast to the two years he devoted to composing the second volume. After all, he had already treated social dynamics in depth in the Cours, where it was featured in the last lesson of volume four of the Cours, all of volume five, and over half of volume six. History had even seeped into volume two of the Système, which covered social statics. Social dynamics was the part of sociology that Comte developed with the most enthusiasm, perhaps because this historical component was what made sociology distinctive, that is, different from biology, whence he had pulled so many terms, such as “consensus,” “organicism,” and “regulation,” to apply to society.

Comte boasted that he organized his ideas on history in a “more profound and more complete” manner in the Système than in the Cours, where his overview of the past was only sketchy. Yet at the same time, he admitted that he had not actually fulfilled his promise to provide more historical details to prove his points.

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