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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Evolution of Belief
By Auguste Comte (1798–1857)
 
From the ‘Positive Philosophy’

EACH of our leading conceptions passes through three different theoretical conditions: the Theological, or fictitious; the Metaphysical, or abstract; and the Scientific, or positive. Hence arise three philosophies, or general systems of conceptions on the aggregate of phenomena, each of which excludes the others. The first is the necessary point of departure of the human understanding, and the third is its fixed and definite state. The second is merely a state of transition.  1
  In the theological state, the human mind, seeking the essential nature of beings, the first and final causes of all effects,—in short, absolute knowledge,—supposes all phenomena to be produced by the immediate action of supernatural beings.  2
  In the metaphysical state, which is only a modification of the first, the mind supposes, instead of supernatural beings, abstract forces, veritable entities (that is, personified abstractions) inherent in all beings, and capable of producing all phenomena. What is called the explanation of phenomena is, in this stage, a mere reference of each to its proper entity.  3
  In the final, the positive state, the mind has given over the vain search after absolute notions, the origin and destination of the universe, and the causes of phenomena, and applies itself to the study of their laws,—that is, their invariable relations of succession and resemblance. Reasoning and observation, duly combined, are the means of this knowledge. What is now understood when we speak of an explanation of facts, is simply the establishment of a connection between single phenomena and some general facts, the number of which continually diminishes with the progress of science.  4
  The Theological system arrived at the highest perfection of which it is capable, when it substituted the providential action of a single Being for the varied operations of numerous divinities which had been before imagined. In the same way, in the last stage of the Metaphysical system, men substitute one great entity (Nature) as the cause of all phenomena, instead of the multitude of entities at first supposed. In the same way, again, the ultimate perfection of the Positive system would be (if such perfection could be hoped for) to represent all phenomena as particular aspects of a single general fact,—such as gravitation, for instance.  5
  There is no science which, having attained the positive stage, does not bear marks of having passed through the others.  6
  The progress of the individual mind is not only an illustration but an indirect evidence of that of the general mind. The point of departure of the individual and of the race being the same, the phases of the mind of a man correspond to the epochs of the mind of the race. Now each of us is aware, if he looks back upon his own history, that he was a theologian in his childhood, a metaphysician in his youth, and a natural philosopher in his manhood.  7
 
 
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