This is by no means a recurrence to the old antithesis of religion and civilisation, as if these were contradictory elements. On the contrary, it is but to show that the present world of religion and of economics are not two worlds, but merely different aspects of the same world. Therewith it is not alleged that religion has not a specific contribution to make.
The permanent influence of that phase of thought which called itself Positivism has not been great. But a school of thought which numbered among its adherents such men and women as John Stuart Mill, George Henry Lewes, George Eliot, Frederic Harrison, and Matthew Arnold, cannot be said to have been without significance. A book upon the translation of which Harriet Martinean worked with sustained enthusiasm cannot be dismissed as if it were merely a curiosity. Comte’s work, Coura de Philosophie Positive, appeared between the years 1830 and 1842. Littre was his chief French interpreter. But the history of the positivist movement belongs to the history of English philosophical and religious thought, rather than to that of France.
Comte was born at Montpellier in 1798, of a family of intense Roman Catholic piety. He showed at school a precocity which might bear comparison with Mill’s. Expelled from school, cast off by his parents, dismissed by the elder Casimir Perier, whose secretary he had been, he eked out a living by tutoring in mathematics. Friends of his philosophy rallied to his support. He never occupied a post comparable with his genius. He was unhappy in his marriage. He passed through a period of mental aberration, due, perhaps, to the strain under which he worked. He did not regain his liberty without an experience which embittered him against the Church. During the fourteen years of the production of his book he cut himself off from any reading save that of current scientific discovery. He came under the influence of Madame Vaux, whom, after her death, he idolised even more than before. For the problem which, in the earlier portion of his work, he set himself, that namely, of the organising of the sciences into a compact body of doctrine, he possessed extraordinary gifts. Later, he took on rather the air of a high priest of humanity, legislating concerning a new religion.