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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 Study of Law Substituted for That of Causes
By Auguste Comte (1798–1857)
 
From the ‘Positive Philosophy’

THE FIRST characteristic of the Positive Philosophy is, that it regards all phenomena as subjected to invariable natural Laws. Our business is—seeing how vain is any research into what are called Causes, whether first or final—to pursue an accurate discovery of these Laws with a view to reducing them to the smallest possible number. By speculating upon causes we could solve no difficulty about origin and purpose. Our real business is to analyze accurately the circumstances of phenomena, and to connect them by their natural relations of succession and resemblance. The best illustration of this is in the case of the doctrine of Gravitation. We say that the general phenomena of the universe are explained by it, because it connects under one head the whole immense variety of astronomical facts; exhibiting the constant tendency of atoms towards each other in direct proportion to their masses, and in inverse proportion to the square of their distances; whilst the general fact itself is but a mere extension of one which is familiar to us, and which we therefore say that we know—the weight of bodies on the surface of the earth. As to what weight and attraction are, we have nothing to do with that, for it is not a matter of knowledge at all. Theologians and metaphysicians may imagine and refine about such questions; but Positive Philosophy rejects them. When any attempt has been made to explain them, it has ended only in saying that attraction is universal weight and that weight is terrestrial attraction: that is, that the two orders of phenomena are identical; which is the point from which the question set out.  1
  Before ascertaining the stage which the Positive Philosophy has reached, we must bear in mind that the different kinds of our knowledge have passed through the three stages of progress at different rates, and have not therefore reached their goal at the same time. Any kind of knowledge reaches the positive stage early in proportion to its generality, simplicity, and independence of other departments. Astronomical science, which is above all made up of facts that are general, simple, and independent of other sciences, arrived first; then terrestrial physics; then chemistry, and at length physiology.  2
  It is difficult to assign any precise date to this revolution in science. It may be said, like everything else, to have been always going on, and especially since the labors of Aristotle and the school of Alexandria; and then from the introduction of natural science into the west of Europe by the Arabs. But if we must fix upon some marked period to serve as a rallying-point, it must be that about two centuries ago,—when the human mind was astir under the precepts of Bacon, the conceptions of Descartes, and the discoveries of Galileo. Then it was that the spirit of the Positive Philosophy rose up, in opposition to that of the superstitious and scholastic systems which had hitherto obscured the true character of all science. Since that date, the progress of the Positive Philosophy and the decline of the other two have been so marked that no rational mind now doubts that the revolution is destined to go on to its completion,—every branch of knowledge being, sooner or later, within the operation of Positive Philosophy.  3
 
 
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